elections

 

  • ETHIOPIA: ‘The June 2021 election is between democratic life and death’

    CIVICUS speaks to Mesud Gebeyehu about the political conflict in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia and the highly contested upcoming Ethiopian national election, scheduled to take place in June 2021 amidst an ongoing pandemic and a continuing state of emergency. Mesud is Executive Director of the Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organisations (CEHRO) and vice-chair of the Executive Committee of CIVICUS’s Affinity Group of National Associations. Mesud is also Executive Committee member of the Ethiopian CSOs Council, a statutory body established to coordinate the self-regulation of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Ethiopia.

     

  • ÉTHIOPIE : « Les élections de juin 2021 sont une question de vie ou de mort pour la démocratie »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Mesud Gebeyehu sur le conflit politique dans la région du Tigré en Ethiopie et les controversées élections nationales éthiopiennes qui auront lieu en juin 2021, dans un contexte de pandémie et d’état d’urgence prolongé. Mesud est directeur exécutif du Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO) et vice-président du comité exécutif du groupe d’affinité des associations nationales de CIVICUS. Mesud est également membre du comité exécutif du Conseil éthiopien des OSC, un organe statutaire établi pour coordonner l’autorégulation des organisations de la société civile (OSC) en Éthiopie.

     

  • ETIOPÍA: “Las elecciones de junio de 2021 son una cuestión de vida o muerte para la democracia”

    CIVICUS conversa con Mesud Gebeyehu acerca del conflicto político en la región de Tigray, en Etiopía, y sobre las próximas y muy disputadas elecciones nacionales etíopes, que tendrán lugar en junio de 2021 en medio de la pandemia y de un prolongado estado de emergencia. Mesud es Director Ejecutivo del Consorcio de Organizaciones Etíopes de Derechos Humanos (CEHRO) y vicepresidente del Comité Ejecutivo del Grupo de Afinidad de Asociaciones Nacionales de CIVICUS. Mesud también es miembro del Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de OSC de Etiopía, un órgano estatutario creado para coordinar la autorregulación de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) de Etiopía.

     

  • Five reasons why the elections in Nicaragua do not guarantee human rights

    On 7 November 2021, general elections will be held in Nicaragua in the context of a deterioration of the human rights crisis that began with the repression of protests in April 2018. The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the continuing grave human rights violations and their recent escalation. The following sets out five reasons which explain why the coming general election will take place in a context of severe restrictions on civil and political liberties. 

    As President Daniel Ortega seeks a fourth consecutive term, government repression of critics and the political opposition has intensified. This increasingly alarming deterioration includes violations of personal freedom and safety, freedom of expression and association, freedom of the press, as well as other restrictions on the exercise of civil and political rights. These human rights violations have affected various groups in situations of vulnerability, including women, who, as reports have stated, experience differentiated impacts.

    Since the end of May, the Nicaraguan government has detained 39 people it views as government opponents, including seven presidential candidates. Some of these detainees were victims of enforced disappearance for weeks or months. These abuses mark the beginning of a new stage in the campaign of repression and criminalization of dissident voices, journalists and human rights defenders, facilitated by a lack of judicial independence and the executive’s control of the National Assembly, which has enacted laws that violate fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association, and the right to vote and run for public office in free and fair elections.

    It is clear that, at this time, the conditions do not exist in Nicaragua for holding elections that guarantee the exercise of rights and, therefore, we call on the international community, multilateral organizations and international human rights organizations to strengthen their efforts to put an end to the human rights crisis.

     

    1. ARBITRARY DETENTION AND ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE

    Since 28 May 2021, the government of Daniel Ortega has detained 39 people perceived as government opponents, including presidential candidates, public political figures, student leaders, activists, campesino representatives, defence lawyers and journalists. Some were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or months before the authorities provided information on their whereabouts. Many have been subjected to continuous interrogation in abusive conditions of detention, including prolonged isolation and insufficient food, which may constitute torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law. The recent arrests are in addition to the more than 100 people perceived as critics who have remained arbitrarily detained for a prolonged period in the context of the human rights crisis in the country. 

    The Nicaraguan state mustend the practice of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance and immediately and unconditionally release all those unjustly detained for exercising their rights. This is essential in order to restore the full enjoyment of all their rights, including the rights to vote and to run for and hold public office in general conditions of equality.

     

    2. LACK OF JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE AND VIOLATIONS OF THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO JUSTICE

    The authorities continue to use the criminal justice system, taking advantage of the lack of judicial independence, to subject people perceived as opponents to arbitrary proceedings and imprisonment. Frequently, violations of due process and fair trial guarantees include violations of the presumption of innocence, the requirement to present a court order at the time of arrest, the right to be tried before an independent and impartial judge, the right to access detailed information about the charges against them, the right to legal defence and to free and confidential communication with a lawyer of their choice. The Nicaraguan judiciary’s lack of independence also means that those who are the targets of threats do not have access to any impartial authority to which they can turn to make a complaint or request protection.

    The authorities have also failed to comply with the recommendations of international human rights mechanisms, thereby obstructing the exercise of fundamental rights. 

    The Nicaraguan state mustensure that people have access to justice, truth and reparation for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations (such as enforced disappearance, torture and arbitrary detention) committed before and during the election context.

     

    3. VIOLATIONS OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND OF THE PRESS

    The authorities persecute human rights defenders, independent journalists and dissidents or perceived opponents solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. As part of this repressive strategy, in October 2020 the National Assembly adopted theLaw to Regulate Foreign Agents and theSpecial Law on Cybercrime, which severely restrict freedom of expression and association. 

    Between July and August 2021, the authorities ordered the closure of 45 non-governmental organizations, including women’s associations, international humanitarian organizations and several medical associations. Another 10 organizations have been closed down since 2018.

    In addition, the government continues to support a series of attacks and undue restrictions on the independent media and communications workers, as well as organizations that defend press freedom; these include administrative and criminal investigations, the detention of journalists and raids on media offices and the seizure of their assets. In this worrying context, not only are the rights of the professionals and the media under attack violated, but the public’s access to information, key for the proper exercise of political rights, is restricted.  

    The Nicaraguan state must protect and respect the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, which is essential for access to information and pluralistic debate in the context of an election. In addition, it must stop the harassment, stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents or perceived opponents, solely for expressing their criticism of state policies.

     

    4. VIOLATIONS OF POLITICAL RIGHTS

    The government has tried to eliminate and discourage electoral competition through the arbitrary detention and prosecution of opponents and presidential candidates, resulting in the withdrawal of their political rights. In turn, it has revoked the legal status of the main opposition parties, preventing them from participating in the elections. 

    In December 2020, the National Assembly approved theLaw for the Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-determination for Peace, which has been used to open criminal investigations against many of those detained since late May. This law includes broad and vaguely worded provisions that restrict the right to run for public office. 

    Local organizations have already indicated that, in these conditions, the electoral process does not guarantee the full exercise of political rights.

    The Nicaraguan people have a right to exercise their right to vote freely, without intimidation, and the right to run for and hold public office in general conditions of equality. For thefull and effective exercise of these rights, it is essential that freedom of expression, assembly and association be guaranteed.

    The Nicaraguan state must guarantee the conditions necessary for the population to satisfactorily exercise its right to participate in the conduct of public affairs.

     

    5. LACK OF GUARANTEES FOR THE EXERCISE OF THE RIGHT TO PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

    In response to the 2018 protests, state officials used excessive, disproportionate and often unnecessary force against demonstrators demanding their rights. According to a group of independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the police and pro-government armed groups, with the support of the Nicaraguan government, committed widespread abuses, including extrajudicial executions, against protesters who, in the vast majority of cases, were unarmed. Impunity has been the norm for serious abuses during the 2018 protests. 

    Despite international scrutiny, the response to those demonstrating and promoting respect for human rights has continued to be one of repression. 

    The recent upsurge in the repression and harassment of dissident voices allows the conclusion that the state will not guarantee the right to peaceful assembly if new demonstrations are held in the context of the elections.

    The Nicaraguan state must guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly before, during and after the election process.

     

    Amnesty International

    Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

    CIVICUS

    Human Rights Watch

    International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

    Washington Office on Latin America 

    World Organisation Against Torture

    People in Need

    International Network of Human Rights

    Women’s Link Worldwide

     

  • Global rights group condemns violent repression of peaceful protests in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland)

    • Global civil society alliance condemns ongoing violations of freedom of assembly
    • At least two protesters shot, several injured in police attacks on marches
    • Hundreds of thousands of workers staged three days of protests
    • Violent police action against peaceful protests comes on eve of controversial elections

    Global human rights groups have condemned the violent repression of peaceful protests in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) as part of a long-running pattern of fundamental rights violations in the southern African kingdom.

    At least two protesters were shot on Wednesday and several reported injured after police attacked demonstrations by workers, who were protesting the autocracy of King Mswati III, ruler of sub-Saharan Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy, and calling for improved wages and better working conditions. The workers were among hundreds of thousands of others who responded to a call by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) to stage three days of peaceful protests, beginning on September 18, in the cities of Manzini, Mbabane, Siteki and Nhlangano.

     The latest incidents in ongoing restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression have come just ahead of today’s highly controversial parliamentary elections. More than 500,000 registered voters are expected to cast ballots for representatives of the legislature – an institution under the firm control of the King. The elections will be held without the participation of political parties, which are banned in Swaziland. 

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said the brutal police action against protesters violated constitutionally-protected rights to freedom of assembly and highlights the continued actions by the authorities to repress fundamental rights in Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy.

    “Swazis are unable to participate in political processes and with the tight controls exerted by the authorities over the media, constitutionally-guaranteed peaceful protests remain the only means through which they can raise concerns about issues affecting them,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Lead.

    “By using violence against those who exercise this right, the authorities are revealing the true extent of the brutality of the regime,” Kode said.

    The current wave of repression of protesters is the latest in a trend observed since the start of the year to curtail the only means available to citizens to inform the government about issues affecting them. On June 29 for example, the police used brute force to disperse protesting workers as they made their way to deliver a petition to the Deputy Prime Minister’s office, calling for an introduction of a minimum wage and an end to the abuse of small-scale sugarcane workers. Four protesters were injured and hospitalised and one was detained and released after a while. 

    On September 8, police used force to repress demonstrations led by nurses to  express concerns over healthcare cuts and medicine shortages. The protesting healthcare workers were blocked as they tried to deliver a petition to government officials.  Violence was also used against hundreds of trade union members demonstrating against the King’s misuse of the state pension fund.

    King Mswati III unilaterally changed the country’s name from Swaziland to eSwatini in April, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.

    CIVICUS calls on the authorities to respect the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully and hold to account security forces who targeted peaceful protesters. 

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries around the world, rates the space for civil society in Swaziland as ‘repressed’.   

    For more information, please contact:

    David Kode

     

  • Government repression undermines legitimacy of Cambodian elections

    The assault on civic freedoms in Cambodia has narrowed the democratic space in the country and raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the 29 July elections. Over the last year, monitoring by the CIVICUS Monitor shows how the authorities have outlawed the leading opposition party, shutdown or arbitrarily interfered with media outlets, introduced laws to restrict and silence civil society and jailed its critics.

     

  • HAÏTI : « Il est possible de passer de l’ingérence étrangère à un véritable leadership du peuple haïtien »

    Ellie Happel

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Ellie Happel, professeur de la Global Justice Clinic et directrice du Haiti Project à la New York University School of Law. Ellie a vécu et travaillé en Haïti pendant plusieurs années, et son travail se concentre sur la solidarité avec les mouvements sociaux en Haïti et la justice raciale et environnementale

    Quels ont été les principaux développements politiques depuis l’assassinat du président Jovenel Moïse en juillet 2021 ?

    En tant qu’Américaine, je voudrais commencer par souligner le rôle que le gouvernement américain a joué dans la création de la situation actuelle. L’histoire des interventions étrangères improductives et oppressives est longue.

    Pour comprendre le contexte de la présidence de Moïse, il faut toutefois remonter au moins à 2010. Après le tremblement de terre qui a dévasté Haïti en janvier 2010, les États-Unis et d’autres acteurs extérieurs ont appelé à la tenue d’élections. Les gens n’avaient pas leur carte de vote ; plus de deux millions de personnes avaient perdu leur maison. Mais les élections ont eu lieu. Le gouvernement américain est intervenu au second tour des élections présidentielles haïtiennes, en appelant le candidat et fondateur du parti PHTK, Michel Martelly, à se présenter au second tour. Martelly a été élu par la suite.

    Pendant la présidence de Martelly, nous avons assisté à un déclin des conditions politiques, économiques et sociales. La corruption était bien documentée et endémique. Martelly n’a pas organisé d’élections et a fini par gouverner par décret. Il a choisi lui-même Moïse pour successeur. Le gouvernement américain a fortement soutenu les administrations de Martelly et de Moïse malgré l’augmentation de la violence, la destruction des institutions gouvernementales haïtiennes, la corruption et l’impunité qui ont eu lieu sous leur règne.

    La mort de Moïse n’est pas le plus gros problème auquel Haïti est confronté. Pendant son mandat, Moïse a effectivement détruit les institutions haïtiennes. Le peuple haïtien s’est soulevé contre le régime du PHTK en signe de protestation, et il a été accueilli par la violence et la répression. Il existe des preuves de l’implication du gouvernement dans des massacres de masse de personnes dans des régions connues pour leur opposition au PHTK.

    Deux semaines avant l’assassinat de Moïse, un militant de premier plan et une journaliste très connue ont été assassinés en Haïti. Diego Charles et Antoinette Duclair demandaient des comptes. Ils étaient actifs dans le mouvement visant à construire un Haïti meilleur. Ils ont été tués en toute impunité.

    Il est clair que la crise actuelle n’a pas pour origine l’assassinat de Moïse. Elle est le résultat de l’échec des politiques étrangères et de la façon dont le gouvernement haïtien a réprimé et stoppé les manifestations de l’opposition qui demandait des comptes pour la corruption et la violence, et qui exigeait le changement.

    Ce qui me donne actuellement de l’espoir, c’est le travail de la Commission pour une solution haïtienne à la crise, qui a été créée avant l’assassinat de Moïse. La Commission est un large groupe de partis politiques et d’organisations de la société civile (OSC) qui se sont réunis pour travailler collectivement à la reconstruction du gouvernement. C’est l’occasion de passer de l’ingérence étrangère à un véritable leadership du peuple haïtien.

    Quel est votre point de vue sur le report des élections et du référendum constitutionnel, et quelles sont les chances que des votes démocratiques aient lieu ?

    Dans le climat actuel, les élections ne sont pas la prochaine étape pour résoudre la crise politique d’Haïti. Les élections ne devraient pas avoir lieu tant que les conditions d’un vote équitable, libre et légitime ne sont pas réunies. Les élections de ces 11 dernières années démontrent qu’elles ne sont pas un moyen automatique de parvenir à une démocratie représentative.

    Aujourd’hui, la tenue d’élections se heurte à de nombreux obstacles. Le premier est celui de la gouvernance : les élections doivent être supervisées par un organe de gouvernance légitime et respecté par le peuple haïtien. Il serait impossible pour le gouvernement de facto d’organiser des élections. Le deuxième problème est la violence des gangs. On estime que plus de la moitié de Port-au-Prince est sous le contrôle des gangs. Lorsque le conseil électoral provisoire a préparé les élections il y a quelques mois, son personnel n’a pas pu accéder à un certain nombre de centres de vote en raison du contrôle exercé par les gangs. Troisièmement, les électeurs haïtiens éligibles devraient avoir des cartes d’identité d’électeur.

    Le gouvernement américain et d’autres acteurs doivent affirmer le droit du peuple haïtien à l’autodétermination. Les États-Unis ne devraient ni insister ni soutenir des élections sans preuve de mesures concrètes pour garantir qu’elles soient libres, équitables, inclusives et perçues comme légitimes. Les OSC haïtiennes et la Commission indiqueront quand les conditions sont réunies pour des élections libres, équitables et légitimes.

    Y a-t-il une crise migratoire causée par la situation en Haïti ? Comment peut-on relever les défis auxquels sont confrontés les migrants haïtiens ?

    Ce que nous appelons la « crise migratoire » est un exemple frappant de la manière dont la politique étrangère et la politique d’immigration des États-Unis à l’égard d’Haïti ont longtemps été affectées par le racisme anti-Noir.

    De nombreux Haïtiens qui ont quitté le pays après le tremblement de terre de 2010 se sont d’abord installés en Amérique du Sud. Beaucoup sont repartis par la suite. Les économies du Brésil et du Chili se sont détériorées, et les migrants haïtiens se sont heurtés au racisme et au manque d’opportunités économiques. Des familles et des individus ont voyagé vers le nord, à pied, en bateau et en bus, en direction de la frontière entre le Mexique et les États-Unis.

    Depuis de nombreuses années, le gouvernement américain ne permet pas aux migrants haïtiens et aux autres migrants d’entrer aux États-Unis. Il expulse des personnes sans entretien de demande d’asile - un entretien de « crainte fondée », qui est requis par le droit international - vers Haïti.

    Le gouvernement américain doit cesser d’utiliser le titre 42, une disposition de santé publique, comme prétexte pour expulser des migrants. Le gouvernement américain doit au contraire offrir une aide humanitaire et soutenir le regroupement familial et la relocalisation des Haïtiens aux États-Unis.

    Il est impossible de justifier une expulsion vers Haïti à l’heure actuelle, pour les mêmes raisons que le gouvernement américain a déconseillé aux citoyens américains de s’y rendre. On estime à près de 1 000 le nombre de cas documentés d’enlèvement en 2021. Des amis expliquent que tout le monde est en danger. Les enlèvements ne sont plus ciblés, mais des écoliers, des marchands de rue et des piétons sont pris en otage pour exiger de l’argent. Le gouvernement américain a non seulement déclaré qu’Haïti n’était pas un pays sûr pour les voyages, mais en mai 2021, le ministère américain de la sécurité intérieure a désigné Haïti comme bénéficiaire du statut de protection temporaire, permettant aux ressortissants haïtiens admissibles résidant aux États-Unis de demander à y rester parce qu’Haïti ne peut pas rapatrier ses ressortissants en toute sécurité.

    Les États-Unis doivent mettre fin aux déportations vers Haïti. Les États-Unis et d’autres pays d’Amérique doivent commencer à reconnaître, traiter et réparer la discrimination anti-Noir qui caractérise leurs politiques d’immigration.

    Que devrait faire la communauté internationale, et en particulier les États-Unis, pour améliorer la situation ?

    Premièrement, la communauté internationale devrait suivre l’exemple des OSC haïtiennes et s’engager de manière sérieuse et solidaire avec la Commission pour une solution haïtienne à la crise. Daniel Foote, l’envoyé spécial des États-Unis pour Haïti, a démissionné en signe de protestation huit semaines après son entrée en fonction ; il a déclaré que ses collègues du département d’État n’étaient pas intéressés par le soutien de solutions dirigées par les Haïtiens. Les États-Unis devraient jouer le rôle d’encourager la recherche d’un consensus et de faciliter les conversations pour faire avancer les choses sans interférer.

    Deuxièmement, toutes les déportations vers Haïti doivent cesser. Elles ne sont pas seulement des violations du droit international. Elles sont aussi hautement immorales et injustes.

    Les étrangers, y compris moi-même, ne sont pas les mieux placés pour prescrire des solutions en Haïti : nous devons plutôt soutenir celles créées par le peuple haïtien et les organisations haïtiennes. Il est temps pour le peuple haïtien de décider de la voie à suivre, et nous devons le soutenir activement, et le suivre.

    L’espace civique en Haïti est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Suivez@elliehappelsur Twitter.

     

  • HAITI: ‘There is opportunity for a meaningful shift from foreign interference to true leadership of Haitian people’

    Ellie HappelCIVICUS speaks with Ellie Happel, professor of the Global Justice Clinic and Director of the Haiti Project at New York University School of Law. Ellie lived and worked in Haiti for several years, and her work continues to focus on solidarity with social movements in Haiti and racial and environmental justice.

    What have been the key political developments since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021?

    As an American, I want to begin by emphasising the role the US government has played in creating the present situation. The history of unproductive and oppressive foreign intervention is long.

    To understand the context of the Moïse presidency, however, we have to at least go back to 2010. Following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, the USA and other external actors called for elections. People did not have their voting cards; more than two million people had lost their homes. But elections went ahead. The US government intervened in the second round of Haiti’s presidential elections, calling for candidate and founder of the PHTK party, Michel Martelly, to be put into the second round. Martelly was subsequently elected.

    During the Martelly presidency we saw a decline in political, economic and social conditions. Corruption was well documented and rampant. Martelly failed to hold elections and ended up ruling by decree. He hand-selected Moïse as his successor. The US government strongly supported both the Martelly and Moïse administrations despite the increasing violence, the destruction of Haitian government institutions, the corruption and the impunity that occurred under their rule.

    Moïse’s death is not the biggest problem that Haiti faces. During his tenure, Moïse effectively destroyed Haitian institutions. Haitian people rose up against the PHTK regime in protest, and they were met with violence and repression. There is evidence of government implication in mass killings – massacres – of people in areas that were known to oppose PHTK.

    Two weeks prior to Moïse’s assassination, a prominent activist and a widely known journalist were murdered in Haiti. Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair were calling for accountability. They were active in the movement to build a better Haiti. They were killed with impunity.

    It is clear that the present crisis did not originate in Moïse’s assassination. It is the result of failed foreign policies and of the way the Haitian government repressed and halted opposition protests demanding accountability for corruption and violence, and demanding change.

    What currently gives me hope is the work of the Commission for Haitian Solution to the Crisis, which was created prior to Moïse’s assassination. The Commission is a broad group of political parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) that came together to work collectively to rebuild the government. This presents an opportunity for a meaningful shift from foreign interference to true leadership of Haitian people.

    What is your view on the postponement of elections and the constitutional referendum, and what are the prospects of democratic votes taking place?

    In the current climate, elections are not the next step in addressing Haiti’s political crisis. Elections should not occur until the conditions for a fair, free and legitimate vote are met. The elections of the past 11 years demonstrate that they are not an automatic means of achieving representative democracy.

    Today, there are many hurdles to holding elections. The first is one of governance: elections must be overseen by a governing body that has legitimacy, and that is respected by the Haitian people. It would be impossible for the de facto government to organise elections. The second is gang violence. It’s estimated that more than half of Port-au-Prince is under the control of gangs.  When the provisional electoral council was preparing for elections a few months back, its staff could not access a number of voting centres due to gang control. Third, eligible Haitian voters should have voter ID cards.

    The US government and others should affirm the right of the Haitian people to self-determination. The USA should neither insist on nor support elections without evidence of concrete measures to ensure that they are free, fair, inclusive and perceived as legitimate. Haitian CSOs and the Commission will indicate when the conditions exist for free, fair and legitimate elections.

    Is there a migration crisis caused by the situation in Haiti? How can the challenges faced by Haitian migrants be addressed?

    What we call the ‘migration crisis’ is a strong example of how US foreign policy and immigration policy towards Haiti have long been affected by anti-Black racism.

    Many Haitians who left the country following the earthquake in 2010 first moved to South America. Many have subsequently left. The economies of Brazil and Chile worsened, and Haitian migrants encountered racism and a lack of economic opportunity. Families and individuals have travelled northward by foot, boat and bus towards the Mexico-USA border.

    For many years now, the US government has not allowed Haitian migrants and other migrants to enter the USA. They are expelling people without an asylum interview – a ‘credible fear’ interview, which is required under international law – back to Haiti.

    The US government must stop using Title 42, a public health provision, as a pretext to expel migrants. The US government should instead offer humanitarian assistance and support Haitian family reunification and relocation in the USA.

    It is impossible to justify deportation to Haiti right now, for the same reasons that the US government has advised US citizens not to travel there. There are estimates of nearly 1,000 documented cases of kidnapping in 2021. Friends explain that anyone is at risk. Kidnappings are no longer targeted, but school kids and street merchants and pedestrians are being held hostage to demand money. The US government has not only declared Haiti unsafe for travel, but in May 2021, the US Department of Homeland Security designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status, allowing eligible Haitian nationals residing in the USA to apply to remain there because Haiti cannot safely repatriate its nationals.

    The USA should halt deportations to Haiti. And the USA and other countries in the Americas must begin to recognise, address and repair the anti-Black discrimination that characterises their immigration policies.

    What should the international community, and especially the USA, do to improve the situation?

    First, the international community should take the lead of Haitian CSOs and engage in a serious and supportive way with the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. Daniel Foote, the US special envoy for Haiti, resigned in protest eight weeks into the job; he said that his colleagues at the State Department were not interested in supporting Haitian-led solutions. The USA should play the role of encouraging consensus building and facilitating conversations to move things forward without interfering.

    Second, all deportations to Haiti must stop. They are not only in violation of international law. They are also highly immoral and unjust.

    Foreigners, myself included, are not best placed to prescribe solutions in Haiti: instead, we must support those created by Haitian people and Haitian organisations. It is time for the Haitian people to decide on the path forward, and we need to actively support, and follow.

    Civic space in Haiti is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow@elliehappel on Twitter.

     

  • Honduras: ‘El conflicto generado por la reacción ciudadana contra el fraude puede hacernos perder un año ahora, pero nos hará ganar diez en el futuro’

    English

    A fines de 2017, tras lo que muchos en la sociedad civil percibieron como una elección fraudulenta, estalló la protesta en Honduras. CIVICUS conversa con Wilfredo Méndez, Director Ejecutivo del Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH), una organización de la sociedad civil hondureña que aboga por cambios orientados a la construcción de un Estado de derecho democrático, justo, inclusivo, participativo y respetuoso de los derechos humanos y las libertades ciudadanas. El CIPRODEH realiza labores de investigación e incidencia política y promueve los derechos humanos de los sectores más vulnerables en alianza con una variedad de actores cívicos y sociales hondureños, latinoamericanos e internacionales.

    1. La oposición política y numerosos actores de la sociedad civil hondureña denunciaron fraude en las elecciones del pasado 26 de noviembre. ¿Podría describir cómo fue el proceso electoral, de qué manera se produjo el fraude, y cuáles fueron las consecuencias?

    El 26 de noviembre de 2017 enfrentamos un proceso electoral sobre el cual teníamos muchas preocupaciones. Sabíamos que la situación iba a ser compleja no solo en materia electoral sino también en términos de posibles violaciones de los derechos humanos, dados los antecedentes de persecución, criminalización y represión que hemos presenciado desde el golpe de estado de 2009 contra el entonces presidente Manuel Zelaya.

    Los grupos que están hoy en el poder son los mismos que protagonizaron el golpe de estado. El actual presidente, Juan Orlando Hernández, viene acumulando poder desde 2010, cuando asumió la presidencia del Congreso. Luego fue electo presidente para el período 2014-2018, y en noviembre de 2017 se presentó a la reelección, para lo cual antes debió manipular a la Corte Suprema de Justicia para que revirtiera la prohibición constitucional de la reelección consecutiva. El mecanismo de revisión constitucional previsto en la Constitución suponía el llamado a una asamblea constituyente, de modo que el procedimiento empleado fue completamente irregular.

    Desde 2009 el gobierno se ha militarizado, se ha apartado cada vez más de sus obligaciones de derechos humanos y ha intensificado la represión, con números crecientes de asesinatos y desapariciones forzadas.

    Es por eso que el 26 de noviembre la atención de las organizaciones de derechos humanos estuvo enfocada en el monitoreo de los conflictos sociales y la persecución política. Lo que no imaginamos fue que el fraude electoral que muchos habían anunciado se pudiese enfrentar con relativo éxito, pues la Alianza contra la Dictadura, la coalición opositora, implementó una estrategia que complicó la imposición. Ellos crearon mecanismos para combatir el fraude, el cual normalmente se produce no solo en la mesa electoral receptora sino también en el manejo del Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), y esto fue una sorpresa para el partido de gobierno.

    En la noche del domingo de elecciones, el TSE no anunció los resultados, pese a que en Honduras es costumbre que a las 7 u 8 de la noche ya se sepa quién es el presidente electo. Horas más tarde, a las 2:45 de la mañana del día lunes y con el 57% de votos escrutados, el TSE anunció una clara ventaja, de unos cinco puntos, para el candidato de la oposición, Salvador Nasralla. Ese día el país entero no habló de otra cosa que de cómo se había logrado enfrentar el tan anunciado fraude. Y luego, el martes, el sistema de cómputos se detuvo y permanecimos durante todo el día a la espera de datos que no llegaban. Finalmente, alrededor del mediodía del miércoles nos encontramos con la sorpresa de que los resultados se habían modificado a favor del candidato oficialista, quien después de varias semanas (el 17 de diciembre) fue declarado ganador con casi 43% de los votos, contra 41,5% para Nasralla.

    La Alianza contra la Dictadura denunció el fraude y la población se manifestó pacíficamente en las calles en demanda de transparencia electoral y respeto de los procedimientos democráticos, por lo cual fue duramente reprimida.

    1. ¿Cómo reaccionó la comunidad internacional frente a las denuncias de fraude, y cuál fue la respuesta del gobierno?

    Los observadores internacionales fueron contundentes, con la sola excepción de un funcionario de la Unión Europea, que dijo que había que tener confianza en los resultados y pronto fue desmentido por la propia Jefa de Misión de Observación. La Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA), en particular, desempeñó un rol fundamental. El Jefe de la Misión de Observadores de la OEA declaró que no había certeza sobre los resultados de las elecciones. Según el informe preliminar difundido por la OEA, las numerosas irregularidades, errores y problemas sistémicos restaban confianza a los resultados, y ésta solo podría restablecerse mediante un acuerdo entre los dos candidatos para revisar las actas, volver a contar los votos y resolver las discrepancias. El segundo informe ratificó estos hallazgos, aunque para entonces el propio Secretario General de la OEA, Luis Almagro, decía que ya no bastaría con un recuento de votos y que era recomendable volver a celebrar las elecciones con las garantías necesarias de rectitud y transparencia. El 4 de enero de 2018 Almagro instó al Consejo Permanente de la OEA a aprobar el informe de observación electoral. Puesto que el informe concluye que las numerosas irregularidades no permiten reconocer un ganador, su aprobación sustentaría el pedido de repetición de las elecciones.

    Entretanto, la oposición exigió la anulación de los resultados electorales, pero el recurso de nulidad fue rechazado. Esto era previsible, ya que la Corte Suprema, el Ministerio Público y el Tribunal Electoral están, todos ellos, subordinados al presidente.

    Por su parte, la reacción del gobierno fue declarar de inmediato y por diez días el estado de excepción, que restringió la libertad de movilización. Impuso también la suspensión de otras garantías constitucionales, no solo para el ejercicio de la libertad de reunión sino también para la libertad de expresión, entre otras. Los medios fueron advertidos de no difundir las acusaciones de fraude de la oposición, y las protestas fueron duramente reprimidas. Esto resultó en más de 30 muertos, decenas de heridos y centenares dedetenciones arbitrarias, además de allanamientos ilegales. Diversos videos filmados por los propios manifestantes mostraron a agentes de seguridad persiguiendo e incluso disparando contra manifestantes. Tres relatores especiales de las Naciones Unidas y de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) condenaron la represión, y el Secretario General de la OEA pidió al gobierno de Honduras que recibiera a un delegado especial de la OEA para relevar la situación de las protestas y la respuesta del Estado.

    1. ¿Cuáles son las chances de que el gobierno responda a la presión callejera y a los reclamos internacionales?

    Las presiones internacionales motivaron al gobierno a empezar a hablar de un “gran diálogo nacional” para buscar una solución a la situación. Sin embargo, en el discurso gubernamental el foco de atención no estuvo colocado en las irregularidades electorales ni en las violaciones de derechos humanos que se estaban produciendo sino en el hecho de que las manifestaciones inicialmente pacíficas supuestamente se habían vuelto violentas por la acción de maras, pandillas y grupos del crimen organizado. En mi experiencia, estos llamados del gobierno al diálogo están dirigidos a aplacar las aguas, reorientar los esfuerzos y mantener el control. Si no se tocan los temas de fondo, el diálogo no tendrá sentido y, peor aún, solo servirá para legitimar el fraude.

    Por otra parte, es importante resaltar que el pueblo hondureño ha cambiado, y tiene hoy una experiencia de movilización que no tenía en el pasado. No mucho tiempo atrás era un pueblo más bien apático e indiferente, pero desde 2009 ha forjado una nueva conciencia al calor de la resistencia contra el golpe de estado. Así, en el 2015, cuando se reveló el desfalco del Instituto Hondureño del Seguro Social – se supo entonces que cantidades millonarias se habían desviado de sus fines, incluso para financiar la campaña del actual presidente, tal como él mismo lo reconoció – el pueblo se movilizó masivamente durante meses, en lo que se llamó la Marcha de las Antorchas. Fue una movilización sin precedentes, y logró que finalmente se instalara la Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) de la OEA.

    Cientos de miles de personas se han movilizado en el país contra el fraude electoral, y ni la más cruda represión las ha detenido. Tampoco se desmovilizaron cuando el candidato cuya elección estaban defendiendo los decepcionó, al menos temporariamente, cuando anunció (para luego dar marcha atrás) que se desvinculaba de la Alianza contra la Dictadura para conformar un frente más amplio. Esto por supuesto desmotivó a la ciudadanía movilizada, pero no la llevó a abandonar las calles, porque mucho más que por una candidatura, la gente se había movilizado contra la corrupción. Justamente, si algo representaba para ellos Nasralla era la honestidad.

    A principios de enero de 2018, sin embargo, Nasralla anunció que el sábado 6 de reactivarían las movilizaciones y que a partir del 27 de enero, fecha prevista para la asunción presidencial, actuaría como legítimo presidente de Honduras. También se convocó a un paro general del 20 al 27 de enero, para exigir la renuncia del presidente Hernández. De modo que la población ha regresado a las calles: el 6 de enero se realizó una movilización en San Pedro Sula en la que hubo más de 80 mil personas. En suma, pienso que hay buenas posibilidades de ejercer presión a nivel nacional para que se alcance un acuerdo en torno de la revisión del fraude electoral. En conjunción con las presiones de la OEA para que se repitan las elecciones, es posible que la presión de la ciudadanía movilizada tenga un efecto.

    1. ¿Piensa que es posible que la represión se intensifique?

    Sí, pienso que la situación se está volviendo más complicada cada día, porque la gente está saliendo a las calles, los líderes políticos opositores se mantienen firmes en sus planteos y los líderes sociales no se están echando atrás. Desde las organizaciones de derechos humanos hemos sostenido que la ciudadanía tiene un legítimo derecho a protestar – hemos dicho incluso que la gente tiene que salir a protestar para evitar esta violación de los derechos políticos que sin duda repercutirá sobre la vigencia efectiva de los demás derechos humanos.

    Ante esto, la respuesta del gobierno ha sido más militarización. A principios de diciembre la Policía Nacional se rebeló contra el actual presidente con el argumento de que no iba a obedecer órdenes ilegales de reprimir al pueblo movilizado a causa de un problema político que el propio gobierno había creado. Después de un día de huelga y habiendo alcanzado un acuerdo salarial favorable con el gobierno, la Policía Nacional regresó a las calles, supuestamente a cuidar y no a reprimir las manifestaciones. Pero la conducta policial ha sido atroz; además de la cantidad de muertos, hemos visto una estrategia de generar un clima de mucho miedo en las calles, con levantamiento de perfiles, persecución de líderes políticos y sociales y campañas de desprestigio contra defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos.

    Sin embargo, el miedo no ha detenido a la gente, y estamos muy preocupados por lo que podría pasar si no se alcanza una salida concertada a esta crisis. En estos días estamos teniendo reuniones a nivel de nuestra organización, con la red de movimientos sociales y con la Mesa Nacional de Derechos Humanos para decidir cómo vamos a enfrentar la amenaza de derechos humanos que se nos viene, porque la reacción represiva que hemos visto hasta ahora no augura nada bueno.

    Esperamos también que la CIDH pueda agilizar su visita al país. La presencia de observadores internacionales y de la prensa internacional ha sido hasta ahora muy importante para sacar a relucir la verdad atravesando el cerco mediático interno, y es ahora más necesaria que nunca.

    En las próximas semanas será fundamental el rol de la OEA. Si el informe que ha emitido, que desconoce los resultados electorales, no es ratificado por el Consejo Permanente, ya no tendría sentido que la OEA volviera a hacer nunca más una observación electoral. La Carta Democrática Interamericana ya no tendría sentido si la OEA terminara reconociendo a un gobierno cuya elección denunció como fraudulenta. Por su parte, los países miembros de la OEA, incluido Estados Unidos, deberían actuar en la misma dirección. Es inconcebible que un país que se invoca principios y valores democráticos otorgue su reconocimiento a un gobierno surgido del fraude, la violencia y la violación de derechos humanos, y Estados Unidos (junto con otros países de la región) no ha manifestado hasta ahora grandes reparos en reconocer la reelección fraudulenta de Hernández.

    Antes del 26 de noviembre, el tiempo parecía dividirse en un antes y un después de la elección; nunca imaginamos que tendríamos un durante tan prolongado sin un presidente electo. Nuestro horizonte luego se desplazó al 27 de enero, fecha de inauguración de un gobierno ilegítimo, y las reacciones populares no se hicieron esperar. El presidente no tomó posesión en un lugar abierto porque se esperaban protestas importantes. Lo hizo en el Estado Nacional, con seguridad militarizada y con la población protestando afuera. Con ello se abrió un período de conflicto político y social que difícilmente permita que el país avance en otros temas importantes.

    Con todo, tenemos claro que lo más importante es el hecho de que la población esté consciente y no permita un fraude electoral y de corrupción como este. Podremos perder un año ahora, pero ganaremos diez en el futuro en razón de la lucha contra la corrupción y la impunidad. El pueblo hondureño merece nuestro aplauso, porque ha demostrado que ya no está dispuesto a permitir que políticos de esta naturaleza sigan gobernando a nuestro país.

     

    • El espacio cívico en Honduras es calificado por elCIVICUS Monitor como ‘obstruido’, una categoría indicativa de la existencia de restricciones considerables sobre las libertades de expresión, asociación y reunión pacífica.
    • Contáctese con el CIPRODEH a través de supágina web o su perfil deFacebook, o siga a @ciprodeh1 en Twitter

     

     

  • HONG KONG : « La loi sur la sécurité nationale viole la liberté d’expression et intensifie l’autocensure »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Patrick Poon, chercheur indépendant sur les droits humains, de la situation des droits humains à Hong Kong à la suite de l’adoption d’une nouvelle loi sur la sécurité nationale (LSN) en juin 2020. Patrick est un chercheur en doctorat à l’Université de Lyon en France,a précédemment travaillé comme chercheur sur la Chine à Amnesty International, et a occupé différents postes au sein du China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, du Independent Chinese PEN Center et du China Labor Bulletin.

    L’espace civique à Hong Kong est de plus en plus assiégé depuis le début d’une vague demanifestations de masse pour les libertés démocratiques en juin 2019, déclenchée par l’introduction d’un projet de loi sur l’extradition. LeCIVICUS Monitor a documenté l’usage excessif et mortel de la force contre les manifestants par les forces de sécurité, l’arrestation et la poursuite d’activistes pro-démocratie, ainsi que des attaques contre les médias indépendants.

     

  • HONG KONG: ‘The National Security Law infringes on freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship’

    CIVICUS speaks with Patrick Poon, an independent human rights researcher, on the human rights situation in Hong Kong after a new National Security Law (NSL) was passed in June 2020. Patrick is a PhD researcher at the University of Lyon, France, and has previously worked as a China Researcher at Amnesty International and in various positions at China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Independent Chinese PEN Center and China Labour Bulletin. 

    Civic space in Hong Kong is under renewed attack sincemass protests for democratic freedoms, sparked by a proposed Extradition Bill, began in June 2019. TheCIVICUS Monitor has documented excessive and lethal force by the security forces against protesters, arrests and the prosecution of pro-democracy activists as well as a crackdown on independent media.

       Patrick Poon

    Why has the NSL been imposed in Hong Kong and what have its impacts been so far?

    The NSL, imposed by the Chinese government on 20 June 2020, without any consultation or legislative oversight, empowers China to extend some of its most potent tools of social control from the mainland to Hong Kong. The law includes the creation of specialised secret security agencies, allows for the denial of the right to a fair trial, provides sweeping new powers to the police, increases restraints on civil society and the media and weakens judicial oversight.

    The new law undermines Hong Kong’s rule of law and the human rights guarantees enshrined in Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law. It contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is incorporated into Hong Kong’s legal framework via the Basic Law and expressed in its Bill of Rights Ordinance.

    The Chinese government’s intention is to use the NSL to curb advocacy and support for independence as more people, especially young people, have increasingly embraced Hong Kong’s autonomy and their identity as Hongkongers. Although Hong Kong’s Basic Law enshrines a high degree of autonomy, the Chinese government apparently regards calls for autonomy and self-governance as a ‘danger to national security’.

    The NSL has seriously infringed Hong Kong people’s freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship in the city. Under the NSL, people who advocate for independence, as well as politicians and prominent figures who support foreign governments’ sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials who are responsible for enacting the NSL, have been the target of the arbitrary arrests. The government is obviously attempting to scare off others not to follow these people’s calls. 

    Independent media have also been affected by the crackdown. The arrests of Jimmy Lai, media mogul and founder of popular local paper Apple Daily, and senior executives in his company, signify the government’s attempt to punish news media that are critical of it. Reports about criticism against the NSL and calls for sanctions by foreign government officials become the excuse for the crackdown on independent media. This will have long-term impact on Hong Kong media, even further intensifying self-censorship for some media outlets.

    How have civil society and the pro-democracy movement responded?

    Civil society has reacted strongly against the law because the process to enact it violated the principle of the rule of law and procedural justice in Hong Kong, and the vague and broad definitions of various provisions of the law exceed the normal understanding of law in the city. Pro-China politicians and government officials have been trying hard to justify the law, but their arguments are preposterous. 

    How have the opposition and civil society reacted to the government’s decision to postpone the legislative election due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

    The 2020 Hong Kong Legislative Council election was originally scheduled for 6 September 2020, but in July the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, cited an upsurge in COVID-19 infections and used her emergency powers to postpone it for a whole year, so now it’s expected to take place on 5 September 2021. She denied that the change was due to any political speculation, but it was in fact a blow for pro-democracy activists, who were seeking a majority on the Legislative Council. 

    In the midst of massive protests, pro-democracy candidates had already won by a landslide in the 2019 District Council election. Along with the new NSL, the postponement of the election was viewed as part of the government’s strategy to neutralise the pro-democracy movement. Just prior to the announcement that the election was being postponed, 12 opposition candidates were disqualified from running, and four young former members of a pro-independence student group were arrested under the NSL for their pro-independence posts on social media.

    The postponement of the election created some conflict among the pro-democracy camp, with some calling for keeping up the fight in the Legislative Council and others urging a boycott over the government’s decision to postpone the elections. From the government’s decision to disqualify some pro-democracy candidates for their political views, it is clear that the government doesn’t want to hear any opposition voices in the legislature.

    What can the international community and international civil society organisations do to support civil society in Hong Kong?

    Civil society in Hong Kong needs to work together to ensure that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government will not abuse the NSL to curb all dissenting views and closely monitor if the government abides by the principle of the rule of law and international human rights standards.

    The international community should continue speaking up against the Chinese and Hong Kong government’s crackdown on  civil society and keep raising concerns about the NSL, which is being forcibly imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government in the name of national security, but in fact is no more than an attempt to silence dissenting views in the city. The international community should send a clear message that national security should not be used as an excuse to crack down on the freedom of expression.

    Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. 

     

  • KENYA: ‘The denial of resources for civic education has been a massive blow for civil society’

    Paul OkumuCIVICUS speaks about the upcoming elections in Kenya with Paul Okumu, head of the Secretariat of the Africa Platform (AP). AP is a pan-African civil society platform based in Nairobi, Kenya, that works to strengthen state-society relations to achieve more effective and inclusive development.

    With elections still a few months away, is it clear who the contenders will be?

    Many are unaware that Kenya has only one election day in which all political positions are filled. But although the focus is on the presidential race, the forthcoming elections will bring in 349 members of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, including 290 elected from the constituencies, 47 women elected from the counties and 12 nominated representatives, plus 69 members of the Senate, 47 of whom are elected directly while the rest are elected to represent women, young people and other excluded groups.

    In addition, Kenyans will be electing 47 governors, the regional leaders directly responsible to county assemblies, that is, their respective regional parliaments. Kenyans will elect a further 1,450 county assembly members. So the election is a complex one.

    For the presidential race, some likely frontrunners are already emerging. The current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is ineligible to stand for re-election after completing his second term; his deputy, William Ruto, is among the leading candidates alongside former prime minister Raila Odinga. It is worth noting that this is the fifth time Odinga is running for president, having lost his previous attempts and withdrawn once in 2017.

    By law candidacies for the presidency will be made official in mid-May, and there are currently almost 45 people who have submitted their names as possible candidates. The election body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, will have the final word on which candidates fulfil the legal criteria to run.

    The question many are likely to ask is why there are only two leading contenders. The answer is as complex as the country’s elections.

    In a bid to exercise a divide-and-rule strategy, the British colonial government divided Kenya into regional ethnic units, with people from one unit not allowed to travel to other units without the authority of the colonial government under a system known as Kipande (Identity) system. In addition, people in regions closest to where white people lived were given access to education much earlier so they could work for whites. As a result, these regions (mainly central, Rift Valley and Western) progressed much faster and became dominant in the period leading to and after independence. It helped that these regions are also the most agriculturally productive, which is part of the reason the whites chose them as their residence.

    There are about 43 ethnic groups in Kenya, but just five of them constitute over half of its population of about 50 million. Due to the combined effects of colonial boundaries, which the 2010 Constitution kept intact – a story for another day – and the numeric dominance of these few ethnic groups, the country’s politics, in a quite similar fashion to that in South Sudan, continue to revolve around five ethnic groups. Leading presidential candidates always emerge from these five. Currently, the two leading candidates represent a coalition of three and two of these largest ethnic groups.

    What will be at stake in the upcoming elections?

    The current president is seen to have spent his time investing in sections of the economy that benefited his vast family businesses. From infrastructure to hospitals to the dairy and transport sectors, most of the investments have been in areas that are perceived directly to add value or make it easy for the president’s family businesses to thrive. As a result, there is a perception that what is at stake is the protection of these investments, hence the current complex coalition supported by the president that has brought together people seen to be those who will preserve the status quo.

    But at a deeper level, the country is in a serious crisis. The economy has been in recession for over eight months now. Half of its recurrent budget is used on civil service salaries. The latest economic report by the government shows that for the first time in the country’s history, debt costs will surpass the recurrent expenditure, projected at Sh1.34 trillion (US$1.3 billion) for the coming year. The debt binge is mainly from Eurobond offerings, a package of Chinese loans and syndicated commercial loans taken in recent years. Distress levels are so high that the Central Bank has begun to ration foreign reserves, especially US dollars. Fuel prices have risen by nearly 53 per cent in the past one year, largely due to the fact that fuel has always been an easy target for taxation.

    And that is not all: European countries have always used Kenya as a trade gateway to the continent and have largely made it a multinational headquarters for European companies working across Africa. This has led to massive losses through tax evasion and avoidance and skewed double taxation agreements, and has killed countless small businesses that could not manage the massive resources and subsidies given by European development finance institutions or donor agencies (such as the CDC Group of the UK) to European corporations so they can win contracts and set up businesses in the country.

    But there is a bigger underlying fear among citizens. In 2017 the Supreme Court was forced to overturn the results of the presidential elections after it emerged that the government, through Ot Morpho, a French company fronted by the French government, had manipulated the vote counting and tallying, handing victory to the incumbent president. The subsequent repeat elections were boycotted by the opposition at the last minute on the grounds that the government had refused to make the changes demanded by the Supreme Court to ensure transparent vote counting. This massive collusion and rejection of changes proposed by the judiciary severely eroded confidence in the electoral system. It is believed to be the part of reason for the current low voter registration.

    What are the civic space conditions like in the run-up to the election?

    The executive and the political class had made attempts to water down the constitution significantly through a process known as Building Bridges Initiative, but they were stopped in their tracks by the courts, including the Supreme Court. This has preserved citizens’ freedoms and has strengthened confidence in the judiciary. Because of this there is still considerable freedom of assembly and expression.

    But the government has also tried to limit the work of civil society around the election. In July 2021, the Kenyan Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a confidential memo to all foreign missions and international civil society organisations (CSOs) that usually support civic education, instructing them not to put any resources, either directly or through local CSOs, into civic education and civic advocacy without the express authorisation of the government. To date, such authorisation has not been granted, and it’s not clear if partners have even requested it.

    Interestingly, foreign missions kept quiet and refused to divulge this information to local CSOs. It is not clear why the government took this drastic measure, but it is even more baffling why foreign missions have been so quick to obey it when a few years ago they defied a similar directive by the Russian government and funded civic education in that country. A possible reason lies in Kenya’s centrality, alongside Rwanda, for the politics of Africa and the economies of Europe, which these foreign countries are keen to preserve. 

    As a result of this decision, this year Kenya has had the lowest voter registration in its history and levels of civic awareness have plummeted. The denial of resources for civic education has been a massive blow for civil society, and with the elections under 90 days away, it is not yet clear what role civil society will play around them.

    The window for registration as election observers, usually played by the African Union, the Carter Foundation, the European Union and a coalition of civil society groups, is still open, and it is still possible that with alternative sources of funding, CSOs may still engage in some way.

    What is the potential for electoral violence?

    Violence is highly unlikely. Despite ethnic politics rooted in the colonial regionalisation arrangement, Kenyans are largely peaceful. Most of the post-election violence that Kenya has experienced has been mostly confined to power struggles among the five dominant ethnic groups and has never been about the entire country. Over the past five months, these five ethnic groups have formed two large coalitions, making violence unlikely.

    Of course, conflict between these two coalitions cannot be ruled out if one of them loses the elections, but if it occurs, this violence is unlikely to have an impact on the rest of the communities.

    Civic space in Kenya is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Africa Platform through itswebsite.

     

  • Kenya’s fresh election lights up Africa with hope

    On 26 October 2017, Kenya returns to the polls after the Supreme Court declared the election held on 8 August 2017 null and void. CIVICUS speaks to governance specialist Paul Okumu on the coming election re-run, the announcement by the main opposition that it will not contest the poll and what this means for Kenya’s democracy

    Q: What is the mood in the country after the Supreme Court judgement ordering for a fresh election to be held this October?

    On the whole, this has been the most exciting moment for Kenyans — both here at home and abroad.

    But beyond Kenya, we have received several messages of solidarity and excitement from across Africa, with many African citizens and civil society telling us that this is a victory for the continent and not just for Kenya.

    Never in their existence have the courts overruled the executive in the manner that the Kenya judiciary did. The judiciary has always shied away from challenging orders seen or perceived to touch the executive, and this ruling was totally unexpected, considering that the incumbent President is for all purposes the final appointing authority of members of the judiciary (based on recommendations from the Judiciary Service Commission and Parliamentary approval).

    But the most ecstatic part is that citizens, as well as all arms of government, respected the judiciary and agreed to follow the orders. It has given citizens a renewed breath of fresh air and confidence in the judiciary.

    It also reaffirmed the supremacy of the Constitution and the power of citizens, something that is seen as new in Kenya, considering that the Constitution is less than ten years old.

    There is however some slight apprehension that being the first time, perhaps the excitement is temporary and it is not clear if indeed this is a reflection of a new activist and accountability nature of the judiciary, or this is limited just to the Supreme Court. Many of you may have also heard that the ruling party is using its new majority in both house of Parliament to push through two new laws that will dramatically weaken the Supreme Court and the electoral oversight body, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

    One must recall, however, that the groundwork that led to the nullification of this case was in fact another ruling by a lower court. In May this year, human rights activist Maina Kiai, who is the former Special UN Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly, went with others to court to challenge the Elections Act. He asked that the law be changed to ensure that the counting of votes is done at the polling station so that they cannot not be altered by the electoral body.The court ruled in his favour and the electoral body took the matter to the Court of Appeal, where the ruling was upheld.

    At least 70% of the ruling by the Supreme Court was based on the ruling made in favour of Maina Kiai.

     Q: There are concerns that there are many issues that the Electoral body must first rectify and will not be able to do this in the given time before the election. What are your views on this?

    This is Kenya's greatest fear, and right now the opposition is already holding demonstrations to demand that some of these matters be rectified as conditions for participating in the fresh election. But the hands of the Supreme Court were tied here. The Constitution allows for only the electoral body, (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), to conduct elections. The Constitution also requires for those elections to be held within 60 days of the nullification of a previous one.

    The concerns are  therefore justified when one considers that the electoral body has decided to retain the three companies accused by the opposition of complicity in delivering a result that was not the will of the people — Al Ghurai, a Dubai based Company, Safaricom, Kenya’s largest Mobile company, and OT Morpho, a French company. Part of this is the lengthy procurement rules.

    Kenyans are waiting with bated breath to see how the electoral body will address what the Supreme Court described as "systemic" and "institutional" failures within the IEBC. These failures were not just a failure of equipment, but a failure of oversight and accountability.

    But remember that the main thrust of the judgement was not the manner in which the elections was conducted. The majority ruling of the Supreme Court accused the IEBC of redefining democracy and ignoring that democracy is a process that ends with elections. It rejected the view that democracy begins with elections.

    In doing so the IEBC was accused of not following the entire democratic process that leads to elections — from public confidence-building to ensuring transparency in the entire process in the period leading to and the period after the elections.

    So the challenges facing the IEBC are much bigger and it’s not clear if they will address these systemic and institutional challenges in the few days remaining to elections.

    Q: The President has said he is disappointed by the Supreme Court Ruling. Why is this and what may it mean for the independence of the judiciary?

    The President’s disappointment is understandable, and to an extent it appears justified since one of the dissenting judges insists that he had won the last election by 54%.

    But unlike 2013 where the Supreme Court based its judgement on numbers, this time the court departed from this and refused to be drawn into recounting of votes. In their view, the court argued that if the process was flawed, and if there is proof that the Constitution was violated in the process leading to and after the elections, then the numbers do not matter.

    This was a departure, not just from previous rulings, but other rulings within the Commonwealth jurisdiction and even the United States of America. But it is this kind of ruling that set the Supreme Court of Kenya apart from other courts.

    While the judiciary around the world has refrained from helping advance society in its democratic agenda, the Kenya Supreme Court decided that Kenya should move forward and define democracy in a much broader way than just elections.

    This is a game changer for other Supreme Courts around the world. For Africa, the judiciary has stamped its authority as the guardian of democracy, not just an arbiter in electoral disputes.

    It means that Kenya's Supreme Court is not just asserting its role as pace-setters for society, but it is exercising its independence and the right to disagree with broader society. For a long time many Kenyans have had a very narrow definition of democracy. The Supreme Court offered a more superior definition.

    Q: The opposition has just pulled out of the elections, claiming that the electoral body has refused to meet its demands and the demands required by the Supreme Court ruling. What does this mean for the credibility of the election?

    The Supreme Court termed this a FRESH election, not a repeat poll. Under Kenya's Constitution, if there is only one candidate in a fresh election, the election is cancelled and the candidate is declared the winner. It is silent on what to do if a party boycotts. But the same Constitution states that fresh elections needs to be preceded by party nominations, which obviously cannot be done under the short period of 60 days allowed by law.

    In pulling out of the elections, the main opposition cited a statement by the Supreme Court in the 2013 electoral dispute where the Court considered what options are left if a candidate pulls out. The court at that time interpreted the scenario to mean a candidate had died and so fresh nominations must be held and another election held within 90 days. It’s not clear because there are arguments that the court was merely discussing scenarios and was in no way giving directions.

    In my opinion, this is the kind of crisis that hits societies that want to lead themselves purely by law. Laws alone cannot legislate morality, and in fact there is nowhere where society is managed by laws alone. An element of trust and compromise among its members is always needed - - which is what a proper social contract achieves in society.

    Kenya has opted to let laws define its democracy, and hence its social contract.

    There is a price to pay for that, and right now there will certainly be a price to pay because the law did not envisage the situation that we are in. The IEBC wanted to rectify that by bringing on board previous presidential candidates to run in this elections, but they quickly realised that that the law is not clear on this either.

    Since the political players have chosen the path of legality rather than political compromise, my fear is that over the next few days we are going to see Kenya’s elections not as a democracy, but a battle between the judiciary and the executive.

    It is never a good battle, and often one side ends up losing – its known who is the weaker of the two.

    Q: One of the IEBC Commissioners resigned on 18 October 2017, citing threats over her life. In an interview in the media she admitted that the electoral body is not prepared and that the body has been hijacked by a section of its members aligned to the ruling government. What does this mean for the elections and for the credibility of the elections?

    The situation is actually more delicate than that. You may be aware that on 12 October 2017, both Houses (Senate and Parliament) rushed through a new law that takes away considerable powers from the head of the IEBC and makes it difficult for the commission to reach decisions by compromise. The proposed law also seeks to return the country back to the manual system which was the cause of the problems in past elections, and which is blamed for the violence witnessed in 2007/2008. There are concerns that her resignation, added to the new proposed law, which by the way is only awaiting Presidential signature to become effective, may have dealt a big credibility blow to the electoral body, and in effect it short circuits the reforms that had been demanded by the Supreme Court. It certainly will have a huge impact on turnout because there is perception that the laws and the resignation have not just taken away the remaining teeth of the electoral body, but has effectively taken it back to the state it was that led to the crisis in the first place.

    But once again the issue must be seen from a broader perspective, and here are the lessons that those of us who promote democracy should know. It is impossible to have democracy without a proper social contract. Democracy is about managing diversity within society to deliver on a collective aspirations using the resources at the disposal of that society. Instead we have made democracy about power plays and about the strongest or the richest or the largest ruling over everybody else. You can see where it has led the United States. We must realise that unless we work with society to learn how to negotiate, manage its diversity and develop a culture of regular compromise, anything we do in the name of democracy is merely buying time. Kenya’s crisis is very simple to manage, but we appear to have resorted to using the law, rather than the friendships, to manage it. It will not end well.

    Q:   What role can civil society play now before the fresh election?

    There are three roles that civil society can play now and in the few days to come.

    First is to celebrate the power of activism —  whether in courts as did the Supreme Court, in each other as did Maina Kiai when he took the electoral body to court, or in other civil society who stood with the opposition and in fact provided the bulk of evidence that was used in court.

    Secondly civil society needs to use this opportunity to connect more with citizens and explain to them what the Supreme Court just did.Never in the history of democracy anywhere in the world has the judiciary come out to teach the society what constitutes democracy! If civil society can use this case to educate citizens on why the court opted to define elections as a process and NOT an event, they will have advanced democracy in ways they would never do with all the donor money used in governance programmes.

    Finally civil society need to come together. Currently there is great polarisation based on the ruling. A section of civil society, under the Elections Observer Group, had actually endorsed the elections and agreed with donors and observers that it was a free, transparent and fair election. They even agreed with the reported win of 54%, insisting it was based on their own scientific polling. They were left looking very foolish and seen as agents of donors and the government. They have not come out to explain themselves fully. The result is that they are now not seen as part of a neutral civil society.

    But the rest of civil society, especially those engaged in human rights, are not seen in good light either. This was the second time in as many elections that they were directly challenging the elections alongside the opposition. And so they are also seen as partisan, even though they were vindicated this time by the Supreme Court ruling.

    In a fractured and polarised society, civil society is not just about being on the right side or the legally correct path. It’s about understanding the dynamics of society and taking positions that rebuild that society. It is important that these two groups, whether they see their positions as superior or not, to come together and agree on how best to shepherd the nation and citizens at this time. Kenya is at a point where it does not need right or wrong, but truth. And that truth will only be found in taking a position that allows the society to build trust in a civil society that is removed from the emotions of politics, yet engaged in the ideals of democracy that leads to well understood social contract.

    Q:       Any other additional analysis you would like to share?

    The elections in Kenya have shown just how perceptions vary between Africa and Europe.

    In many of the European countries, the ruling by the Supreme Court has been treated with apprehension, fear and doom! They feel that Kenya is headed for another chaos and that the ruling should have at least balanced what they call "nascent democracy" and avoided a hard landing that this appears to be. Many of our colleagues that I have met and spoken to begin their conversation with: "So are you going to have war again?"

    On the contrary there has been jubilation and excitement across all of Africa and most of Asia. Citizens as far as Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana and South Africa, and even India, have come out to rally behind Kenya. They see this as a renewed hope for a continent that has been defined by the West as unable to manage its democracy. For many of these citizens, this is a point of triumph and victory-on our terms as Africa. And the fact that it embarrassed the international community who had all but endorsed the elections, has given many Africans even more pride.

    Both sides may be right, and democracy is always muddy. But we need to be careful that we do not push a sliding car down the valley simply because that is what we have been conditioned to think and believe about Africa. It’s much harder to get people out of negativity than it is to encourage them on the positive progress they are making.

    Africa needs more messages of hope, not doom and constant suspicion. The negative descriptions we give to the continent — fragile, conflict-affected, war-torn, corrupt — appear to be what is keeping the citizens disillusioned.

    One act of hope and the entire continent lights up!

    • Civic space in Kenya is rated as‘Obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    • Follow Paul Okumi on Twitter @paulokumu3. Read two other analytical articles he wrote on the ruling of the Supreme Courthere andhere.

     

     

  • KIRGHIZISTAN : « Le choix des citoyens lors du référendum sera décisif pour l'avenir »

    Ulugbek AzimovCIVICUS et l’International Partnership for Human Rights (Partenariat international pour les droits de l'homme) s’entretiennent avec Ulugbek Azimov, expert juridique à la Legal Prosperity Foundation, au sujet des manifestations qui ont eu lieu au Kirghizistan en octobre 2020 et des évolutions politiques qui s’en sont suivies. La Legal Prosperity Foundation (anciennement Youth Human Rights Group) est une organisation indépendante de la société civile qui œuvre à la promotion des droits humains et des principes démocratiques au Kirghizstan depuis 1995. L’organisation mène des programmes éducatifs, assure le suivi des droits humains, interagit avec les mécanismes internationaux des droits humains et promeut le respect des droits humains dans le cadre de réformes juridiques.

    Le Kirghizistan est souvent considéré comme la seule démocratie d’Asie centrale. Dans quelle mesure cette description est-elle proche de la vérité ?

    Il est vrai qu’au début des années 1990, c’est-à-dire dans les premières années de l’indépendance, la démocratie a émergé et a commencé à se développer au Kirghizistan. Par rapport aux autres pays de la région, le Kirghizistan se caractérisait par un niveau plus élevé de participation des citoyens, une société civile plus développée et des conditions plus favorables au fonctionnement et à la participation des partis politiques au processus politique. Pour cette raison, le Kirghizstan a été qualifié d’« île de la démocratie » en Asie centrale.

    Toutefois, au cours des 30 années qui ont suivi l’indépendance, le Kirghizistan a été confronté à de graves difficultés. Les tentatives des anciens présidents pour préserver et renforcer leur emprise sur le pouvoir, en faisant pression sur l’opposition, en persécutant les médias et les journalistes indépendants, en restreignant la liberté d’expression, en utilisant les ressources publiques en leur faveur, en soudoyant les électeurs et en falsifiant les résultats des élections, ont entraîné des bouleversements politiques majeurs à plusieurs reprises. Au cours des 15 dernières années, le gouvernement a été renversé à trois reprises lors des révolutions dites des tulipes, d’avril et d’octobre, respectivement en 2005, 2010 et 2020, deux anciens présidents ayant été contraints de fuir le pays et le troisième de démissionner avant le terme de son mandat.

    Chaque bouleversement a hélas été accompagné d'évolutions mettant à mal les acquis démocratiques antérieurs. Il n’est donc pas surprenant que Freedom House ait toujours classé le Kirghizistan comme étant seulement « partiellement libre » dans son enquête annuelle sur la liberté dans le monde. En outre, dans l’enquête la plus récente, publiée cette année, la note du Kirghizistan s’est détériorée pour devenir « non libre » en raison des retombées des élections législatives d’octobre 2020, qui ont été entachées de graves violations. Ainsi, le Kirghizistan se trouve désormais dans la même catégorie que celle dans laquelle se trouvent les autres pays d’Asie centrale depuis de nombreuses années. 

    Des restrictions liées à la pandémie ont-elles été imposées à l’approche des élections de 2020 ?

    En réponse à l’augmentation rapide des cas de COVID-19 au printemps 2020, les autorités kirghizes ont adopté des mesures d’urgence et instauré un confinement dans la capitale, Bichkek, et dans plusieurs autres régions du pays, ce qui a entraîné des restrictions du droit à la liberté de mouvement et d’autres droits connexes. Tous les événements publics, y compris les rassemblements, ont été interdits.

    Les mesures prises dans le contexte de la pandémie ont également suscité des inquiétudes quant aux restrictions de la liberté d’expression et de l’accès à l’information. Les autorités ont sérieusement resserré la vis contre les voix critiques, en réponse aux nombreuses critiques formulées à l’encontre des personnes au pouvoir, notamment le président de l’époque Sooronbai Jeenbekov, pour leur incapacité à lutter efficacement contre la pandémie. Les forces de l’ordre ont traqué les blogueurs et les commentateurs des médias sociaux gênants, leur ont rendu visite à leur domicile et ont engagé des discussions « préventives » avec eux. Dans certains cas, des utilisateurs de médias sociaux ont été placés en détention pour avoir soi-disant diffusé de fausses informations sur la pandémie, et ont été contraints de présenter des excuses publiques sous la menace de poursuites.

    La loi sur la « manipulation de l’information », adoptée par le Parlement en juin 2020, est particulièrement préoccupante. Bien que les initiateurs de la loi aient prétendu qu'elle avait pour seul but de résoudre le problème des faux comptes en ligne, il était clair dès le départ qu’il s’agissait d’une tentative de la part des autorités d’introduire la censure sur Internet et de fermer les sites indésirables à la veille des élections. Après une avalanche de critiques de la part de la communauté des médias et des défenseurs des droits humains, le président de l’époque, M. Jeenbekov, a refusé de signer la loi et l’a renvoyée au Parlement pour révision en août 2020. Depuis lors, la loi est restée au niveau du Parlement. 

    Qu’est-ce qui a déclenché les manifestations post-électorales d’octobre 2020 ? Qui a protesté, et pourquoi ?

    La principale raison des manifestations d’octobre 2020, qui ont à nouveau conduit à un changement de pouvoir, était le mécontentement de la population à l’égard des résultats officiels des élections législatives du 4 octobre. 

    Sur les 16 partis en lice pour un siège au Parlement, seuls cinq ont franchi le seuil des sept pour cent requis pour entrer au Parlement. Bien que le président de l’époque, M. Jeenbekov, ait déclaré publiquement qu’il ne soutenait aucun parti, celui qui a obtenu le plus de voix - Birimdik (Unité) – lui était lié puisque son propre frère et d’autres membres de l’élite dirigeante se présentaient sous sa bannière. Le parti arrivé en deuxième position, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (Mère patrie du Kirghizistan), était également considéré comme pro-gouvernemental et associé à la famille de l’ancien haut fonctionnaire des services douaniers Raiymbek Matraimov, qui a été impliqué dans une enquête très médiatisée sur la corruption, publiée en novembre 2019. Le gouvernement de Jeenbekov a ignoré les conclusions de cette enquête et n’a pas engagé d’action pénale contre Matraimov, malgré les appels publics en ce sens.

    Il était prévisible que Birimdik et Mekenim Kyrgyzstan obtiennent de nombreux votes, compte tenu de l’utilisation de ressources publiques et des cas signalés d'achat de votes en faveur de leurs candidats. Ces deux partis, qui participaient pour la première fois à des élections législatives, ont obtenu près de la moitié des voix et donc la majorité absolue des sièges au Parlement. Les méthodes utilisées par les deux partis vainqueurs pour s’assurer le contrôle du Parlement ont suscité l’indignation des autres partis politiques ayant participé aux élections, de leurs électeurs et même des personnes apolitiques.

    Les élections se sont déroulées dans un contexte de mécontentement croissant face aux difficultés sociales et économiques causées par la pandémie, ainsi que de sentiments antigouvernementaux grandissants au sein de la population.

    Les élections « entachées », caractérisées par un nombre sans précédent de violations, ont servi de catalyseur aux événements qui ont suivi. Les manifestations ont commencé immédiatement après l’annonce des résultats préliminaires, le soir du jour de l’élection, le 4 octobre, et se sont poursuivies tout au long de la journée suivante. Les jeunes y ont joué un rôle décisif : la plupart de ceux qui sont descendus dans la rue pour protester et se sont rassemblés sur la place centrale de la capitale étaient des personnes jeunes. Malheureusement, la plupart de ceux qui ont été blessés, ainsi que le manifestant qui est décédé pendant les événements d’octobre, étaient également des jeunes.

    Quelle a été la réaction du gouvernement face aux manifestations ?

    Les autorités avaient la possibilité de prendre le contrôle de la situation et de la résoudre pacifiquement, mais elles ne l’ont pas saisie. Ce n’est que dans la soirée du 5 octobre que le président de l’époque, M. Jeenbekov, a annoncé qu’il rencontrerait les dirigeants des différents partis en lice pour les élections. Il a fixé une réunion pour le matin du 6 octobre, mais il était trop tard, car dans la nuit du 5 octobre, les manifestations pacifiques ont dégénéré en affrontements entre les manifestants et les forces de l’ordre à Bichkek, qui se sont terminés par la prise de la Maison Blanche (siège de la présidence et du Parlement) et d’autres bâtiments publics par les manifestants. Au cours de ces affrontements, les forces de l’ordre ont utilisé des balles en caoutchouc, des grenades assourdissantes et des gaz lacrymogènes contre les manifestants. À la suite de ces affrontements, un jeune homme de 19 ans a été tué et plus de 1 000 personnes ont dû recevoir des soins médicaux, dont des manifestants et des membres des forces de l’ordre, et plus de 600 policiers ont été blessés. Au cours des troubles, des voitures de police, des ambulances, des caméras de surveillance et d’autres biens ont également été endommagés, pour une valeur estimée à plus de 17 millions de soms (environ 200 000 USD).

    Les élections présidentielles anticipées organisées en janvier 2021 ont-elles permis de résoudre les problèmes soulevés par les manifestations ?

    La principale revendication des manifestants était d’annuler les résultats des élections législatives d’octobre 2020 et d’organiser de nouvelles élections équitables. Cette demande a été partiellement satisfaite le 6 octobre 2020, lorsque la Commission électorale centrale (CEC) a déclaré les résultats des élections invalides. Cependant, jusqu’à présent, aucune date n’a été fixée pour les nouvelles élections législatives. La CEC les avait initialement prévues pour le 20 décembre 2020, mais le Parlement a réagi en adoptant rapidement une loi qui suspendait les élections durant le temps de révision de la Constitution, et prolongeait le mandat des membres du Parlement sortant jusqu’au 1er juin 2021.

    La Commission de Venise - un organe consultatif du Conseil de l’Europe, composé d’experts indépendants en droit constitutionnel - a évalué cette loi et conclu que, pendant la période de transition actuelle, le Parlement devrait exercer des fonctions limitées et s’abstenir d’approuver des mesures extraordinaires, telles que des réformes constitutionnelles. Toutefois, le Parlement sortant a poursuivi ses travaux de manière habituelle et a approuvé la tenue d’un référendum constitutionnel en avril 2021. Le président nouvellement élu, Sadyr Japarov, a proposé d’organiser de nouvelles élections parlementaires à l’automne 2021, ce qui signifierait que les membres du Parlement sortant resteraient en poste même après le 1er juin 2021.

    Conformément à d’autres revendications des manifestants, la législation électorale du pays a été modifiée en octobre 2020 afin de réduire le seuil électoral de sept à trois pour cent, permettant aux partis d'être représentés au Parlement et de réduire le fonds électoral de 5 à 1 million de soms (environ 12 000 USD). Ces modifications ont été apportées pour faciliter la participation d’un plus grand nombre de partis, y compris les plus récents, et pour promouvoir le pluralisme et la concurrence.

    Les manifestants ont également exprimé leur mécontentement face à l’insuffisance des mesures prises pour lutter contre la corruption. Ils ont exigé que les autorités traduisent en justice les fonctionnaires corrompus, en particulier Matraimov, et restituent à l’État les biens volés. S’exprimant devant les manifestants avant de devenir président, M. Japarov a promis que M. Matraimov serait arrêté et puni.

    Il faut reconnaître que Japarov a tenu parole. Après son arrivée au pouvoir en octobre 2020, Matraimov a été arrêté dans le cadre d’une enquête sur des mécanismes de corruption au sein du service des douanes, a plaidé coupable et a accepté de réparer les dommages en remboursant plus de 2 milliards de soms (environ 24 millions de USD). Un tribunal local l’a ensuite condamné, mais lui a appliqué une peine réduite, sous la forme d’une amende de 260 000 soms (environ 3 000 USD) et a levé les mesures de gel de ses biens, car il avait coopéré à l’enquête. Cette sentence extrêmement clémente a provoqué l’indignation générale. Le 18 février 2021, Matraimov a de nouveau été arrêté pour de nouvelles accusations de blanchiment d’argent, mais quelques jours plus tard, il a été transféré du centre de détention provisoire où il était détenu vers une clinique privée pour y être soigné pour des problèmes de santé. Après cela, beaucoup ont qualifié de « populistes » les mesures anticorruption prises par les autorités actuelles.

    En janvier 2021, les citoyens kirghizes ont également voté lors d’un référendum constitutionnel. Quels ont été ses résultats, et quelles conséquences auront-ils sur la qualité de la démocratie ?

    Selon les résultats du référendum, qui s’est déroulé le même jour que l’élection présidentielle de janvier 2021, 84 % des électeurs ont soutenu le changement d'un système de gouvernement parlementaire à un système présidentiel.

    Sur la base d’une expérience comparative, de nombreux avocats et activistes de la société civile ne considèrent pas ce changement comme négatif en soi, à condition qu’un système de contrôle et d’équilibre des pouvoirs efficace soit mis en place. Cependant, ils sont sérieusement préoccupés par le fait que les autorités tentent de mener cette transition à un rythme anormalement rapide, en utilisant des approches et des méthodes discutables qui ne correspondent pas aux principes généralement acceptés et aux règles et procédures juridiques établies.

    Le premier projet de Constitution prévoyant un système de gouvernance présidentiel, présenté en novembre 2020, a été surnommé « khanstitution » en référence aux dirigeants autocratiques historiques d’Asie centrale. Ses détracteurs ont accusé M. Japarov, qui a plaidé en faveur de ce changement depuis son entrée en fonction en octobre 2020, de vouloir usurper le pouvoir.

    Le projet de Constitution accordait au président des pouvoirs pratiquement illimités, tout en réduisant au minimum le statut et les pouvoirs du Parlement, ce qui compromettait l’équilibre des pouvoirs et créait un risque d’abus de pouvoir présidentiel. Il prévoyait également une procédure d’impeachment compliquée, impossible à mettre en œuvre dans la pratique. En outre, alors qu’il ne mentionne pas une seule fois le principe de l’État de droit, le texte fait référence à plusieurs reprises à des valeurs et principes moraux. De nombreuses dispositions de la Constitution actuelle qui garantissent les droits humains et les libertés ont été exclues.

    En raison de critiques sévères, les autorités ont été contraintes d’abandonner leur projet initial de soumettre le projet de Constitution à un référendum le même jour que l’élection présidentielle de janvier 2021, et ont accepté d’organiser une discussion plus large. À cette fin, une conférence dite constitutionnelle a été convoquée et ses membres ont travaillé pendant deux mois et demi, malgré les accusations d’illégitimité de leurs activités. Au début du mois de février 2021, la conférence constitutionnelle a soumis ses suggestions au Parlement.

    Il faut reconnaître qu’à la suite de la discussion et des propositions soumises par la conférence constitutionnelle, certaines parties du projet de Constitution ont été améliorées. Par exemple, la référence au principe de l’État de droit a été rétablie et des modifications importantes ont été apportées aux sections relatives aux droits humains et aux libertés, notamment en ce qui concerne la protection de la liberté d’expression, le rôle des médias indépendants et le droit d’accès à l’information. Mais le projet est resté pratiquement inchangé en ce qui concerne les dispositions qui prévoient des pouvoirs illimités pour le président.

    En mars 2021, le Parlement a adopté une loi sur l’organisation d’un référendum sur le projet de Constitution révisé, fixant la date au 11 avril 2021. Cela a suscité une nouvelle vague d’indignation parmi les politiciens, les juristes et les activistes de la société civile, qui ont souligné que cela allait à l’encontre de la procédure établie pour les changements constitutionnels et ont de nouveau averti que la concentration du pouvoir entre les mains du président pourrait aboutir à un régime autoritaire. Leurs préoccupations ont été reprises dans un avis conjoint de la Commission de Venise et du Bureau des institutions démocratiques et des droits de l'homme au sein de l’Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe, émis en mars 2021 à la demande du médiateur du Kirghizistan.

    Le projet de Constitution comporte deux autres dispositions problématiques. L’une d’elles permet d’imposer des restrictions à tout événement qui contredit les « valeurs morales et éthiques » ou « la conscience publique du peuple de la République kirghize ». Ces concepts ne sont pas définis ou réglementés, ils peuvent donc être interprétés différemment selon les cas, ce qui crée un risque d’interprétation trop large et subjective et d’application arbitraire. Cela pourrait à son tour entraîner des restrictions excessives des droits et libertés humains, notamment des droits aux libertés d’expression et de réunion pacifique.

    L’autre disposition impose aux partis politiques, aux syndicats et aux autres associations publiques de garantir la transparence de leurs activités financières et économiques. Dans le contexte des récentes tentatives de renforcement du contrôle des organisations de la société civile (OSC), on craint que cette disposition ne soit utilisée pour faire pression sur celles-ci. Le jour même où le Parlement a voté en faveur de l’organisation d’un référendum sur le projet de Constitution, certains législateurs ont accusé les OSC de porter atteinte aux « valeurs traditionnelles » et de constituer une menace pour l’État. 

    Les activistes de la société civile continuent de demander la dissolution du Parlement actuel, qui a perdu sa légitimité à leurs yeux, et exhortent le président à convoquer rapidement de nouvelles élections. Les activistes organisent un rassemblement permanent à cette fin et, si leurs demandes ne sont pas satisfaites, ils prévoient de se tourner vers les tribunaux en invoquant l'usurpation du pouvoir.

    Le président a toutefois rejeté toutes les préoccupations exprimées au sujet de la réforme constitutionnelle. Il a assuré que le Kirghizistan resterait un pays démocratique, que la liberté d’expression et la sécurité personnelle des journalistes seraient respectées et qu’il n’y aurait plus de persécution politique.

    Les citoyens du Kirghizistan doivent faire leur choix. Le référendum à venir sur l’actuel projet de Constitution pourrait devenir un autre tournant dans l’histoire du Kirghizistan, et le choix des citoyens sera décisif pour l’évolution future vers la stabilité et la prospérité.

    L’espace civique au Kirghizistan est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Entrez en contact avec la Legal Prosperity Foundation via sa pageFacebook et suivezlpf_kg sur Instagram. 

     

  • KYRGYZSTAN: ‘The citizens' choice in the referendum will be decisive for our future’

    Ulugbek AzimovCIVICUS and the International Partnership for Human Rights speak to Ulugbek Azimov, legal expert at the Legal Prosperity Foundation, about the protests that took place in Kyrgyzstan in October 2020 and subsequent political developments. The Legal Prosperity Foundation (previously the Youth Human Rights Group) is an independent civil society organisation that has worked to promote human rights and democratic principles in Kyrgyzstan since 1995. The organisation carries out educational programmes, conducts human rights monitoring, interacts with international human rights mechanisms and promotes respect for human rights in the context of legal reforms.

    Kyrgyzstan is often referred to as Central Asia’s only democracy. How close to truth is this depiction?

    It is true that in the early 1990s, that is, in the first years of independence, democracy sprouted and began developing in Kyrgyzstan. Compared to other countries in the region, Kyrgyzstan was characterised by a higher level of citizen participation, a more developed civil society and more favourable conditions for the functioning and participation of political parties in the political process. For this reason, Kyrgyzstan was called an ‘island of democracy’ in Central Asia.

    However, during the 30 years since independence, Kyrgyzstan has faced serious challenges. Attempts by former presidents to preserve and strengthen their hold on power by putting pressure on the opposition, persecuting independent media and journalists, restricting the freedom of expression, using public resources in their favour, bribing voters and falsifying the results of elections have resulted in major political upheavals on several occasions. In the past 15 years, the government has been overthrown three times during the so-called Tulip, April and October revolutions, in 2005, 2010 and 2020, respectively, with two former presidents being forced to flee the country, and the third forced to resign ahead of time.

    Each upheaval has, unfortunately, been followed by developments undermining previous democratic gains. It is therefore not surprising that Freedom House has consistently rated Kyrgyzstan as only ‘partially free’ in its annual Freedom in the World survey. Moreover, in the most recent survey published this year, Kyrgyzstan’s rating deteriorated to that of ‘not free’ because of the fall-out of the October 2020 parliamentary elections, which were marred by serious violations. Thus, Kyrgyzstan is now in the same category in which other Central Asian countries have been for many years. 

    Were pandemic-related restrictions imposed in the run-up to the 2020 elections?

    In response to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the spring of 2020, the Kyrgyzstani authorities adopted emergency measures and introduced a lockdown in the capital, Bishkek, and in several other regions of the country, which led to restrictions on the right to the freedom of movement and other, related rights. All public events, including rallies, were banned.

    Measures taken in the context of the pandemic also gave rise to concerns about restrictions on the freedom of expression and access to information. The authorities seriously tightened the screws on critical voices in response to widespread criticism of those in power, including then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, for their failure to fight the pandemic effectively. Law enforcement authorities tracked down inconvenient bloggers and social media commentators, visited them in their homes and held ‘prophylactic’ discussions with them. In some cases, social media users were detained for allegedly posting false information about the pandemic and forced to apologise publicly under threat of prosecution.

    The law on ‘manipulation of information’, which parliament passed in June 2020, is of particular concern. Although the initiators of the law claimed that it was solely intended to address the problem of fake online accounts, it was clear from the start that this was an attempt by the authorities to introduce internet censorship and close down objectionable sites on the eve of the elections. Following an avalanche of criticism from the media community and human rights defenders, then-President Jeenbekov declined to sign the law and returned it to parliament for revision in August 2020. Since then, the law has remained with parliament. 

    What triggered the post-election demonstrations in October 2020? Who protested, and why?

    The main reason for the October 2020 protests, which again led to a change in power, was people’s dissatisfaction with the official results of the parliamentary elections held on 4 October. 

    Out of the 16 parties running for seats in parliament, only five passed the seven per cent electoral threshold required to get into parliament. Although then-President Jeenbekov publicly stated that he did not support any party, the one that received most votes – Birimdik (Unity) – was associated with him since his brother and other people from the ruling elite were running on its ticket. The party that ended up second, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (Motherland Kyrgyzstan), was also viewed as pro-government and was associated with the family of former high-ranking customs service official Raiymbek Matraimov, who was implicated in a high-profile media investigation into corruption published in November 2019. Jeenbekov’s government ignored the findings of this investigation and failed to initiate a criminal case against Matraimov, despite public calls to this end.

    It was predictable that Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan would fare well in the elections given the use of public resources and reported vote-buying in favour of their candidates. These two parties, which took part in parliamentary elections for the first time, received almost half of the votes and therefore an absolute majority of the seats in parliament. The methods used by the two winning parties to secure control over parliament caused indignation among other political parties that participated in the elections, their voters and even apolitical people.

    The elections took place against the backdrop of growing discontent with the social and economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, as well as growing anti-government sentiments among the population.

    The ‘dirty’ elections, characterised by an unprecedented scale of violations, became a catalyst for subsequent events. Protests began immediately after the announcement of the preliminary results on the evening of election day, 4 October, and continued throughout the next day. Young people played a decisive role in them: most of those who took to the streets to protest and gathered in the central square of the capital were young people. Unfortunately, most of those who were injured, as well as the protester who died during the October events, were young people too.

    What was the government’s reaction to the protests?

    The authorities had the opportunity to take control of the situation and resolve it peacefully, but they did not take it. Only in the evening of 5 October did then-President Jeenbekov announce that he would meet with the leaders of the different parties that competed in the elections. He set up a meeting for the morning of 6 October, but this turned out to be too late, as in the night of 5 October the peaceful protests devolved into clashes between protesters and law enforcement officials in Bishkek, ending with the seizure of the White House (the seat of the president and parliament) and other public buildings by protesters. During the clashes, law enforcement authorities used rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas against the protesters. As a result of the clashes, a 19-year-old young man was killed and more than 1,000 people needed medical attention, including protesters and law enforcement officials, with over 600 police officers injured. During the unrest, police cars, ambulances, surveillance cameras and other property were also damaged, to an estimated value of over 17 million Som (approx. US$200,000).

    Did the snap presidential elections held in January 2021 solve the problems raised by the protests?

    The main demand of the protesters was to cancel the results of the October 2020 parliamentary elections and hold new, fair elections. This demand was partly satisfied on 6 October 2020, when the Central Election Commission (CEC) declared the election results invalid. However, up to now, no date has been fixed for the new parliamentary elections. The CEC initially scheduled them for 20 December 2020 but parliament responded by promptly adopting a law that suspended the elections pending a revision of the constitution and extended the terms in office of the members of the outgoing parliament until 1 June 2021.

    In its assessment of this law, the Venice Commission – an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent constitutional law experts – concluded that during the current transitional period parliament should exercise limited functions and refrain from approving extraordinary measures, such as constitutional reforms. However, the outgoing parliament has continued its work as usual and approved the holding of a constitutional referendum in April 2021. Newly elected President Sadyr Japarov has suggested holding new parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2021, which would mean that members of the outgoing parliament would continue in their positions even after 1 June 2021.

    In accordance with other demands of the protesters, the country’s electoral legislation was amended in October 2020 to reduce the electoral threshold from seven to three percentage points for parties to gain representation in parliament and to reduce the electoral fee from 5 to 1 million Som (approx. US$12,000). These amendments were made to facilitate the participation of a larger number of parties, including newer ones, and to promote pluralism and competition.

    The protesters also expressed resentment about the inadequate measures taken to fight corruption. They demanded that the authorities bring to justice corrupt officials, particularly Matraimov, and return stolen property to the state. Speaking in front of the protesters before he became president, Japarov promised that Matraimov would be arrested and punished.

    To be fair, Japarov kept his word. After Japarov rose to power in October 2020, Matraimov was arrested in connection with an investigation into corruption schemes within the customs service, pleaded guilty and agreed to compensate the damage by paying back more than 2 billion Som (approx. US$24 million). A local court subsequently convicted him, but handed him a mitigated sentence in the form of a fine of 260,000 Som (approx. US$3,000) and lifted freezing orders on his property, since he had cooperated with the investigation. This extremely lenient sentence caused public outrage. On 18 February 2021, Matraimov was arrested again on new charges of money laundering, but after a few days he was transferred from the pre-trial detention facility where he was being held to a private clinic to undergo treatment for health problems. After that, many labelled the anti-corruption measures of the current authorities as ‘populist’.

    In January 2021 Kyrgyz citizens also voted in a constitutional referendum. What were its results, and what consequences will they have for the quality of democracy?

    According to the results of the referendum, which took place on the same day as the presidential election in January 2021, 84 per cent of voters supported a transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government.

    Based on comparative experience, many lawyers and civil society activists do not view this change as negative per se, provided that a well-functioning system of checks and balances is put in place. However, they are seriously concerned that the authorities are attempting to push through the transition at an unjustifiably quick pace using questionable approaches and methods that do not correspond to generally accepted principles and established legal rules and procedures.

    The first draft constitution providing for a presidential system of governance, put forward in November 2020, was dubbed a ‘khanstitution’ in reference to the historic autocratic rulers of Central Asia. Critics accused Japarov, who has advocated for this change since taking office in October 2020, of trying to usurp power.

    The draft constitution granted the president practically unlimited powers, while reducing the status and powers of parliament to a minimum, thereby jeopardising checks and balances and creating the risk of presidential abuse of power. It also provided for a complicated impeachment procedure that would be impossible to implement in practice. Moreover, while it did not mention the principle of the rule of law even once, the text repeatedly referred to moral values and principles. Many provisions of the current constitution that guarantee human rights and freedoms were excluded.

    Because of harsh criticism, the authorities were forced to abandon their initial plans to submit the draft constitution to referendum on the same day as the presidential election in January 2021 and agreed to organise a broader discussion. To this end, a so-called constitutional conference was convened and its members worked for two and a half months, in spite of facing accusations that their activities were illegitimate. At the beginning of February 2021, the constitutional conference submitted its suggestions to parliament.

    It should be acknowledged that as a result of the discussion and proposals submitted by the constitutional conference, parts of the draft constitution were improved. For example, the reference to the principle of the rule of law was restored, and significant amendments were made to the sections on human rights and freedoms, including with respect to protecting the freedom of expression, the role of independent media and the right to access information. But it remained practically unchanged with respect to the provisions that set out unlimited powers for the president.

    In March 2021, parliament adopted a law on holding a referendum on the revised draft constitution, setting the date for 11 April 2021. This sparked a new wave of indignation among politicians, lawyers and civil society activists, who pointed out that this was against the established procedure for constitutional change and warned again that the concentration of power in the hands of the president might result in authoritarian rule. Their concerns were echoed in a joint opinion of the Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, issued in March 2021 at the request of the Ombudsman of Kyrgyzstan.

    The draft constitution has two other problematic provisions. One allows for restrictions to be imposed on any events that contradict ‘moral and ethical values’ or ‘the public consciousness of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic’. These concepts are not defined or regulated, so they might be interpreted differently in different cases, creating the risk of overly broad and subjective interpretation and arbitrary application. This, in turn, might lead to excessive restrictions on human rights and freedoms, including the rights to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

    The other provision requires political parties, trade unions and other public associations to ensure the transparency of their financial and economic activities. Against the background of recent attempts to step up control over civil society organisations (CSOs), there are concerns that it might be used to put pressure on them. On the same day that parliament voted in favour of holding a referendum on the draft constitution, some legislators accused CSOs of allegedly undermining ‘traditional values’ and posing a threat to the state. 

    Civil society activists continue to call on the current parliament, which in their eyes has lost its legitimacy, to dissolve and on the president to call new elections promptly. Activists are holding an ongoing rally to this end and, if their demands are not met, they plan to turn to the courts on the grounds of the usurpation of power.

    The president, however, has rejected all concerns voiced about the constitutional reform. He has assured that Kyrgyzstan will remain a democratic country, that the freedom of expression and the personal safety of journalists will be respected, and that there will be no further political persecution. 

    The citizens of Kyrgyzstan must make their choice. The upcoming referendum on the current draft constitution may become another turning point in the history of Kyrgyzstan, and the choice made by citizens will be decisive for the future development towards stability and prosperity.

    Civic space in Kyrgyzstan is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Legal Prosperity Foundation through itsFacebook page and followlpf_kg on Instagram.

     

  • Las elecciones en Camerún auguran más problemas, no soluciones para los anglófonos

    Por Teldah Mawarire, responsable de campañas y de incidencia política e Ine van Severen, responsable de investigación del espacio cívico

    Para las naciones en crisis, las elecciones libres y justas pueden traer un alivio muy necesario. Votar ofrece esperanza y la oportunidad de poner fin a los conflictos. Hemos visto esto en los últimos tiempos en países como Gambia, Maldivas y Malasia, donde presidentes cada vez más autocráticos fueron expulsados de sus cargos en las urnas por el hartazgo de los votantes.

    Lea el artículo en inglés en: The Government and Business Journal

     

  • LEBANON: ‘This election has brought to the forefront new voices speaking about rights’

    Lina Abou HabibCIVICUS speaks about the recent general elections in Lebanon with Lina Abou Habib, director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut.

    The Asfari Institute seeks to bridge academia and civil society activism. It does so through knowledge production, convenings and the creation of safe spaces for learning, dialogue and exchange. Located at the heart of the American University in Beirut, it functions as a regional hub for civil society working for diversity, inclusion, equality, accountability and sustainability.

    What change resulted from the 15 May general election?

    Despite taking place in an extremely complicated, uncertain and turbulent political and economic context, the process resulted in the election of many new independent candidates coming from civil society and calling for change. These new voices have political agendas that are very different from those of traditional ruling parties: they call for a new, more accountable governance system and for women’s rights, among other issues. These agendas include road maps for overcoming the ongoing deep economic crisis. And most importantly, they focus on how to stop the political race to the bottom that’s been happening in Lebanon.

    Most of the independent candidates who were elected are linked to the 17 October protests, the uprisings that took place in 2019, when people clearly said that they had enough of the political elite that had become – and continues to be – outrageously corrupt. The 17 October Revolution was a unique moment because protesters had such diverse, inclusive and feminist voices – feminist demands became an integral part of the political demands of the revolution. For instance, sexual harassment became a political issue because the voices of the LGBTQI+ community and migrant women domestic workers were also represented. No demand was compromised or put aside.

    By that time, it became clear to us what system of governance we aspired to. It must be based on equality, inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights. The revolution also gained momentum because the same thing was happening in Chile and other countries where people were rising up. Hence, I do not exaggerate when I say that the feminist voices of the 17 October Revolution inspired political participation in the 2022 election.

    It is important to note, however, that some independent members of the new parliament do not share the agenda of the 17 October Revolution and have quite regressive rhetoric. For instance, newly elected member of parliament Cynthia Zarazir called for the death of Syrian refugees on social media. Having people like her in parliament represents a new challenge. Aside from that, I would say that this election has brought to the forefront new voices speaking about rights and pointing the way forward out of the current crisis.

    How did the feminist movement work collectively in preparation for the election?

    There was rallying behind feminist candidates such as Zoya Jureidini Rouhana, who pushes for an compulsory egalitarian family law, a top priority for Lebanon’s feminist movement. Rouhana is the founder of KAFA (‘enough’) Violence and Exploitation, a feminist civil society organisation that was behind several legal reforms in Lebanon. Moreover, it champions political discourse on gender-based violence. Her electoral campaign was in line with that. It is a rare moment when you have a feminist candidate running on a feminist agenda in a general election – and this was partly possible thanks to the voices that became heard in October 2019. The political movement took shape and gained more feminist voices during those uprisings.

    Feminists mobilising around the elections forced candidates to state their position on gender equality, including the rights of the queer community. In return, independent candidates who sided with gender equality were attacked by the regime and conservative forces. One way for government officials and supporters to disparage and attack somebody is to say they are going to endanger the family. This is very unfortunate, but at the same time, it is fantastic that this important conversation is taking place in the public sphere and these issues are being discussed as part of the overall social and political dialogue.

    In sum, the inclusive and intersectional feminist movement of Lebanon has succeeded in elevating feminist discourse to the public and political arena. But there is still a long way to go: the new parliament includes only two additional female members compared to the previous one, as only eight women were elected, out of 115 candidates nominated by traditional parties, opposition groups, and civil society. These results are still lacking in terms of reaching a critical mass to exercise feminist influence in parliament.

    What’s next for the civil society movement following the election?

    The real battle is just about to begin. The election showed that change is possible, but it is still not enough. The next step for us is to figure out how we will hold independent members of parliament accountable. They must be accountable because they won as a result of our collective movement.

    We will still be facing a corrupt and oppressive regime and serious issues such as illegal arms and a heavily militarised society, economic downfall, destroyed livelihoods, broken public institutions and irresponsible and unaccountable policymaking. As such, civil society in its diversity, and especially the intersectional feminist movement, should remain vigilant.

    The conversation we started must continue, and we need our international allies to help keep it going, and certainly not be complicit with the regime. We have a collective responsibility to monitor human rights violations, talk to feminist activists and help amplify the voices of Lebanon’s intersectional young feminists.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS monitor.
    Get in touch with the Asfari Institute through itswebsite and follow@AsfariInstitute on Twitter.

     

  • MALAWI : « La société civile attend du nouveau gouvernement qu’il donne la priorité aux droits humains »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Michael Kaiyatsa, directeur exécutif par intérim du Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), au sujet des récentes élections présidentielles au Malawi, qui se sont déroulées dans le contexte de la pandémie de COVID-19 et ont abouti à un changement de gouvernement. Le CHRR est une organisation de la société civile (OSC) qui soutient et promeut la démocratie et les droits humains au Malawi. Sa mission est de contribuer à la protection, la promotion et la consolidation de la bonne gouvernance en donnant aux communautés rurales et urbaines les moyens d’exercer leurs droits. Fondée en 1995 par d’anciens étudiants exilés qui sont rentrés dans le pays, attirés par la promesse d’une nouvelle démocratie, elle opère à travers deux programmes principaux : la mobilisation et l’autonomisation des communautés et la surveillance et la formation en matière de droits humains.

    MichaelKaiyatsa

    L’élection présidentielle a eu lieu au Malawi en juin 2020, en pleine pandémie de COVID-19 et en pleine crise politique. Quels rôles ont joué la société civile et le système judiciaire dans la réalisation de l’élection ?

    Je pense qu’il est juste de dire que les manifestations menées par les avocats et la société civile ont ouvert la voie à la tenue d’une nouvelle élection présidentielle. L’élection qui s’est tenue le 23 juin 2020 était un nouveau scrutin ordonné par la Cour constitutionnelle du Malawi le 3 février 2020, lorsqu’elle a décidé d’annuler l’élection présidentielle du 21 mai 2019, en invoquant des irrégularités massives.

    Lors de la présidentielle de mai 2019, le président sortant Peter Mutharika a été déclaré vainqueur au scrutin majoritaire à un tour, avec 38,57 % des voix. Cependant, l’opposition a affirmé que l’élection était frauduleuse. Elle a cité, entre autres, l’utilisation présumée de liquide correcteur Tippex pour modifier les chiffres sur les bulletins de vote. Le Dr Lazarus Chakwera, du Malawi Congress Party (MCP), et le Dr Saulos Chilima, du United Transformation Movement, ont demandé à la Cour constitutionnelle d’annuler les résultats de l’élection présidentielle. Tous deux ont invoqué des irrégularités généralisées, notamment l’utilisation de Tippex et des signatures manquantes sur certaines listes de résultats.

    L’arrêt historique de la Cour constitutionnelle, validé ensuite par la Cour suprême, constitue une illustration remarquable de l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire dans la démocratie naissante du Malawi. Cependant, la clé de cet arrêt n’est pas seulement l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire, mais aussi les mois de manifestations de masse menées par la société civile. Les protestations étaient si soutenues et vigoureuses qu'elles ne pouvaient être ignorées par les institutions démocratiques majeures comme le pouvoir judiciaire. La Human Rights Defenders Coalition, un groupement influent de la société civile, a courageusement conduit des milliers de personnes dans les rues à maintes reprises pour protester contre les résultats erronés des élections de mai 2019. Cette action a été particulièrement importante car elle a considérablement augmenté la pression sur le pouvoir judiciaire et d'autres institutions démocratiques incontournables pour qu'ils agissent comme il se doit. Il ne s’agit pas de sous-estimer le rôle joué par le pouvoir judiciaire. Les juges se sont vraiment levés pour défendre la démocratie. Avant l'arrêt de la Cour constitutionnelle, il y a eu plusieurs tentatives de corruption des juges pour que l'arrêt soit favorable à l’ancien président Mutharika ; un banquier de premier plan a d’ailleurs été arrêté dans le cadre de cette affaire de corruption. De nombreuses menaces ont également pesé sur l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire avant la tenue de la nouvelle élection, notamment une tentative du gouvernement de mettre à la retraite anticipée des juges de haut rang de la Cour suprême quelques jours avant l’élection. Les juges auraient pu facilement succomber à cette intimidation et statuer en faveur de Mutharika, mais ils ne l’ont pas fait. Au contraire, ils ont tenu bon et ont rendu un jugement qui a radicalement changé la façon dont le Malawi est gouverné.

    La société civile a contesté avec succès la décision du gouvernement précédent d’imposer un confinement. Pourquoi l’a-t-elle fait, alors que d’autres pays dans le monde mettaient en œuvre des mesures similaires ?

    La société civile voulait que le confinement soit suspendu jusqu’à ce que le gouvernement trouve un moyen de protéger les personnes les plus pauvres et les plus vulnérables. Les groupes de la société civile étaient mécontents que le gouvernement n’ait pas mis en place un filet de sécurité sociale pour les personnes les plus vulnérables pendant le confinement, ce qui a conduit la Human Rights Defenders Coalition et d’autres OSC à demander une décision de justice pour la suspendre. Il s’agit d’un instantané de la réalité que vivent de nombreuses personnes au Malawi au quotidien.

    Il est également important de noter que la demande de la société civile est intervenue après que des milliers de commerçants informels dans les villes de Blantyre et de Mzuzu et dans des districts tels que Thyolo soient descendus dans la rue pour protester contre le confinement avec des banderoles sur lesquelles était écrit « nous préférons mourir du coronavirus plutôt que de mourir de faim ». Beaucoup de ces vendeurs sont des gens qui gagnent leur vie au jour le jour et un confinement aurait pu les affecter gravement. La société civile et les citoyens soupçonnaient de plus en plus le gouvernement d’essayer d’utiliser le confinement pour justifier l’annulation ou le report des élections.

    Quel a été le taux de participation aux élections ? A-t-on craint que les citoyens ne se déplacent pas pour voter par peur de contracter le virus ?

    On craignait que les gens ne se rendent pas aux urnes en grand nombre par peur de la contagion dans le contexte de la pandémie. On craignait, par exemple, qu’étant donné la nécessité de ne pas se réunir en grands groupes et de maintenir une distance sociale, les citoyens préfèrent ne pas quitter leur domicile pour voter, par souci de leur propre santé et de celle de leur famille. Il y avait également un risque important que les personnes dissuadées de voter appartiennent de manière disproportionnée aux groupes d’âge plus élevés ou aux personnes souffrant de maladies préexistantes. Ainsi, la légitimité de l’élection pouvait être sapée par des restrictions injustes imposées à certains segments de la société et donc par leur participation inégale.

    Ces craintes se sont en partie concrétisées. La participation des électeurs a été plus faible que lors des élections précédentes. Sur les 6 859 570 Malawites inscrits pour voter en 2020, 64,8 % ont voté. Ce chiffre est inférieur à celui de mai 2019, lorsque 74,4 % des électeurs inscrits avaient participé. Mais le faible taux de participation pourrait également être attribué à l’insuffisance des campagnes d’éducation civique et électorale. Contrairement aux élections précédentes, la plupart des OSC n’ont pas été en mesure de mener à bien ces campagnes en raison d’un manque de ressources. L’incertitude quant à la date des élections a rendu difficile la mobilisation des ressources par les OSC. La précédente Commission électorale du Malawi (MEC) n’a pas donné suffisamment confiance à la population pour que les élections aient lieu dans le délai imparti de 150 jours. La date officielle de l’élection a été fixée à peine deux semaines à l’avance, et il n’a pas été facile de mobiliser des ressources pour mener une éducation civique et électorale dans un délai aussi court.

    Cependant, il est également possible que certains Malawites aient évité de se rendre aux urnes à cause de la pandémie de COVID-19. Le jour de l’élection, on comptait déjà 803 cas documentés et 11 décès dus au COVID-19 au Malawi. Il est donc possible que certaines personnes - en particulier les personnes âgées ou celles ayant des problèmes de santé préexistants - se soient abstenues de se rendre aux urnes.

    Quels ont été les défis de l’organisation d’élections pendant une pandémie ?

    L’expérience du Malawi a montré que l’organisation d’élections pendant une pandémie peut être très difficile. Les mesures de précaution émises par le gouvernement n’autorisent pas les rassemblements de plus de 100 personnes. Cependant, la plupart des partis politiques ont ignoré cette restriction et ont organisé des événements de campagne qui dépassaient ce nombre.

    L’un des principaux défis auxquels la MEC a été confrontée lors de ces nouvelles élections était la nécessité de donner la priorité à la santé et à la sécurité des électeurs tout en garantissant l’intégrité des élections. La MEC dispose généralement d’un budget pour l’éducation des électeurs qui est utilisé avant chaque élection. Cependant, comme cette nouvelle élection n’a pas été budgétisée à l’avance, la MEC a dû faire face à des difficultés financières, qui ont été aggravées par la pandémie de COVID-19, car elle a nécessité l’achat d’équipements de protection individuelle, ajoutant des contraintes budgétaires supplémentaires.

    La MEC a également rencontré des difficultés importantes en ce qui concerne la production et la distribution du matériel de vote. Le Malawi importe beaucoup de matériel électoral d’autres pays. Alors que le Malawi se préparait aux nouvelles élections, de nombreux pays étaient en confinement total ou partiel en raison de la pandémie. Cela a eu des répercussions sur les préparatifs des élections, car certains fournisseurs ont eu des difficultés à transporter des matériaux au-delà des frontières internationales. En conséquence, l’impression des bulletins de vote, qui a eu lieu à Dubaï, a connu des retards importants.

    Un autre défi a été que les partis politiques n’ont pas pu surveiller le processus d’impression des bulletins de vote, comme cela a toujours été le cas, en raison des restrictions de voyage liées à la COVID-19. Une autre conséquence importante de la pandémie a été l’absence d’observateurs électoraux internationaux. Compte tenu des restrictions de voyage imposées dans le monde entier, la capacité des observateurs internationaux à contrôler les élections a été considérablement réduite. Et comme mentionné ci-dessus, la pandémie a également affecté la participation électorale.

    Maintenant que l’élection a abouti à la nomination d’un nouveau président, qu’attend la société civile du nouveau gouvernement ?

    La société civile attend beaucoup du nouveau gouvernement. Principalement, elle attend que le programme du nouveau gouvernement donne la priorité aux droits humains et renforce les libertés fondamentales de tous les Malawites, conformément aux normes internationales en la matière. On attend également du gouvernement qu’il agisse pour protéger l’espace de la société civile. La nouvelle élection présidentielle s’est déroulée dans un contexte d’attaques concertées du gouvernement contre la société civile et le pouvoir judiciaire. Nous attendons du nouveau gouvernement qu’il tienne sa promesse électorale de protéger l’espace civique et de permettre aux OSC de fonctionner librement.

    Dans son manifeste électoral de 2019, le MCP, qui dirige l’Alliance Tonse (un mot qui signifie « nous tous »), une coalition de neuf partis politiques formée quelques semaines avant la nouvelle élection pour déloger Mutharika, a promis de soutenir le fonctionnement des OSC locales et internationales de défense des droits humains grâce à un cadre politique, institutionnel et législatif permissif et habilitant, et de faciliter le développement progressif d’une société civile pleinement capable de demander des comptes au gouvernement et de faire respecter les droits des citoyens. Nous espérons que le nouveau gouvernement donnera suite à cette promesse et retirera le projet de loi oppressif sur les ONG de 2018, qui contient un certain nombre de dispositions susceptibles de constituer une menace pour la capacité des OSC à fonctionner. Le projet de loi augmenterait le montant de la pénalité imposée à une OSC en infraction avec la loi, qui passerait de 70 dollars US actuellement à 20 000 dollars US. Il prévoit également une peine de sept ans de prison pour les dirigeants d’OSC reconnus coupables de violation de la loi. Ainsi, par exemple, si vous tardez à envoyer un rapport à l’Autorité des ONG, vous risquez une amende de 20 000 dollars US. En outre, les directeurs de l’organisation pourraient être envoyés en prison pour sept ans. Il s'agit d'une disposition ridicule. C’est le genre de disposition que l’on ne trouve que dans les États autoritaires. Nous espérons également que le nouveau gouvernement supprimera le nouveau régime de cotisation, qui est répressif et impose une lourde charge aux OSC, et rétablira l’ancien système de cotisation. Les nouveaux frais que les OSC doivent payer au Conseil des ONG ont été augmentés en janvier 2018, passant de 70 dollars US à 1 400 dollars US.

    De quel soutien la société civile malawite aura-t-elle besoin de la part des partenaires internationaux pour aider à soutenir la démocratie au Malawi ?

    Maintenant que les élections sont terminées, il est urgent que la société civile se réunisse et élabore une feuille de route et des plans d’action comprenant un mécanisme solide de contrôle des actions du gouvernement. Pour ce faire, et en particulier pour développer leurs capacités à demander au nouveau gouvernement de rendre compte de ses engagements, les OSC ont besoin du soutien des OSC internationales. Les OSC ont également besoin d’un soutien financier pour renforcer leur rôle en tant qu’acteurs de la gouvernance et de la responsabilité locales. La viabilité financière est essentielle pour que les OSC locales deviennent des organisations résilientes et efficaces. Les OSC et les donateurs internationaux ont un rôle clé à jouer pour contribuer à la durabilité des OSC locales. Enfin, les OSC ont besoin du soutien moral des OSC internationales pour être plus efficaces. Pendant la campagne pour l’intégrité des élections, les OSC locales ont reçu un soutien massif de la société civile internationale par le biais de déclarations dans les médias et de lettres aux autorités. Nous espérons que ce soutien se poursuivra tandis que nous nous lançons dans la tâche ardue de surveiller les actions du nouveau gouvernement, notamment en ce qui concerne la lutte contre la corruption et la fin de la culture d’impunité qui prévaut depuis longtemps en ce qui concerne les violations des droits humains.

    L’espace civique au Malawi est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez le Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@CHRRMalawi sur Twitter. 

     

  • MALAWI: ‘Civil society expects new gov. to place rights at the top of its agenda’

    CIVICUS speaks with Michael Kaiyatsa, acting Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR),about the recent presidential election in Malawi, which were held in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and led to a change of government. The CHRR is civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at supporting and promoting democracy and human rights in Malawi. Its mission is to contribute towards the protection, promotion and consolidation of good governance by empowering rural and urban communities to exercise their rights. Founded in 1995 by former student exiles who returned home to the promise of a new democracy, it operates through two core programmes: Community Mobilisation and Empowerment and Human Rights Monitoring and Training.

    MichaelKaiyatsa 

    Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a political crisis, the presidential election was held in Malawi in June 2020. What was the role of civil society and the judiciary in ensuring that the election took place?

    I think it is fair to say that judges and civil society-led protests paved the way for the fresh presidential election to be held. The election that was held on 23 June 2020 was a rerun ordered by Malawi’s Constitutional Court, which ruled on 3 February 2020 to overturn the 21 May 2019 presidential election, citing massive irregularities.

    In the May 2019 presidential contest, the incumbent, Peter Mutharika, was declared winner, in the first-past-the-post system, with 38.57 per cent of the vote. However, the opposition claimed the poll had been fraudulent. They cited, among other things, the alleged use of Tippex correction fluid to change vote tallies. Dr Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party and Dr Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking to overturn the presidential election results. The two cited widespread irregularities, including the use of Tippex and missing signatures on some result sheets.

    The Constitutional Court’s historic ruling, later validated by the country’s Supreme Court, represents a noteworthy illustration of the independence of the judiciary in Malawi’s maturing democracy. However, key to the ruling was not only the independence of Malawi’s judiciary but also months of civil society-led mass demonstrations. The protests were so sustained and vigorous that they could not be ignored by key democratic institutions like the judiciary. The Human Rights Defenders Coalition, an influential civil society grouping, courageously brought thousands of people to the streets on a regular basis to campaign against the botched outcome of the May 2019 election. This was particularly important because it significantly increased the pressure on the judiciary and other key democratic institutions to do the right thing.

    This is not to underrate the role played by the judiciary. The judges really stood up to defend democracy. Prior to the Constitutional Court ruling there had been several attempts to bribe the judges to ensure that the ruling went in former President Mutharika’s favour: one prominent banker was arrested in connection with the bribery case. There were also numerous threats to the independence of the judiciary prior to the rerun, including a government attempt to force out senior Supreme Court judges through early retirement just days before the rerun. The judges could have easily succumbed to such intimidation and ruled in favour of Mutharika, but they did not. Instead, they stood firm and delivered a radical judgement that has changed the way Malawi is governed.

    Civil society successfully challenged a decision by the former government to impose a lockdown. Why did civil society object to it when other countries around the world were implementing similar measures?

    Civil society wanted the lockdown to be put on hold until the government could come up with some way to protect the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Civil society groups were unhappy that the government did not outline a social safety net for vulnerable people during the lockdown, which prompted the Human Rights Defenders Coalition and other CSOs to seek a stop order from the court. It is a fact that many people in Malawi operate on a hand-to-mouth basis.

    It is also important to note that the civil society challenge came after thousands of informal traders in the cities of Blantyre and Mzuzu and in districts like Thyolo had taken to the streets to protest against the lockdown with placards that read, ‘We’d rather die of corona than die of hunger’. Many of these vendors are daily wage earners and a lockdown could have badly affected them. There was also growing suspicion among civil society and the citizenry that the government was trying to use the lockdown to justify the cancellation or postponement of the elections.

    How was the election turnout? Were there worries that Malawians would not come out to vote for fear of contagion?

    There were worries that Malawians would not come out in their numbers to vote because of health concerns caused by the pandemic. It was feared, for example, that with the need for limited exposure to large groups and social distancing, citizens might be less likely to leave their homes to vote because of concerns for their own health and that of their family members. There was also a major risk that those deterred from voting would be disproportionately from older age groups or people with underlying health conditions. The legitimacy of the contest might therefore be undermined by unfair restrictions placed on certain segments of society and thus by their uneven participation. 

    These fears were partly realised. The voter turnout was lower than in the previous election. Of the 6,859,570 Malawians registered to vote in 2020, 64.8 per cent voted. This was down from May 2019, when 74.4 per cent of registered voters participated. But the low turnout could also be attributed to inadequate voter and civic education campaigns. Unlike in previous elections, most CSOs were unable to conduct civic and voter education due to resource challenges. The uncertainty of polling dates made it difficult for CSOs to mobilise resources. The previous Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) did not give people confidence that the elections would take place within the stipulated 150 days. The official date for the polls was fixed only around two weeks before the elections, so mobilising resources to conduct civic and voter education at such short notice was not easy.

    However, it is also true that some Malawians may have avoided the polls because of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. By election day, there were 803 documented cases and 11 recorded COVID-19 deaths in Malawi so some people – possibly older people and those with pre-existing health conditions – may have stayed away.

    What were the challenges of organising elections during a pandemic?

    The experience in Malawi has shown that organising elections during a pandemic can be very challenging. The prevention measures outlined by the government do not allow gatherings of more than 100 people. However, most political parties ignored this restriction and held campaign meetings exceeding this number.

    A key challenge faced by the MEC during this fresh election was the need to put the health and safety of voters first while ensuring the integrity of elections. The MEC usually has a voter education budget that is utilised ahead of each election. However, given that this fresh election was not budgeted for earlier, the MEC faced financial challenges, which deepened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which required the procurement of personal protective equipment, adding further budgetary constraints.

    The MEC also experienced significant challenges with the production and distribution of voting materials. Malawi imports many election materials from other countries. As Malawi was gearing up for the fresh election, many countries were on full or partial lockdown in the wake of the pandemic. This impacted on election preparations, as some suppliers found it difficult to transport goods internationally. Because of all this, there were significant delays in the printing of ballot papers, which was done in Dubai.

    Another challenge was that political parties were not able to monitor the ballot printing process, as has always been the case, due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions. A further important consequence of the pandemic was the absence of international election observers. With international travel restrictions imposed worldwide, the ability of international observers to observe the election was dramatically restricted. And as already mentioned, the pandemic affected voter turnout.

    Now that the rerun election has led to the ousting of the incumbent and a new president, what does civil society expect from the new government?

    Civil society has many expectations of the new government. One of the key expectations is that the new government will place the promotion and protection of human rights at the top of its agenda and strengthen the fundamental freedoms of all Malawians in line with international human rights standards. It is also hoped that the government will move to protect the space for civil society. The fresh presidential election took place amidst concerted government attacks on civil society and the judiciary. It is our expectation that the new government will fulfil its election promise to protect civic space and allow CSOs to operate freely.

    In its 2019 election manifesto, the Malawi Congress Party, which leads the Tonse Alliance (‘Tonse’ meaning ‘all of us’), a grouping of nine political parties formed weeks before the fresh poll to unseat Mutharika, promised to support the operations of local and international human rights CSOs through a permissive and enabling policy and institutional and legislative framework and to facilitate the progressive development of a civil society that is fully capable of holding the government accountable and defending citizens’ rights. It is our hope that the new administration will walk the talk on this promise and withdraw the oppressive NGO Act (Amendment Bill) of 2018, which contains a number of provisions that could pose a threat to CSOs’ ability to operate. The proposed legislation would raise the penalty fee imposed on a CSO in breach of the law from the current US$70 to US$20,000. It would also impose a seven-year jail term on CSO leaders found in breach of the law. So, for example, if you delay submitting a report to the NGO Authority, you could be fined US$20,000 and the directors of the organisation could be sent to prison for seven years. This is a ridiculous provision. It is a provision that can only be found in authoritarian states. We also hope the new administration will scrap the new fee regime, which is repressive and quite high for CSOs, and revert to the old fees. The new fees that CSOs have to pay to the NGO Board were increased in January 2018 from US$70 to US$1,400.

    What support will civil society in Malawi need from international civil society to help sustain Malawi’s democracy?

    One thing that is urgent now that elections are out of the way is for civil society to sit down and develop an action plan and roadmap, which can include a robust mechanism to check on the government's actions. In this regard, CSOs need the support of international CSOs, particularly to develop their capacities to hold the new government to account on its commitments. CSOs also need financial support to reinforce their role in local governance and accountability. Financial sustainability is crucial for local CSOs if they are to become resilient, effective organisations. International CSOs and donors have a key role to play in helping local CSOs become more sustainable. Finally, CSOs need moral support from international CSOs to be more effective. During the campaign for electoral integrity, local CSOs received overwhelming support from international CSOs through media statements and letters to authorities. It is our hope that this support will continue as we embark on the arduous task of checking the new government’s actions, especially in addressing corruption and the longstanding culture of impunity for human rights violations.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CHRRMalawi on Twitter.


     

     

  • Mexico’s elections: The battle at the ballot box, the easiest one ahead

    By Inés Pousadela 

    In a study released earlier this month, researchers from El Colegio de México (Colmex) were emphatic about what they found to be the biggest challenge facing Mexico, as voters prepared to go to the polls on July 1. "The main problem in the country is inequality," said well-known journalist and academic Ricardo Raphael, presenting the report entitled Desigualdades en México 2018. “The second biggest problem in the country,” Raphael continued, “is inequality.”

    Read on: Open Democracy