Reimagining Democracy

 

  • ‘#MeToo is a feminist movement and feminism perfects democracy’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Ranhee Song, General Secretary of Korea Women's HotLine and a women’s rights activist, about the #MeToo campaign in South Korea. The movement has mobilised nationwide and has been instrumental in pushing for a review of defamation laws and a bill that would establish a special investigation agency for oversight of high-ranking public officials.

    1. Could you retrace for us the story of the #MeToo movement in South Korea?
    The #MeToo Movement in South Korea began after a female prosecutor, Ms Seo, revealed publicly in a news interview on 29 January 2018 that she had been sexually harassed by a senior prosecutor in 2010. After that interview, there was an uproar in Korean society.

    The mobilisation in South Korea did not differ much from the #MeToo response in other countries. There have been other cases of women speaking out about sexual violence in various places over the past few years in Korea, but the domestic trigger was the fact Ms Seo is a prosecutor and that she went on public TV to speak about her case. In Korea there has been a lot of victim blaming, so usually victims could not expose their faces in public. After the news interview by Ms Seo, many others across Korean society began to join the #MeToo campaign. They felt that despite the fact that she was a prosecutor, she had still not been able to talk about the sexual harassment against her. This made many people angry and they woke up to how difficult speaking about sexual harassment is. There were a few high-profile cases involving political and entertainment figures, but also countless regular women shared their stories. In that way, the #MeToo movement showed a very clearly picture of the reality of sexual harassment in Korea.

    At that point, we at Korea Women’s HotLine compiled a list of known sexual offenders. Within one month, the list already contained 139 names – which was impressive, given that we only worked with news sources. What we wanted to show is how big the problem is, and how pervasive.

    2. Is #MeToo in South Korea mostly about sexual harassment, or does it connect with other issues raised by the wider women’s rights movement?
    It is mostly about sexual harassment, and its demands are simple: punishment of offenders, strengthening of guarantees of the human rights of those who experience harassment, and changes in the government’s attitude towards sexual harassment.

    While its main target is the government, our civil culture is also being questioned. Along the way, the #MeToo movement has become wider and has begun to touch on many other issues: gender discrimination in the workplace, anti-feminist bullying, spy cam crime, gender discrimination in investigations and within the judicial system, and so on. In Korea, the pay gap is immense, and the glass ceiling is too hard to break, so the number of women in key position of power in the workplace is still negligible. And within the legal system, victims often must prove how strongly they resisted assault; otherwise they are blamed rather than supported. The changes needed are very profound.

    3. What kind of activities the South Korean #MeToo movement has undertaken, and who has been involved?
    First of all, we formed the ‘Citizens Action with #MeToo movement’. This is a network of civil and feminist organisations and individuals. Almost 340 organisations are involved in this group.

    We organised demonstrations calling for the end of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. We have held discussion programmes with citizens, and we have plans to expand the #MeToo movement.

    Along with the ‘Citizens Action with #MeToo movement’, many other groups, large and small, have held numerous demonstrations, discussion programmes and lectures. Recently, there were very large demonstration to condemn gender discrimination in the investigation of illegal photography and among the judicial authorities focusing on this. Almost 45,000 women gathered at this demonstration.

    4. What has the #MeToo movement achieved so far, in terms of changing the conversation and the content of public policy?
    I’m not sure if we have achieved much yet in terms of public policy because it’s been only five months since the movement began. Of course, the government has promised many policies, but five months is too short to judge the success of a campaign. Also, the more important thing is that the government doesn’t understand that the essential point of #MeToo is the problem of gender discrimination. So, public policy changes must start with that. But so far, their policies seem very short-sighted.

    Nevertheless, I think, the indisputable achievement of #MeToo is that women have woken up about the reality of women’s lives in Korea. Many women are saying “we cannot go back to the period before #MeToo.” It has opened so many possibilities to achieve change.
    The #MeToo movement shows us that we, Korean society, have much work to do.

    5. How is the #MeToo movement connecting to broader struggle for rights, democracy and accountability in South Korea?
    I think the #MeToo movement demands a complete change in power relationships within our society. Sexual harassment shows very well how unfairly power is distributed. People need to learn from this.

    It was a bit surprising for a movement like this to emerge in South Korea, but at the same time, it was bound to happen sooner or later. The #MeToo movement is a feminist movement, and feminism perfects democracy.

    Civic space in South Korea is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor
    Get in touch with Korean Women’s Hotline through their website, or follow @kwhotline on Twitter

     

  • ‘A diferencia del Brexit, la demanda independentista catalana tiene un componente democratizador’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa sobre la situación en Cataluña con Anaïs Franquesa Griso,abogada penalista especializada en derechos humanos y movimientos sociales y Directora de Litigio de Irídia, Centro para la Defensa de los DerechosHumanos.Irídia es una asociación de la sociedad civil de Cataluña que combina la intervención directa ante situaciones de vulneración de derechos con la incidencia política y social para promover cambios de más largo alcance en las políticas públicas.Anaïs se desempeña en el Servicio de Atención y Denuncia de Situaciones de Violencia Institucional de la organización y su labor se centra en las violaciones de derechos humanos ocurridas en el marco del ejercicio del derecho a la protesta.

    1. ¿Qué hace Irídia, y qué motivó su fundación?

    Mi organización tiene poco tiempo de vida; la presentamos públicamente dos años atrás. Yo vengo del activismo en los movimientos sociales anti-represivos de Barcelona. A lo largo del tiempo los movimientos sociales hemos ido creando mecanismos de respuesta bastante efectivos ante la represión de la protesta. Por ejemplo, antes había un teléfono para emergencias que iba cambiando de número y que solo conocían los activistas, y que para quienes no estaban muy organizados era difícil de acceder. Esto empezó a cambiar en 2011, con el 15M, un movimiento ciudadano que nació en las plazas públicas de distintas partes del país, primero en Madrid (en la plaza del Sol) y un día después en Barcelona, en forma de acampada, justo después de manifestaciones masivas con el lema “No somos mercancía en manos de políticos y banqueros”. Durante semanas, miles de personas se congregaron en las calles en asambleas masivas, donde se cuestionaban tanto las políticas económicas acordadas por el gobierno para hacer frente a la crisis financiera, como también el propio sistema político español, considerando que no representaba los intereses de la ciudadanía. Por ello otros de los lemas que se hicieron populares fueron “¡No nos representan!” y “lo llaman democracia y no lo es”. A partir de entonces, las protestas se hicieron más frecuentes y mucho más masivas, y entendimos que había que crear algo que fuera más útil para más gente, en especial para aquellas personas que no estaban organizadas.

    En 2012 la represión se agudizó ante las huelgas generales y las manifestaciones multitudinarias en protesta por la crisis y las medidas de austeridad, por entender que ponían en riesgo derechos económicos y sociales básicos, como el derecho al trabajo, a la educación y a la sanidad. En ese contexto, ante el aumento de la represión, creamos una plataforma anti-represiva para brindar apoyo legal, psicosocial, económico y comunicativo en caso de detención. En las manifestaciones se repartía información sobre qué hacer en caso de detención, el números de contacto e instrucciones para actuar en caso de ser testigo o víctima de violaciones de derechos en las manifestaciones. Esto se fue generalizando hasta el punto en que recibíamos llamadas de personas que avisaban que acababan de ver a unos chavales que estaban siendo detenidos en las puertas de sus casas, lo que nos permitía triangular información y obtener testigos para procesos judiciales. A partir de esta experiencia detectamos un vacío en la respuesta ante el maltrato policial. Es decir, en caso de detención sí se creaba un grupo de apoyo o era cubierto por la plataforma anti-represiva, pero en caso de maltrato policial la carga del proceso recaía en las víctimas. Eso era así no solo en el contexto de la protesta, sino también en el espacio público o en centros de privación de libertad como las cárceles. De ahí la creación de nuestra organización, uno de cuyos pilares es el Servicio de Atención y Denuncia Ante situaciones de Violencia Institucional (SAIDAVI). Una de sus áreas está precisamente enfocada en las situaciones de protesta.

    Desde 2015 la legislación española que se aplica a las protestas se endureció mucho. El 1 de julio de ese año entró en vigor la Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana, también conocida como “ley mordaza”. También hubo una reforma del Código Penal muy regresiva en términos de derechos, con la introducción de la cadena perpetua (llamada “prisión permanente revisable”).

    En ambos casos se trató de respuestas directas a los movimientos de protesta que se habían multiplicado desde el 15M. Entre otras cosas, la ley mordaza pena toda “perturbación grave de la seguridad ciudadana” que se produzca frente a las sedes del Congreso, el Senado y los parlamentos autonómicos. Esta reforma fue introducida en reacción al surgimiento de movimientos tales como Rodea el Congreso. La ley también sanciona “el uso no autorizado de imágenes o datos personales o profesionales” de agentes policiales “que pueda poner en peligro la seguridad personal o familiar de los agentes, de las instalaciones protegidas o en riesgo el éxito de una operación”. Esto ocurre precisamente ante el auge de las grabaciones realizadas con celulares y las redes sociales como herramientas para registrar y difundir información e imágenes de uso excesivo de la fuerza policial, que en muchos casos han servido como prueba en procesos judiciales.

    La ley mordaza también criminalizó las prácticas empleadas para detener desahucios, en un contexto en que, tras el estallido de la burbuja inmobiliaria, aparecieron colectivos como la Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, dedicados a empoderar a las personas afectadas, denunciar el sistema inmobiliario y financiero y dar una respuesta a la crisis habitacional, ya fuera parando desalojos, negociando con las entidades o con acciones de protesta. En ese momento los bancos, que habían sido rescatados de la quiebra con dinero público, estaban dejando en la calle a miles de personas que no podían pagar sus hipotecas. Ante esto, varios colectivos adoptaron una estrategia de desobediencia civil, de modo que cuando llegaban los funcionarios del juzgado a desalojar a una familia se encontraban con 50 o 60 personas que impedían el desalojo. Antes de la ley mordaza había formas de evitar las sanciones penales, ya que podía argumentarse que esas personas hacían legítimo uso de su derecho a las libertades de expresión y reunión pacífica. Los colectivos anti-desalojos también se manifestaban ocupando las sedes bancarias durante el día, en forma festiva, con cantos y bailes para llamar la atención, pero sin violencia, para que otros clientes del banco se dieran cuenta de que había muchos otros en la misma situación, y para empoderar a los damnificados. Estas manifestaciones forman parte del núcleo esencial del derecho a la libertad de expresión y reunión pacífica, pero la nueva ley introdujo un capítulo específico para penarlas e intentar neutralizarlas.

    Otra conducta que pasó a estar sancionada fue el “escalamiento de edificios o monumentos sin autorización cuando exista un riesgo cierto de que se ocasionen daños a las personas o a los bienes”, disposición que parece apuntar contra actos de protesta como los que realizan Greenpeace y Ecologistas en Acción. Incluso las prácticas más comunes de la resistencia pacífica fueron puestas en riesgo por disposiciones de la ley mordaza que sancionaron la “resistencia a la autoridad” (también sancionada en el código penal con una redacción bastante ambigua) y habilitaron a la policía a multar a quienes se negaran a disolver manifestaciones en lugares públicos.

    En suma, se restringieron derechos mediante la codificación de conductas antes permitidas como delitos o faltas administrativas, y se otorgaron más poderes sancionadores a las autoridades. Antes había muchas conductas que la Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana no cubría, y si estas acciones generaban alguna consecuencia, era mediante procesos penales que tenían lugar en un juzgado de instrucción y con las garantías del derecho penal. En la práctica eso comportaba que se lograran muchísimas absoluciones, porque los jueces generalmente consideraban o bien que la conducta en cuestión no era delictiva, o que no había quedado suficientemente probado quién había hecho qué. Todo esto cambió con la nueva ley, que eliminó las faltas del código penal y las convirtió en infracciones administrativas (algunas de ellas delitos leves), dando a los agentes de la autoridad facultad sancionadora y presunción de veracidad (es decir, es la persona quien tiene que probar que lo que dice el agente no es verdad), con sanciones desproporcionadamente altas.

    1. ¿Qué rol desempeñó la organización durante el referéndum de 2017?

    A mediados de septiembre estábamos asistiendo con preocupación a vulneraciones graves de derechos civiles y políticos, como la entrada de cuerpos de seguridad en sedes de medios de comunicación o el registro sin orden judicial de imprentas para impedir el referéndum por la independencia catalana del 1 de octubre. Por ello, algunas organizaciones decidimos que era necesario crear un mecanismo de defensa de los derechos humanos. De ahí que junto con Novact, Lafede y otras organizaciones lanzamos la Campaña #SomosDefensoras.

    En primer lugar, publicamos un manifiesto explicando que esta campaña era una respuesta a las vulneraciones de derechos humanos que ya estaban ocurriendo, sobre todo del derecho de reunión pacífica, el derecho a la información y la libertad de expresión. En una rueda de prensa anunciamos que estábamos elaborando un informe de derechos humanos, es decir, que estábamos monitoreando las violaciones que ocurrían para reportarlas ante las instancias internacionales. Esto pretendía tener una función preventiva. También anunciamos que estábamos formando activistas de base de otras organizaciones, no todas ellas de derechos humanos, para que funcionaran como observadores de derechos humanos. Capacitamos a más de 100 personas, de las cuales seleccionamos a 70 para que el 1 de octubre estuvieran todo el día repartidas por la ciudad y pudiéramos recibir informaciones en tiempo real de lo que estaba ocurriendo, como complemento del monitoreo de redes. Queríamos, si había víctimas, tener testigos o al menos personas capacitadas para recoger testimonios, además de socorrer y asesorar a las personas sobre lo que podían hacer. Porque sabemos que cuando sucede algo, el principal problema es la obtención de pruebas. Finalmente, coordinamos un grupo de 60 abogados que estaban disponibles, no solamente en Barcelona sino también en otros puntos del área metropolitana, además de 30 psicólogos para atender emergencias el día del referéndum y los días posteriores, y difundimos números de teléfono adonde las personas podía llamar si eran detenidas o agredidas.

    Hicimos esto en las semanas y días anteriores al 1 de octubre, y por desgracia desde primera hora de la mañana vimos que habíamos acertado porque hubo muchísima violencia. El 1 de octubre nuestra organización atendió a unas 130 víctimas, y en las semanas siguientes atendimos por teléfono, correo electrónico y personalmente a 294 personas.

    1. ¿Había habido antecedentes de represión violenta de la protesta? ¿Qué tuvo de novedoso la represión del pasado 1 de octubre?

    En el marco de las protestas del 15M, el 27 de mayo de 2011 los Mossos d’Esquadra, la policía autonómica que tiene las funciones de orden público en Cataluña, desalojaron brutalmente la Plaza de Catalunya en Barcelona. Fueron seis horas de represión constante, golpeando a gente que estaba pacíficamente sentada en el suelo y con las manos levantadas, y hubo más de 100 heridos. Esto fue retransmitido en directo y lo vio todo el mundo, y en consecuencia marcó un antes y un después en las percepciones de la violencia policial por parte de la ciudadanía. Mucha gente se sorprendió al ver el maltrato policial que los que estábamos involucrados en movimientos de protesta conocíamos desde hace rato.

    El discurso de la consejería del interior de esos años buscó deslegitimar y criminalizar a los movimientos de protesta, y fue acompañado de cambios en el armamento policial así como de las mencionadas reformas legales. Hace poco publicamos un informe que da cuenta precisamente de la involución y la progresiva desprotección del derecho de reunión pacífica que se produjo entre 2011 y 2015.

    De modo que lo que ocurrió el 1 de octubre de 2017 no fue una completa novedad. Teníamos claro que podía haber violencia por parte de los cuerpos y fuerzas de seguridad, y sabíamos que teníamos que hacer algo al respecto. Creo que en ese sentido incluso llegamos tarde. Este proceso ha sido bastante singular, con dudas muy razonables de si realmente el referéndum del 1 de octubre se podría hacer o no, por lo que al igual que otros sectores, las entidades de derechos humanos no caímos en la cuenta de que podíamos aportar experiencia en nuestro campo. Así que en vez de empezar a organizarnos en junio recién lo hicimos en septiembre. Si hubiéramos tenido más tiempo, sin duda algunas cosas las hubiéramos hecho distinto o por lo menos con mayor previsión.

    Pero en todo caso, el tipo de violencia que vimos el 1 de octubre tuvo características nuevas. Por ejemplo, tuvo un claro componente de género, tal como lo explicamos en un informe reciente. Nosotros hablamos con mucha gente, víctimas y testigos, y vimos muchísimos videos. Numerosos relatos, de hombres y mujeres, coincidieron hasta en la expresión: “iban a por las mujeres”, con las mujeres se ensañaban más. La idea machista de fondo era que si bien nadie hubiera debido estar allí, mucho menos debían estar allí las mujeres, pues ese claramente no era su lugar. También hubo casos de vejaciones sexuales que antes no habíamos visto. Y en todo caso, nuestra generación no había asistido nunca a una represión tan generalizada contra la población civil (las cifras oficiales hablan de más de 1.000 personas heridas en todo Cataluña, de todas las edades) y mucho menos por algo tan básico como querer votar.

    Además, se usaron balas de goma, que en Cataluña se prohibieron en 2013 y se dejaron de utilizar en abril de 2014. La prohibición se hizo efectiva gracias al trabajo de muchas entidades y colectivos de los movimientos sociales como Stop Balas de Goma o Rereguarda en moviment, así como gracias a la visibilidad del caso de Ester Quintana, una mujer que perdió un ojo en el marco de la represión de la huelga general del 14 de noviembre de 2012. Unido al esfuerzo previo, el gran trabajo comunicativo y legal en este caso, con la campaña Ojo con tu Ojo, se consiguió que el cuestionamiento del uso de este tipo de armamento llegara hasta el Parlamento de Cataluña. Aunque no se logró la condena de los policías que hirieron a Ester Quintana, sí se logró la prohibición del uso de balas de goma por parte de los Mossos d’Esquadra, además de órdenes de indemnización de las víctimas.

    El uso de balas de goma el 1 de octubre de 2017, además de costarle la visión de un ojo a otra persona, Roger Español, tuvo un gran valor simbólico porque fue un retroceso en lo que creíamos que era una batalla ganada. Por ello tenemos claro que trabajaremos para que Roger sea la última víctima de las balas de goma en el país.

    1. ¿Cómo se llegó a la situación del 1 de octubre? ¿Cómo y cuándo se produjeron los avances del autonomismo que desembocaron en el referéndum por la independencia?

    Siempre ha habido un porcentaje de la población catalana que ha querido la independencia. Alrededor del año 2000 ese porcentaje se estimaba en un 12 o 13%. Pero más allá de esto, había algunos consensos que estaban muy claros, tales como el uso vehicular de la lengua catalana en las aulas (obviamente combinado con una buena enseñanza del castellano). Según el llamado proceso de normalización lingüística, toda persona escolarizada en Cataluña debe salir del colegio sabiendo catalán y castellano. Esta fue una reivindicación de la clase obrera que en los años ’60 y ’70 había llegado desde fuera de Cataluña, porque hablar catalán confería ventajas de inserción laboral a las que no podía acceder quien no estuviera expuesto al idioma en su hogar, de modo que la enseñanza del idioma en la escuela era una suerte de igualador social. Esta es una arista de la reivindicación del idioma que es poco mencionada.

    Y luego está la concepción del pueblo catalán, que existe desde hace muchos años y ha vivido distintos procesos. Cuando se aprobó la Constitución Española de 1978 se discutió mucho sobre si incluir o no el concepto de nación en los territorios históricos – Cataluña, País Vasco y Galicia. Al final se prefirió hablar de “nacionalidades históricas” más que de nación, sobre la base de la idea de que la nación es una sola e indivisible. Además, se pasó de reconocer cierta distinción de trato a esas nacionalidades históricas, que habían gozado de un estatuto de autonomía durante la República (1931-1939), a lo que se conoció como “café para todos”, una política homogénea para todas las regiones, tanto nacionalidades históricas como meras entidades geográficas. Así nació la división del Estado en autonomías, cada una de ellas con un parlamento y un ejecutivo propio.

    Durante años, las demandas de mayor autonomía se fueron salvando con un constante estira y afloja, combinado con un apoyo casi sin fisuras a los gobiernos estatales por parte de la derecha catalana, en el poder en Cataluña durante más de 20 años. Con ello, también las diferencias económicas entre los distintos territorios del Estado se fueron agudizando, empeoradas por una falta clara de transparencia. Las llamadas “balanzas fiscales”, es decir, cuánto aporta cada territorio al Estado y cuánto recibe, nunca se hacían públicas. Aquí el País Vasco tiene un estatus diferenciado, por razones históricas –las guerras carlistas en el siglo XIX, entre otras-, conservando la potestad de recaudar impuestos para luego entregar un porcentaje pactado al estado español, mientras que en Cataluña la mayor parte de los impuestos los recoge directamente el estado español y luego regresa solo una parte. Eso, sumado a una falta de inversión en infraestructura bastante palpable –sólo hay que ver por ejemplo el sistema ferroviario catalán-, ha ido generando una sensación de desajuste entre lo que aporta Cataluña y lo que recibe (es el “Madrid nos roba” popularizado por Jordi Pujol, Presidente de la Generalitat, durante 23 años) que en el resto del Estado ha sido percibido como insolidaridad. A ello se han sumado ataques constantes a consensos establecidos, tales como el generado en torno de la lengua catalana en la escuela.

    Históricamente, Cataluña ha reclamado mayor autonomía en muchos asuntos. Alrededor de 2002, se inició el debate para la modificación del Estatuto de Autonomía, es decir de la constitución interna de Cataluña, en reemplazo del estatuto de 1979. El estatuto debe ser aprobado por el parlamento catalán, luego por el Congreso de los diputados españoles, y luego sometido a referéndum. El nuevo estatuto fue aprobado en 2006, pero el proceso duró varios años. En ese momento el presidente del gobierno español era el socialista José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, quien había dicho que apoyaría el estatuto que aprobara el pueblo catalán. Este estatuto no era ninguna maravilla, pero representaba algunos avances en materia de derechos ciudadanos y competencias autonómicas.

    Ya en ese momento, el Partido Popular del actual presidente del gobierno español Mariano Rajoy hizo una campaña feroz contra el Estatuto Catalán. El Partido Popular recogió firmas en su contra y recurrió ante el Tribunal Constitucional varios artículos del Estatuto de Cataluña que eran idénticos a los contenidos en los estatutos de Andalucía y Valencia, que se estaban discutiendo al mismo tiempo, los cuales sin embargo no fueron cuestionados. Cuatro años después, en 2010, el Tribunal Constitucional suprimió algunos de esos artículos del Estatuto Catalán, aunque artículos similares siguen vigentes en los estatutos de Andalucía y Valencia. Esto fue percibido por la opinión pública catalana como un ataque dirigido específicamente contra Cataluña.

    La sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional de junio de 2010 fue un punto de inflexión. En reacción a ella se produjo una de las manifestaciones más masivas de la historia de Cataluña, que según diversas estimaciones reunió entre 1 y 1,5 millones de personas. Con el lema ‘Somos una Nación, nosotros decidimos’, se realizó el 10 de julio de 2010 y tuvo el apoyo de la mayoría de los partidos políticos representados en el parlamento catalán, el movimiento sindical y centenares de organizaciones de la sociedad civil. Ahí fue cuando se empezó a generalizar la sensación de que con este Estado español no era posible convivir. Las elecciones de noviembre de 2011 llevaron al Partido Popular a la presidencia del gobierno de España. En ese entonces el presidente de la Generalitat catalana fue a Madrid con la intención de negociar un nuevo acuerdo fiscal similar al del País Vasco y ni siquiera fue recibido.

    La masividad de la convocatoria se repitió el 11 de septiembre de 2012, fecha de la fiesta nacional de Cataluña, cuando la manifestación que usualmente reúne a algunas decenas de miles de personas se transformó en una protesta de más de un millón. El partido que gobernaba Cataluña, que nunca había sido independentista, se vio superado por las multitudes que clamaban por la independencia. A partir de este momento cada manifestación del 11 de septiembre ha sido más masiva que la anterior, de tono claramente independentista, y cada año ha tenido innovaciones que le han dado un carácter espectacular, bien adaptado a la cultura audiovisual contemporánea.

    Los movimientos sociales de base de Barcelona son bastante autónomos, y una parte de ellos no se sentían interpelados con la causa independentista, porque hay una porción muy amplia de la sociedad civil que no es nacionalista. De hecho, muchos independentistas se reivindican como no nacionalistas, y ven la independencia como una estrategia para conseguir mayor democracia y derechos, no como una cuestión nacionalista. La verdad, creo que quienes más han hecho por el crecimiento del independentismo en Cataluña han sido Rajoy y el Partido Popular, que no han hecho otra cosa que antagonizar con las demandas más razonables de autonomía y derechos, generando una radicalización masiva que no existía algunos años atrás. Si se hubiera hecho un referéndum por la independencia en 2012, muy probablemente hubiera ganado el ‘no’. Pero cada ataque del gobierno español ha generado nuevos independentistas y también mayor consenso en relación al hecho que Cataluña tiene derecho a decidir su organización territorial y política. De hecho, la propia represión del 1 de octubre aumentó en pocas horas la participación, ya que llevó a las calles y a las urnas a mucha gente indignada que en otras condiciones tal vez no hubiera salido.

    1. ¿Te parece que lo que está pasando en Cataluña es parte de un proceso más amplio de ascenso del nacionalismo, o tiene una lógica propia?

    Hasta donde yo sé, los argumentos empleados a favor del Brexit fueron de un nacionalismo con connotaciones más bien xenófobas, al menos eso es lo que nos llega a nosotros por los medios de comunicación. Pero estos no han sido nunca los argumentos a favor de la independencia de Cataluña. De hecho, al mismo tiempo que se hacían manifestaciones multitudinarias por la independencia de Cataluña se hizo en Cataluña la mayor manifestación que tuvo lugar en Europa a favor de dar acogida a refugiados, con cientos de miles de personas en las calles. La demanda independentista tiene incluso un componente democratizador, y es por eso que se han sumado muchos movimientos sociales, aunque para ellos la independencia sigue sin ser una prioridad. En Cataluña ha habido procesos democratizadores que no han ocurrido en el resto de España, desde la anulación de los juicios sumarísimos del franquismo hasta la prohibición de las balas de goma, pasando por la demanda de cierre de los centros de internamiento para extranjeros. Eso no significa que en el resto del Estado no se esté presionando para conseguir eso - de hecho nuestra organización, Irídia, tiene mucha vinculación con movimientos sociales y entidades de defensa de los derechos civiles y políticos. Pero sea como sea aquí hemos conseguido incidir mucho más en este tipo de demandas que con el gobierno central. Eso genera un clima distinto entre sociedad civil e instituciones.

    Si el gobierno español hubiera accedido a negociar las condiciones de la autonomía en dirección de un trato bilateral percibido como justo con Cataluña, seguramente la demanda independentista hubiera cedido. Y cabe subrayar que un trato justo también hubiera debido contemplar aportes sustanciales de las regiones más ricas en favor de las más desfavorecidas. Pero el gobierno español no tiene un política de negociación o diálogo arraigada, sino que se mueve más en términos de vencedores y vencidos y de humillación.

    Aún así, no es seguro que la demanda independentista sea mayoritaria, aunque ha crecido mucho. Lo que sí reúne el consenso de la abrumadora mayoría de los catalanes es la convicción de que la decisión debe surgir de una consulta a la ciudadanía. Es decir, que debe reconocerse la capacidad de decidir del pueblo catalán y hacerse un referéndum. Ese es el motivo por el cual todos los partidos participaron de las elecciones autonómicas del 21 de diciembre de 2017, aún cuando éstas fueran una imposición del gobierno español y tuvieran lugar con la Generalitat intervenida como resultado de la cuestionada aplicación del artículo 155 de la Constitución española.

    1. ¿Cómo sigue el proceso; hacia adónde se dirige?

    Es difícil de decir. De un lado tenemos preocupantes resoluciones judiciales del Tribunal Supremo que son difíciles de entender desde el punto de vista del Estado de derecho y la separación de poderes. Nos encontramos con personas presas con cargos de sedición y rebelión, a pesar de que todas las movilizaciones han tenido siempre un carácter marcadamente pacífico y así lo reconocen las resoluciones en su contra. Aun así, consideran que el hecho de que fueran movilizaciones masivas implicaba “intimidación” o que la violencia de los cuerpos de seguridad del Estado el 1 de octubre es responsabilidad de los líderes políticos catalanes. El argumento es que si no hubieran animado y organizado el referéndum ilegal, el Estado no se “habría visto obligado” a utilizar la fuerza. Este tipo de argumentos hoy se usan para acabar con el independentismo – con incierto resultado - pero mañana se pueden utilizar contra cualquier tipo de reivindicación.

    En todo caso, y a efectos prácticos hoy por hoy estamos peor que en el comienzo: líderes sociales y responsables políticos en prisión preventiva, el gobierno catalán intervenido, y los derechos a la libertad de expresión, información, reunión y manifestación en retroceso. Además, el gobierno español advirtió antes de las elecciones del 21 de diciembre que si ganaban los partidos independentistas la administración seguiría siendo controlada desde Madrid; es decir, de algún modo anunció que no reconocería los resultados si no le eran favorables. El período pre-electoral fue utilizado por la Junta Electoral Central para definir qué palabras y conceptos podían utilizarse en la campaña, y hubo numerosos actos de censura. Mónica Terribas, una de las periodistas más reconocidas de Cataluña, dijo en su programa de diario que no se podía calificar de ‘libres’ a unas elecciones realizadas con la mitad del gobierno en prisión y la otra mitad en el exilio, y con semejantes ataques contra medios y manifestantes. Por sus palabras la radio fue sancionada.

    Se llegó a las elecciones en estas condiciones porque tras varios meses de mucha intensidad política la gente estaba cansada y expectante, y porque nadie quería dar excusas para que hubiera más represión. La participación en las elecciones - 81,9%. - fue la más alta hasta el momento. Y el independentismo volvió a ganar, con más de 2 millones de votos (100.000 votos más que en las anteriores elecciones), obteniendo la mayoría absoluta de escaños en el Parlamento (70 de los 135). De otro lado, el partido más votado fue Ciudadanos (25,4%; 37 escaños), un partido liberal, defensor de la unidad de España, que obtuvo sus mejores resultados hasta el momento.

    Sin embargo, las dificultades para formar gobierno son elevadas porque el candidato a la presidencia se encuentra en Bruselas y no puede volver sin riesgo de ser encarcelado, al igual que algunos representantes políticos elegidos en las últimas elecciones, como Oriol Junqueras. Por ello está claro que con unas elecciones no alcanza; para salir de esta situación se requiere un auténtico acto de soberanía, mucho diálogo y sobre todo respeto a los derechos fundamentales.

    • El espacio cívico en España es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Contáctese con Irídia a través de supágina web o su perfil deFacebook, o siga a @centre_IRIDIA y a @Anais_Franquesa en Twitter

     

     

     

  • ‘Civil society needs a compelling counter-narrative’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Lynnette Micheni from PAWA254, an organisation that fosters social accountability and active citizenship among young people, mainly through arts and media.

    1.Your organisation, PAWA254, defines itself as a movement of young, socially conscious artists and activists. How do you connect art and activism in your work?

    We use art, pop culture and media as an empowerment tool. We believe in artistic expression as a means for social change and the deepening of democracy, and we harness it to advocate for the rights and responsibilities of Kenyans, and against social and political vices, including corruption and abuse of power. As a result of our work, we have seen ‘artivists’ multiply, and a movement of active, freethinking youth emerge in our country.

    We work with a variety of arts and media, including photography, film, spoken word, poetry graffiti, cartoons, blogging and writivism, which has opened such great spaces for accountability in Kenya.

    Our programs are two pronged: some focus on the economic development of emerging creatives and activists and others on social accountability, all the while leveraging the arts, pop culture and media.

    The former entails developing the capacity of emerging artists and facilitating the integration of artistic expression for livelihoods development through the provision of a state-of-the-art co- working space consisting of creative suites, professional equipment, skills transfer and networking opportunities. PAWA convenes key annual events such as the PAWA Festival, an annual street festival that showcases East Africa’s visual and performing arts and disseminates the Kenya Photography Awards.

    Our social accountability programs entail using art and pop culture as a form of civic engagement through dance, poetry, graffiti, theatre, music, film and photography to spark civic participation by focusing attention on emerging social concerns in the country and to prompt action in the process. Key current interventions include Off-The-Record, a weekly space where participants can express their thoughts on issues affecting society strictly off the record, with no fear of censorship or repercussions; #JengaHustle, an initiative aimed at advancing policies regarding employment and decent jobs for youth; #EmergingVoices, an intergenerational leadership development project aimed at empowering emerging social justice organisers and #ARealManIs, a transformative masculinity project aimed at leveraging media in mobilising young men’s fight against gender-based violence.

    2. Does artivism, and activism in general, face any challenges in Kenya?

    Indeed. Civil society is currently fighting a battle for its legitimacy, and it’s not winning. From every podium, including national television, the government is pushing a narrative discrediting civil society. Last year, two prominent human rights civil society organisations (CSOs) were shut down over their alleged non-compliance with regulations, including tax and employment laws, and for operating without a licence. There have been attempts to de-register other organisations as well.

    The prevailing narrative is that activists and CSOs are donor-funded disrupters. The idea is also being disseminated that people do it for the money. If you mobilise, you are asked: ‘how much have you been paid?’ – like there is no other driver than money. Ideas or visions of change don’t count. They will say that critical civil society activists and organisations are ‘Soros people’ - implying they are being funded by the Open Society Foundations and are therefore puppets of foreign interests. It is very difficult to counter this narrative when it is constantly being propagated on national television.

    It is also a challenge that there is a growing apathy amongst young people who are very well aware of their constitutional rights, resulting in an overreliance on individual activists.

    3. What is being done in response to this?

    What needs to be done is put together and disseminate a compelling counter-narrative. We know this is difficult because the problem has deep roots. So, the first thing we need to do is understand why it is so easy for governments to target civil society, in Kenya and elsewhere.

    We first heard about ‘fake news’ a couple of years ago, and it was all happening far away, in the USA. But the trend has progressed very fast, and in the context of presidential elections last year we suffered an epidemic of fake news. It was all over social media, which is a major source of information for Kenyan citizens, and it distorted the political conversation, and maybe the outcomes of the elections as well. Young people, the group that most uses social media, were particularly misled by fake news stories aimed at stirring conflict and dividing civil society.

    The abundance of fake news can be very disconcerting for young people that have little experience with interpreting data and are ill-equipped to tell the difference between legitimate and fake information. How do you sustain online movements while avoiding the infiltration of narratives based on fake news? How do you manage to bring online movements offline and keep them going in a context in which the political discussion is distorted to such extent?

    Young people are also particularly vulnerable to empty electoral promises of jobs and other benefits. Lots of promises are made at election times but no policies are ever enacted to fulfil them afterward. And people keep believing every time. The problem is that we have a whole generation of people who form their opinions based on headlines, and also build their activism on the basis of headlines – and under the headlines, there is usually no real content.

    The government is aware that evidence-based activism is lacking, and they do have smart and better prepared people, so they sometimes invite civil society to the table and pair them with a government technician, even on live television. Civil society activists are not always in a position to prepare adequately to respond. So it is difficult to connect and sustain civil society struggles, and instead it is so easy for the government to co-opt civil society actors.

    This is why we work to empower people, and young people in particular, to seek facts, to interpret them and understand their implications, to make decisions based on them, and to use them to monitor the government, hold it accountable and ensure it responds to citizens’ needs. We believe that arts, pop culture and media remain a viable tool to engage with the youth and are keen to continue investing in them.

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

    Get in touch with PAWA254 through itswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@Pawa254 and@LynnetteMicheni on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Cuando los migrantes son ciudadanos de segunda, se degrada la democracia’

    English

    En vistas de la publicación del Informe 2018 sobre el Estado de la Sociedad Civil, que girará en torno del tema “Reimaginar la Democracia”, estamos dialogando con líderes, activistas y especialistas de la sociedad civil para comprender su labor en la promoción de prácticas y principios democráticos, los desafíos que enfrentan y los logros alcanzados. En esta oportunidad,CIVICUSconversa con Ana Paula Penchaszadeh, colaboradora dela Red de Migrantes y Refugiadxs en Argentina y de la Red Nacional de Líderes Migrantes en Argentina, además deDoctora en Ciencias Sociales y en Filosofía, profesora de la Universidad de Buenos Aires e investigadora del CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas).

    1. Te defines como pensadora y activista de los derechos de las personas migrantes. ¿Qué te llevó a orientarte en esa dirección y desde qué plataforma despliegas ese activismo?

    Desde que tengo memoria me han preocupado los problemas de la justicia y la exclusión. Yo misma he sido extranjera: mi familia tuvo que exiliarse en Venezuela y Francia durante la última dictadura militar en Argentina.

    Como investigadora, desde los inicios de mi carrera me interesé por las dinámicas de inclusión y exclusión en la constitución de la comunidad política. Centré mi tesis de doctorado en el vínculo de política y hospitalidad en el mundo contemporáneo. Desde entonces, asumí que no es posible investigar el tema de la hospitalidad (de un vínculo no destructivo hacia el otro que llega) en un contexto inédito de grandes desplazamientos humanos, sin tener vinculación con los espacios del activismo en derechos humanos y sin realizar trabajos de incidencia a nivel de las políticas públicas migratorias.

    Entre 2012 y 2015, trabajé en el Programa de Migraciones y Asilo del Centro de Justicia y Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Lanús. En ese período, co-coordiné un proyecto sobre Migraciones, Derechos Humanos y Niñez en Argentina. A partir de un diagnóstico multivariado de la situación de la niñez en el contexto de las migraciones, abordamos la discriminación en el sistema escolar y desarrollamos un conjunto de materiales didácticos para trabajar la temática de las migraciones en las escuelas desde una perspectiva de derechos humanos.

    En los últimos años, mi labor investigativa giró en torno de dos grandes ejes: uno teórico y filosófico, y otro práctico y aplicado. He tratado de poner el pensamiento al servicio del activismo en derechos humanos. Lo he hecho mediante la provisión de apoyo al trabajo que desarrollan la Red de Migrantes y Refugiadxs en Argentina y la Red Nacional de Líderes Migrantes en Argentina. Desde 2015 participo asiduamente como tallerista en temas de derechos políticos y migraciones y como relatora en los encuentros de la Red Nacional de Líderes Migrantes; dirijo un proyecto de voluntariado universitario sobre migrantes y economía social, desarrollado en conjunto con la Red de Migrantes y Refugiadxs en Argentina; he realizado numerosas intervenciones públicas, incluida una participación en la audiencia de la Comisión Bicameral Permanente de Trámite Parlamentario del Congreso, en contra del Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia (DNU) 70/2017 y en defensa de la Ley 25.871 de Migraciones, así como en respaldo de un proyecto de ley de voto migrante; y he contribuido a dar difusión a la temática mediante entrevistas y artículos periodísticos, e incluso a través de un cortometraje documental, “Yo, afro”, producido junto con la artista audiovisual Gabriela Messina. Del mismo modo, en mis investigaciones busco abrir la escucha a la palabra de migrantes y refugiados y he trabajado bastante sobre el discurso y los procesos de subjetivación y empoderamiento de estos grupos.

    2.¿Cuáles son los argumentos teóricos y filosóficos que sustentan tu activismo?

    En el terreno teórico y filosófico, hago un análisis deconstructivo de la hospitalidad y la extranjería, para a partir de allí analizar las tensiones entre ciudadanía y nacionalidad. Sostengo que la movilidad humana pone en jaque la estructura supuestamente sedentaria y atávica (asociada al nacimiento en un territorio o en el seno de una familia) sobre la cual se ha erigido la comunidad política moderna. Las nuevas formas de pertenencia, y su relación con los procesos de subjetivación política, dislocan la espacialidad del Estado nación. Cada vez más, se impone pensar el espacio transnacional como fundamento de la ciudadanía: por un lado, des-territorializando y virtualizando la pertenencia a partir de una concepción “portable” de la ciudadanía (mediante el reconocimiento de derechos políticos a los nacionales que viven en el extranjero); y, por el otro, re-territorializando la pertenencia a través del reconocimiento de la residencia (y no solo de la nacionalidad) como fundamento de una ciudadanía plena (es decir, mediante el reconocimiento de derechos políticos a los inmigrantes).

    3.¿Cuál es actualmente la situación de los migrantes en Argentina? ¿Observas avances o retrocesos en el goce de derechos?

    En Argentina rige actualmente la Ley 25.871 de Migraciones. Esta norma, aprobada en 2004, vino a reemplazar una ley de la dictadura y a saldar una larga deuda de la democracia. La lucha de organizaciones de derechos humanos, de organizaciones que trabajan con migrantes y de organizaciones de los propios migrantes, dio forma a una de las leyes más progresivas del mundo en materia migratoria, que reconoce la migración como un derecho humano y un amplísimo abanico de derechos con total independencia de la condición migratoria (regular o no) de las personas. Es una muy buena ley nacional que todavía requiere medidas adicionales y un trabajo de adecuación normativa a nivel provincial y municipal para su aplicación efectiva en todo el territorio.

    Lamentablemente, en vez de avanzar en esa dirección, recientemente se han producido graves retrocesos a nivel de la política migratoria en el país. Desde que asumió la Alianza Cambiemos a fines de 2015, el paradigma hospitalario ha ido cediendo frente a un paradigma securitario. El actual gobierno cerró el programa de abordaje territorial, que permitió la regularización documentaria de miles de migrantes a lo largo del país, reorganizó la Dirección Nacional de Migraciones con una impronta fuertemente securitaria y propuso la creación de un centro de detención para migrantes. Finalmente, en 2017, mediante un Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia del Ejecutivo, se modificaron aspectos fundamentales de la ley de Migraciones. Se debilitaron derechos y garantías para facilitar la expulsión exprés de extranjeros.

    Este decreto, emitido en forma totalmente inconsulta y sin siquiera una revisión parlamentaria, vino a coronar toda una serie de medidas regresivas, tales como el aumento de controles policiales para determinar la situación documentaria de los extranjeros y la persecución de migrantes en situación documentaria irregular. El decreto confunde irregularidad migratoria con criminalidad: según la ley vigente en Argentina, la irregularidad migratoria no es un delito, sino una falta administrativa que debe ser subsanada por el Estado (responsable de regularizar la situación documentaria de las personas). Si a algo remite la irregularidad migratoria es a la ineficiencia y la ineficacia del Estado para regularizar a las personas que están en su territorio. Todo migrante quiere estar en situación regular y tener los papeles que lo habilitan para alquilar, comprar, trabajar y estudiar de manera formal.

    A este giro político se le ha sumado la crisis económica, que tiende a exacerbar los discursos xenófobos a nivel tanto de la sociedad como del Estado. La discriminación y criminalización de las personas migrantes se agudiza con las recesiones: que nos sacan el trabajo, que viven del Estado, que no pagan impuestos, que molestan en la calle. Y desde ya que el chivo expiatorio no es “cualquier” inmigrante, sino el latinoamericano y el africano. El discurso xenófobo esconde una mirada eurocéntrica y racista.

    La normalización del prejuicio vuelve la violencia más aceptable, como lo muestra el reciente caso del vendedor ambulante de origen senegalés que fue agredido y gravemente herido por la policía en Buenos Aires. Es un círculo que empieza y termina con la acción y omisión del Estado. Los senegaleses son enviados literalmente a la calle como vendedores ambulantes, pues no tienen acceso a la regularización documentaria por ser extra-Mercosur y no entrar en ninguna de las categorías migratorias. Están condenados al empleo informal y, por lo tanto, expuestos de manera constante a la violencia y la persecución policial. El Estado, que debería facilitarles los medios para regularizar su situación migratoria, los empuja a la informalidad y luego los castiga por ello.

    4.¿Cómo ha reaccionado la sociedad civil ante estos retrocesos?

    Las organizaciones de derechos humanos, incluidas las que nuclean a refugiados y migrantes, se movilizaron ante cada vulneración de derechos, ya fuera un caso de discriminación o violencia, o un cambio normativo que afectara a migrantes y refugiados. Frente al DNU 70/2017, el Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), la Comisión Argentina para Refugiados y Migrantes (CAREF) y el Colectivo por la Diversidad (COPADI) promovieron una acción de amparo colectivo. Muchos otros acompañamos la iniciativa: por ejemplo, desde el área de migraciones del Instituto de Investigaciones Gino Germani (Universidad de Buenos Aires) presentamos un amicus curiae en apoyo del recurso de amparo. Gracias a todos estos esfuerzos, en marzo de 2018 el tribunal declaró inconstitucional el DNU, y lo hizo con argumentos muy interesantes para una defensa de las migraciones desde una perspectiva de derechos humanos.

    Los migrantes en Argentina están organizados: cuentan con muchísimas organizaciones de defensa de sus derechos, algunas de ellas articuladas en redes. La Red Argentina de Migrantes y Refugiadxs, por ejemplo, nuclea a nivel nacional una treintena organizaciones de migrantes de Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Haití, Jamaica, Paraguay, Perú, República Dominicana, Senegal, Ucrania, Uruguay y Venezuela. Estas organizaciones y redes se reconocen como sujetos políticos, y consideran la Ley 25.871 como un logro de su activismo. Ante el Decreto 70/2017 que la tergiversaba, también fueron al Congreso y a la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos para quejarse de que el gobierno no los llamara, ni aceptara recibirlos, para escuchar sus opiniones, y para reclamar una política seria contra el delito en reemplazo de las medidas que los usan como chivos expiatorios.

    Es importante subrayar que estas organizaciones no son tan solo reactivas, sino que han tomado repetidamente la iniciativa para presentar propuestas innovadoras. Así, en diciembre de 2016 lograron que se presentara en el Congreso un proyecto de ley de voto migrante, que buscaba extender los derechos políticos a los extranjeros con residencia permanente. En esa misma línea, del cuarto encuentro de la Red Nacional de Líderes Migrantes de Argentina, realizado en septiembre de 2017 la Universidad Nacional de Lanús, surgió la Declaración de Lanús, que promueve la profundización de la democracia mediante la consolidación de la ciudadanía plena para todas las personas que habitan nuestro país.

    5.¿Piensas que la clave de la integración de los migrantes pasa por el reconocimiento de derechos políticos?

    Absolutamente. Los extranjeros son el chivo expiatorio, el “otro” culpable de todos nuestros males. En momentos de crisis económica, lo primero que se intenta es restringir su acceso a bienes públicos que son, en definitiva, derechos. La idea de que los inmigrantes no deberían tener acceso a ciertos derechos, tales como la educación universitaria, resulta en una estratificación de la democracia, en ciudadanos de primera y de segunda categoría. Esto contradice el principio de igualdad, y por lo tanto degrada a la democracia.

    Cuando se extiende el discurso xenófobo, para los gobernantes y funcionarios es muy fácil hacerse eco y culpar a los inmigrantes de los problemas que ellos mismos no logran resolver, porque no pagan por ello ningún costo político. Aunque en Argentina son una de las principales minorías – el 4,5% de la población – los migrantes no votan. No resulta sorprendente, en el marco de un sistema representativo que se basa en la distribución de premios y castigos a través del voto, que los funcionarios no se sientan responsables ante ellos. Por el contrario, les resulta muy cómodo cargar en ellos todos los problemas de la sociedad, desde el narcotráfico hasta el déficit habitacional y la falta de empleo, que son en realidad problemas estructurales, no solamente en nuestro país sino en casi todo el mundo.

    La única salida democrática de esta situación pasa por los derechos políticos, que son en definitiva la mejor garantía de que no seremos privados de otros derechos. El migrante padece las políticas del Estado que lo recibe; debe obedecer las leyes y acogerse a las decisiones vinculantes de los poderes públicos. De ahí que deba tener voz y voto en la formación de esas decisiones, igual que cualquier otro ciudadano. Solo así será tomado en cuenta. En la ciudad de Buenos Aires, por ejemplo, los extranjeros representan el 13,5% de la población residente; pero, debido a las leyes que regulan el sufragio migrante, solo un 0,6% de esta población se encuentra habilitada para votar. En contextos de ballotage o segundas vueltas electorales, donde los candidatos se imponen con pequeñísimos márgenes de diferencia, los políticos se cuidarían mucho más de expresar opiniones xenófobas y se resolvería, en buena medida, su uso político y electoral, si los migrantes residentes en la ciudad efectivamente votaran.

    El espacio cívico en Argentina es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contáctese conAna Paula Penchaszadeh, con laRed de Migrantes y Refugiadxs en Argentina y con laRed Nacional de Líderes Migrantes en Argentina a través de sus respectivos sitios web o perfiles de Facebook.

     

  • ‘Democracy dies when no one works at keeping it alive’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme ofreimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders and their allies about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Annika Savill, Executive Head of the United Nations’ Democracy Fund (UNDEF), which is dedicated to funding projects that empower civil society, promote human rights and encourage the participation of all groups of society in democratic processes.

    How do you see democracy - is it simply a system to elect governments, a means to solve other problems, or an end in itself? What are its essential components?

    The most successful examples of a functioning democracy are holistic: those encompassing the procedural and the substantive; the rule of law, formal institutions and informal processes; majorities and minorities; government, civil society and independent media; all genders; the political, the economic and the cultural; and at the national and local levels. Democracy works best when people associate it with the advancement of the quality of life for all human beings; this means democracy is key to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. We know that development is more likely to take hold if people are given a genuine say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress. Conversely, democracy has a far better chance to thrive if people associate the democratic process with improvements in their daily lives; faced with bleak prospects and unresponsive governments, people are more likely to act on their own to reclaim their future.

    What are the main challenges for democracy around the world today?

    Democracy is showing greater strain than at any time in decades. There is a crisis of faith. We’re seeing growing and deepening divides among people, as well as between people and the political establishments that exist to represent them. Globalisation and technological progress have lifted many out of poverty but have also contributed to inequality and instability. Fear is driving too many decisions. This is a danger to democracy.

    Democracy dies when no one works at keeping it alive. We need to look beyond responses to today’s news cycle, and instead seek answers for the systemic challenges to democracy. We need to think beyond criticism of individual leaders, and beyond trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. This means tackling inequality, both economic and political. The interests of the very wealthy are often seen as taking precedence over the well-being of the middle class and working families. The poor and minorities feel excluded from decision-making. Governments - working together - need to spread more fairly the benefits of globalisation and ensure more equitable access to the levers of power. This means making our democracies more inclusive, bybringing the young, the poor and minorities into the political system. We should explore true representation and participation in decision-making, including demographically representative citizens’ assemblies, as alternatives to what can be interpreted as a self-serving and self-perpetuating political class disconnected from their electorates. This means making our democracies more innovative andmore responsive to new challenges, including throughnew technologies, while addressing the democratic challenges brought by new technologies themselves.

    Many of the world’s democracies are well past middle age, but the digital age is still in its infancy, and questions of ownership and control are evolving. The answers do not lie in technology alone. But some answers do lie in better interaction and understanding between thinkers of technology and thinkers of democracy. Sixty years have passed since CP Snow declared that society was divided into two cultures - humanities and science - separated by a gulf of mutual incomprehension. We need to bridge this. We need futurists to think about a future that leaves no one behind. What impact will migration, climate change, or cybersecurity issues have on democracy in the next generation? How can a reinvigorated democracy help mitigate the challenges these issues create? How are democratic processes impacted on by a transition from an internet to a brain-net, by an on-demand world of biological software upgrades, personalised medicine, and artificial intelligence? A better grasp of how we humans function - how we trust, learn and cooperate, but also how we hate, fight and manipulate - can help public policy-makers and citizens build better governance and better lives.

    What is the role of civil society in supporting democratisation and the consolidation of democracy, and how does UNDEF help civil society to play this role?

    Ultimately, civil society is the oxygen of democracy. Speaking the truth takes two: one to talk, the other to hear. My work with UNDEF has brought home to me that a lively, open and candid discussion among men and women sitting under a tree can sometimes do more for participatory democracy than all the government summits and cabinet meetings in the world. When grassroots activists, community organisers, labour mobilisers, young people and women leaders come together at their own initiative, all with a stake in the outcome, they will persevere until all sides have a say. This is why it is so important that someone in the capital is listening. A confident nation gives citizens a role in the development of their country; the most effective, stable and successful democracies are in fact those where a strong civil society works in partnership with the state, while holding it accountable at the same time. This is what creates a virtuous circle of rights and opportunity under the rule of law, underpinned by a vibrant civil society and an enterprising private sector, backed by efficient and accountable state institutions. For democracy to thrive, this inclusive discourse must never end.

    But civil society faces increasing challenges, as CIVICUS has very clearly highlighted in its 2018 State of Civil Society Report. Over the recent years, an alarming number of governments around the world are increasingly addressing civil society as a threat, not a partner. We need to make it better understood that to have a strong state and strong civil society at the same time is not only possible, but it is also desirable and necessary. What do the stable and prosperous states of the world have in common? A combination of both.

    What does UNDEF do in the face of those challenges?

    UNDEF is a fund within the UN Secretariat that manages and finances projects implemented by civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world. Since it became operational 12 years ago, it has funded over 750 projects in over 100 countries, totalling over US$175 million. UNDEF works directly and resolutely with civil society, often in delicate collaboration with state and private-sector actors, but always independently of them. We use quiet diplomacy where needed to work in challenging environments. We support projects designed at the grassroots to address democratic deficits and denied freedoms. Our grant process begins and ends at the project site: we are demand-driven, not supply-oriented. We commit to our partners’ success. Our capacity-building works through mentoring and evaluation, and by offering a platform for groups and institutions that otherwise would have no knowledge of one another’s projects to share experience and expertise. Lessons learned from each project become a resource for all - participants, future applicants and other funders - as well as the larger community working to build more responsive and inclusive societies. A self-sufficient and largely autonomous part of the UN system, funded entirely by voluntary contributions, UNDEF is uniquely positioned to build mutual understanding and cooperation between states and civil society at the local, national and global levels. Our strategy is to support local civil society and community leaders in addressing locally identified needs and priorities. This allows us to target scarce resources where they are needed most. It is also an investment in the ability of local people to assert their rights and improve their well-being long after our involvement has ended. We keep our staff and operational budget very small by leveraging the expertise, services and extensive field presence of partners from the broader UN system who provide expert advice and monitoring.

    We support a wide range of projects, including initiatives that provide political facilitation, encourage popular participation, support civil society’s role in free and fair elections, foster the development of a culture of democracy, advance political pluralism and build civil society capacity to interact effectively with government at local and national levels. We aim to advance transparency and accountability, promote the rule of law and encourage responsive and inclusive government, while always supporting local ownership and domestic engagement, and explicitly promoting gender equality. UNDEF’s work is financed by voluntary contributions from more than 40 traditional and emerging donors on every continent. As independent third-party evaluators have found, UNDEF is not beholden to the vision, doctrine, or geostrategic interests of any member state, commercial entity, or philanthropic institution. Our evaluation process and lessons learned database advance accountability not only to donors, but also to partners and participants. We answer to project participants and to a governance structure unlike any in the field of democracy support. Our Advisory Board, which provides policy guidance and reviews project proposals, brings together a range of stakeholders, not only from governments - of countries that have made the largest financial contributions to the fund and countries reflecting geographical diversity - but also from individuals and CSOs - including CIVICUS, during the UNDEF Board's 2018-2019 term.

    Learn more about UNDEF’s work through itswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@UNDemocracyFund and@SavillAnnika on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Democracy is a struggle that never ends’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme ofreimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to US activist and CIVICUS board member Jesse Chen of Powerline about the growing popularity of citizen activism in the United States. Since the start of 2017, an unprecedentedone in five US citizens have marched in the streets. But, Jesse points out, the growing number of people’s movements hasn’t come from nowhere: they are part of a longer trajectory that has seen political activism rising on both the left and right in the United States for at least a decade.

    1. Given the unprecedented numbers of US citizens taking to the streets, including in the 2018 March for Our Lives movement, do you think that there is a new moment in political activism in the United States?

    When Trump won in November 2016 and took office in January 2017, we witnessed an entire movement and energy on the left, but also on the right. People have been marching in the streets from the resistance and women’s marches over the first weekends of the Trump presidency to the science marches that came shortly after. On the right, the energy has been rising as well, not only with Donald Trump beating 16 other candidates for the Republican nomination, but also, for example, his rallies as well as the Charlottesville marches, a display last August of white nationalism and threatened white patriarchy.

    The students participating in the March for Our Lives had plenty of recent context, fresh in their minds, that they could look to and say, “We’ve seen people marching very recently. Agree or disagree, it’s irrelevant. Being an activist is normal, socially-acceptable behaviour. I’m going to do this, too.” That said, I think it’s unwise to draw conclusions from a snapshot in time. To me, this moment that we are in right now, with students forming mass protests for gun reform, is naturally aligned with a trend line that can be traced back over the last 10 years at least.

    In my view, this trend started in the early years of the Obama administration when many on the left realised that Barack Obama was not as far to the left as they had hoped. I believe this realisation partly led to the rise of Occupy Wall Street. As much as the left liked Obama, he was far more centrist and establishment than they had hoped. When financial reform and healthcare reform opportunities came and went, the left realised that Barack Obama wasn’t nearly as progressive as he had looked at the time compared to Democratic establishment forerunner and primary candidate, Hillary Clinton.

    Fast-forward a few years and we saw the Dreamers, we saw Black Lives Matter and, of course, we saw Bernie Sanders, among others on the left. A clear thread of anti-establishment energy can be seen across each of these movements. Similarly, at the same time, on the right the conservative Tea Party movement was forming with rallies and marches across the country in response to the loss of the 2008 election. The Tea Party would go on to win several seats in Congress in 2010, leading not only to control of Congress and a number of government shutdowns, but also, indisputably, to the remarkable rise of Donald Trump a few years later.

    Throughout this same period, we have gone through several mass shootings. Of those, we had the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, 14 years after Columbine. Six-year-olds, children no higher than your thighs, were gunned down in an elementary school, and this country’s government and its people did nothing. That was a moment of collective failure for this country where people suddenly realised that, if we can’t act on something so tragic as that, then maybe there actually is no way to act feasibly on guns. So, I definitely think that there was a feeling of hopelessness after the years of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the failure of our government to do something meaningful about it. That hopelessness seems to have given way, at least partially, with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students. Also, now that we have the Trump administration, all issues are back on the table, both open and closed.

    2. What do you think that the March for our Lives Movement has learned from these other movements that have emerged over the past 10 years, including Black Lives Matter?

    One important thing that Black Lives Matter shows is that translocal movements work. The notion of centralised control under a civil society organisation’s campaign or under some iconic leader is one of the reasons, in my view, why progressive movements aren’t as successful on the whole as a lot of conservative movements. Conservatives know that you don’t need to march on Washington to affect change - you can march in your own town, in your own city, in your own neighbourhood. Comparatively speaking, liberals over-extend and over-invest their trust in government as the solution and fail to get involved at the personal and local level. This is something that Black Lives Matter really helped bring out of the shadows and into the mainstream for those on the left. I think Black Lives Matters’ leadership really deserves credit for positively disrupting progressive activism in the United States in that way because that hyperlocal, translocal model can be extremely effective, especially for systemic change.

    The cofounders of March for Our Lives from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have become iconic, but the movement also includes people here at Public School 123 in Brooklyn or Hoboken High School in New Jersey. The leaders in those translocal spaces are leaders, too - and they are not being ‘controlled’ by a central leadership just like how the Black Lives Matter activists are not being ‘controlled’ by the leadership at the Black Lives Matter network or at any of the other facilitating networks. Civil society organisations (CSOs) need to think about this too - movements are too centralised in CSO offices in too many parts of traditional civil society.

    Of course, the elephant in the room for the difference between Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives is that the students are a diverse group of citizens. So to many bystanders, there appears less of a direct challenge to the existing power structure and the white patriarchy with the March for Our Lives Movement versus the Black Lives Matter movement. I look at Black Lives Matter and I see a story of fundamental oppression that has literally been both part of the DNA of this country and the driver of an enormous movement. It tells me a number of things, but number one is that democracy is a struggle that never ends. That struggle includes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Jesse Jackson’s candidacy in the 1984 Democratic primary and the election of Obama as President in 2008. But we don’t win democracy with new laws, with elections, or even with revolutions. Democracy is something that you need to keep on fighting for. I think what Black Lives Matter teaches us is that, in general, this fight is a fight that never ends. I hope our educators within school spaces are walking the student activists through this process because, as those students have undoubtedly already learned in the last months, it’s not enough for people to feel sorry for you over a tragedy in order to get people to change what is a remarkably ingrained injustice in our system.

    3. Movements like March for Our Lives both rise and fall on social media. Does this make it difficult for them to be sustained?

    Social media networks were never designed for democracy. There is no question that social media and the major social networks have had a democratising effect, but we’re being pushed against our limits in terms of what current social media can and cannot do for society. That’s because current social networks were never intentionally designed for the needs and nuances of democracy. The design of the platforms has led to echo chambers and ideological bubbles. They’ve led to the sort of trolling problems that we see, the sorts of privacy problems that we see, the fake news, and many more problems. The situation is currently evolving as we work through the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, so it is against that context that I make the claim that we are between states on this as people awake to this flawed system. Of course, we can’t deny the role that Twitter is playing in helping these March for Our Lives activists organise and activate. The problem is that eventually there becomes a sustained engagement problem because, at their cores, these platforms were not designed to support real mass engagement over time. The students have had the benefit of physical co-location in their schools to anchor their local organising even as they use Twitter to connect translocally, and this has been helpful for sustaining for the last few months. Personal hopes aside, it remains to be seen how much the students stay active, energised and focused as the school year ends and summer break begins.

    4. Are you hopeful about the trajectory of activism in the United States? Do these student activists show that it is ‘cool’ to be an activist now?

    Activism is less nerdy than it used to be. The popular response in the past used to be ‘I’m not into politics.’ But try ‘not being into politics’ in Donald Trump’s America, and you’re seen as both uninformed and uncool. We’re seeing a ton more engagement in civic space, and this is one of the best non-partisan things Trump has done for the United States given its years-long declining citizen participation. Now, people are talking civics again, and they’re even talking politics in sports arenas. This is fundamental for a democracy. We can’t just keep going along on autopilot, holding an election every four years and expecting our leaders to do the right things for us. We must learn to organise, channel and sustain pressure between elections translocally and at scale on the government we do have, not the one we wish we had. These students are showing us ways in which that can be done, and I can’t be the only one that thinks that’s pretty cool.

    From the student perspective, it gives us great hope that these kids will not have to wait until they’ve gone through a couple of years of college and ‘come out of their shell’ for a fraction of them to become activists as young adults. You have kids that were marching in the streets of their own towns, in some cases much to the chagrin of their own school administrations and city councils, and they were out there standing up for themselves. Good for them. Youth are the future in human form. They deserve to have their voices heard just like the rest of our citizens.

    With activism being popular in high school now, we’ve got more people joining the ranks of active citizenship and, hopefully, they’re not going to wait five years until they are in college to get involved. If we look at the larger trend line, this gives all of us an opportunity to reconnect with the grassroots and to reconnect on issues that even some of us, despite best intentions, may have given up on in the past. So yes, I am hopeful at where this larger trend will eventually lead.

    Civic space in the USA is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Powerline through theirFacebook andTwitter pages.

    See also ourinterview with Jaclyn Corin and Matt Deitsch from March for Our Lives.

     

  • ‘Democracy is not failing the American people - politicians are’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Jaclyn Corin and Matt Deitsch, from March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration held on 24 March 2018 in Washington, DC, with hundreds of sibling events throughout the USA and around the world, in demand of tighter gun control. The march was organised in reaction to the February 2018 shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

    1. Is democracy failing the American people, and young Americans in particular?
    JC: I don’t think democracy is failing Americans, but I do think we need to remember what democracy really is, because right now our politicians are not embracing its true definition.

    MD: There are parties that are actively trying to obstruct democracy; there are people trying to suppress voters, whether by voter ID laws, or through registration procedures. The change towards automatic registration in several states is a big step in the right direction, allowing anyone to vote who is eligible. Mass incarceration is also a form of voter suppression, so there are things happening in the US that do suppress democracy. And nobody is free until we are all free, so we need to step up and fight for those who have their power taken away by this unfair system.

    JC: It is just a matter of Americans taking advantage of their democracy, because a lot of people don’t realise that they do have a lot of rights. One of them is the right to vote, and many people don’t take advantage of it. So it is a matter of showing people that one vote can make a difference, even though the prevailing thought has long been ‘I’m only one person, I can’t do anything’.

    2. What was different about the Parkland shooting? Why do you think it was this particular event that sparked a movement like #NeverAgain, in a context in which mass shootings, and school shootings in particular, have become almost routine?
    JC: When this happened, and we were there, we weren’t even that surprised. I remember being in the classroom and thinking ‘this makes sense’. Because I grew up seeing mass shootings, they were all over the place on television. I wasn’t even alive during Columbine, which was one of the most memorable mass shootings in American history. So it was just a matter of us being tired of seeing that happening all the time. It was really important for young people to stand up, because with every mass shooting before this one, either nobody stood up, or they were too quiet and nobody listened to them. This time, there were 16, 17 and 18-year-olds appearing on TV screens, screaming at the very people that they were meant to ‘respect’. We were yelling at them, and people were just intrigued by our fierceness.

    MD: The National Rifle Association (NRA) has practised something that is sometimes referred to as ‘normalisation’, where they create a narrative that is not grounded in reality, but this story is told so many times that it becomes fact to some people. So we immediately knew that what we needed to do is just speak with the truth on the matter. They have of course been trying to discredit this truth, but they have been unable to. When it came to Parkland, I was personally terrified for my brother and sister, and when they came home, my sister – it was her birthday – was pretending like everything was fine, but my brother was visibly angry. At that point we thought that only three people had died, and my brother was like ‘I need to find out if so-and-so is OK’, and he was so angry, he looked at me and said ‘I’m not traumatised, I’m pissed. I’m pissed because something needs to happen’. He was saying this 20 minutes after getting home, and we felt then that we could do anything.

    JC: Yes, the fact that we didn’t even have time to mourn shows how messed up the system is. In a way, we were prepared for this to happen.

    MD: The media was outside almost every funeral, if not at all of them. Every funeral I attended, I walked out and there was a camera on my face. So they give you a choice: you can either mourn and internalise that anger about the need for change, or you can voice it. We then took advantage of the eyes on us and voiced a very powerful message. It’s not that other mass shooting victims or other gun reform advocates have had less powerful messages – what made the difference is that we did something that people were not used to seeing: we broke the cycle that happens when there’s a crime: the families on TV, the funerals, the graduation - it’s almost like watching an exhibit. And we didn’t allow ourselves to be turned into an exhibit. There was something that someone said – Joaquin’s dad, actually – that stuck with me: he said ‘when reporters call me, I tell them I’m not news. What we are doing may become news, but we are not news anymore. The shooting in Parkland happened, and it’s done. We need the news to be something better, positive, something that produces change’. He told me this a week after his son’s funeral, and his message really inspired me. We are not telling people what happened – everyone knows what happened. They may be twisting their own version of it, but everyone knows what occurred. It’s just about making sure that we don’t have to go through something like this again, and that no family feels the way these amazing families now feel.

    3. How were you able to move past the ‘thoughts and prayers’ phase, and into the policy-making arena?
    JC: The idea of ‘policy and change’ instead of ‘thoughts and prayers’ only came with us after speaking to politicians directly. But what we were getting was just an illusion of change, because it didn’t really do anything: they raised the age to buy firearms, but it wasn’t enough. They proposed a programme to arm teachers, which was exactly the opposite of what we wanted, because that pours even more money into gun corporations.

    MD: There’s no scientific evidence that more guns in any situation will make you safer.

    JC: Exactly. And there have been hundreds of local laws implemented since Parkland, and 25 across 15 states at a state level, but that’s not nearly enough because what really needs to happen is federal change. Especially when it comes to universal background checks. No matter how strict a state may be, there’s always a state that is less strict and it’s so easy to move firearms around that it just doesn’t change anything.

    MD: For instance, Chicago has strict gun laws, but they still have high gun violence, because they are next door to Indiana, which has no gun laws, and there is nobody at the border checking the guns that come through. And we have no federal registry, no way of tracking where guns come from, who owns them or what they are being used for. We need this to enforce individual responsibility for gun ownership.

    4. What do you think your chances of success are, and why?
    JC: We think our chances are incredibly high; it’s just a matter of time. The easy stuff is going to come first: for instance, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now will be able to research gun violence on a funded level; a digitised register may be created - all that is going to come first. It’s going to be a longer push for assault weapons and high capacity magazines to be banned. But it’s going to happen, because we are not going anywhere until it’s done.

    MD: David Hogg, one of the movement’s founders, was asked on TV whether he thought we would be successful. He said yes, and the reporter said: ‘but the people against you are very powerful, they are a large organisation, they are training leaders every day, and they have tons of money’. And David goes: ‘yeah, but we are going to outlive them’. It’s that simple: young people are coming together to save each other’s lives. The selfish older generation, including the NRA leadership, is going to crumble. It’s bound to happen, because they have been a part of the corruption of our democracy and of America’s freedoms for so long. We are calling their bluff, exposing their façade, for stepping on the flag and using it as a podium instead of representing what that flag means.

    JC: There are very few people on the other side compared to ours because young people have a more open mind now, in the 21st century, compared to ever before, and that makes us optimistic. Our open minds stem from the education we have received and the fact that we are aware that we have so much more to learn.

    MD: This generation is better educated than most generations before. We were born in the internet age. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t able to look things up online when I had a question, and that ability to have all our questions answered is something that we have taken for granted - now we understand why it means so much. We can use that ability to communicate with loads of people to continue this education and produce policy that makes sense. A true democracy can only work in an educated society, so being an educated voting force is key to tackling the corruption that seems to have taken over the US, especially in recent years.

    5. How did you personally become involved in this movement, and what was your source of inspiration?
    MD: We model a lot of what we do after Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders, the civil rights movement, the women’s suffrage and the women’s liberation movements: all the movements that expanded democracy. We are getting the same sort of message out. It worked – we didn’t have a democracy in America until everyone was granted the right to vote. In fact, America has only been a democracy for around 50 years! And we talk about being a free country, but even now, with the trend of mass incarceration, voter ID laws, registration requirements – all tactics of voter suppression – we are not actually a true democracy. We are using the same methods that worked in the past to expand our democracy.

    JC: The movements that were most successful in the US had defined goals. Movements that are scattered about and lack one major thing they are striving for end up dwindling away. The fact that we have five main goals makes for a very clear finish line that is achievable. The first one is funded research on gun violence by the CDC – because until recently, as a result of the 1996 Dickey amendment, the CDC was not allowed to receive money to research the effects of gun violence in our country. This legislative provision was changed recently, but the CDC was still given no money – so what we need is categorised grants to fund this research. The second goal is a single digitised registry of files for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Currently there is no single place where you can find who owns a particular gun, and sometimes it is impossible to find out, because so many guns are bought on the black market or in private sales. We have the technology to fix this, but it hasn’t happened because people think it is a violation of their Second Amendment Rights – which has been completely taken over by the NRA lobby, with a definition that makes no sense, as it treats the reasonable regulation of the exercise of a right as an infringement. But the truth is, even if all our demands were made into federal law, people would still be able to go through a screening process and buy a firearm intended for protection, which is what the Second Amendment is for.

    MD: The third goal is universal background checks. For instance, in no state should a domestic abuser be allowed to purchase a gun legally. Domestic abuse is the number one indicator for a mass shooter; it has a higher correlation with mass shootings than mental health issues. But that’s not in the law in most places. In some places there are no checks at all. In 12 states a concealed carry permit only requires you to sign a piece of paper. If you are on the terrorist watch list you cannot get on a plane, but you could still purchase an assault weapon. There are places where you need to go through background checks if you want to adopt a cat, but not if you want to buy an assault weapon! This makes no sense. Background checks should be required for every single gun purchase.

    JC: It is important to emphasise that background checks should be mandated by federal law, so that every jurisdiction has the same requirements and procedures, and there are not places where regulations are less strict, creating loopholes that can be taken advantage of. Lastly, our fourth and fifth goals are longer term, as they are the hardest to swallow for conservatives. According to polls, they are still supported by a majority of public opinion, but less than the previous three, for which approval rates are around 80 to 90 per cent. Goals four and five are a high-capacity magazine ban and a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles. The shooter in our school fired 180 rounds in less than six minutes, while walking around and taking the time to go to classroom after classroom. When he was firing, it was like rainfall. No person should have the ability to shoot that many bullets in such short amount of time. Most hunting ranges have banned this type of weapon – which in fact are not really meant for hunting animals; they are meant for hunting people. This kind of firing power can only be in the hands of highly trained individuals, and has no place in our homes and streets. This is what so many veterans are telling us: these weapons are a danger not only to other people, but also to their owners and the people close to them, because they don’t know how to handle them, store them and take care of them.

    6. In which ways could international civil society and like-minded movements elsewhere help you achieve your goals?
    JC: A lot of other countries, like Australia and most European ones, have laws like the ones we advocate for, and their levels of gun crime are incredibly lower than ours. This proves there is a way to fix this, and we should stop ignoring the fact that we have a gun problem and blaming it all on mental health. Other countries have mental health problems but these problems don’t cause the same amount of damage as here, so the argument doesn’t hold. If the international community could add their voices in support of the idea that these laws do work, it would be of a lot of help.

    MD: The international community could help a lot in promoting an educated democracy, saying how important it is for young people to not only vote, but also become educated in the voting process, given that our political system has clearly failed us when it comes to protecting us. This is important not only for the US but also for the world, because others emulate the US, as we can see with the current administration and how it has played out in the rest of the world in terms of the increase in intolerance and hate crimes. By promoting education and democracy, the international community would be helping us.

    Civic space in the United States is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with March for Our Lives through their website or Facebook page, or follow @AMarch4OurLives, @JaclynCorin and @MattxRed on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Dutch citizens feel a major disconnect from politics’

    The special theme of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report will be ‘reimagining democracy’. The report will explore how citizens and civil society organisations are working to build more participatory forms of democracy, and how civil society is responding to the citizen anger and sense of disconnection that is driving more extremist and polarised politics in many countries. Ahead of publication, we’ll be interviewing civil society activists and leaders in countries experiencing these trends. Here, CIVICUS speaks to René Rouwette, Director of Kompass, a civil rights organisationin the Netherlands. Kompass seeks to make human rights accessible to all and strives for ordinary people to exercise as much influence on laws and policies as large companies. It brings people together around projects on racism, refugees and ethnic profiling, among other issues.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in the Netherlands?

    The Netherlands scores very high on the international Democracy Index. Still, I am concerned about specific developments affecting democracy in the Netherlands. Many Dutch people do not feel represented in Dutch politics. Citizens feel a major disconnect from politics, especially towards the European Union as well as at the national level. Political parties are losing members and are increasingly unable to recruit new ones, and many people who are still involved are actively seeking a political job rather than trying to challenge their parties, and change their country or the world. As local newspapers are disappearing, there is hardly any awareness about local politics either.

    Many unhappy voters have turned to the right and the extreme right. And at least one such extreme right-wing party, the Freedom Party, is highly undemocratic. Its leader, Geert Wilders, is actually the party’s only formal member, which means he is the only one who can make decisions regarding the topics the political organisation will tackle and the positions it will take. This is a true anomaly among Dutch political parties.

    The political landscape is polarising.  After years of consensus politics, the left and right in the Netherlands are increasingly apart. People are locked up in echo chambers, so they resist any information that does not conform to their beliefs and show very little interest in finding common ground. Parties at the centre of the political spectrum are struggling, and are increasingly accommodating language from the extremes, and especially from the extreme right. The landscape is highly fragmented. A record number of 81 contenders, many of them single-issue parties, registered to compete in the national elections that took place in March 2017. Thirteen of those parties made it to Parliament, making it very hard to reach consensus.

    A major issue of current democratic tension in the Netherlands is focused on referendums. Over the past few years, referendums were introduced at the local and national levels. Almost all votes so far have resulted in wins for anti-establishment forces. In the first national referendum that took place the Netherlands, in April 2016, two-thirds of voters rejected the European Union accession treaty with Ukraine. As a result, the ruling coalition decided to put an end to referendum opportunities at the national level. People are now angry about the government’s unwillingness to follow up on the referendum results as well as about the decision to suspend referendums.   

    1. Has the practice of democracy in the country changed (for better or worse) over the past few years?

    More than with democracy, I think that the problem in the Netherlands is with human rights. 

    When talking about human rights in our country, you always have to start by saying that the Netherlands is not China, and that we are doing better than Rwanda and Uganda. There is a general feeling that human rights are something for other countries to be concerned with and it all comes down to issues of such as the death penalty and torture. But that is not what Eleanor Roosevelt and her colleagues meant when they drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are about many other things as well, including housing, schooling, education - a minimum standard for basic rights, in every country. 

    The Dutch mind-set towards human rights is actually very contradictory, as Dutch people also tend to be pioneers and innovators. I think it is very un-Dutch to consider the human rights status quo as good enough, and to settle for an increasing mediocrity. While holding firm to the feeling that human rights are an issue for other countries, it is worth noting that Rwanda is now scoring better in terms of women’s equality and Uganda now scores better in terms of human rights education than the Netherlands. While the Netherlands is actively involved in bringing human rights to other countries, Dutch school kids score very low in terms of their knowledge of human rights.

    At the same time, human rights have increasingly become an issue of political contestation. Political parties right and centre have openly criticised human rights and human rights treaties. They have even fought the Dutch constitution on this. The new government, established after the latest elections, is now investigating how to get rid of refugee treaties. A coalition of Dutch civil society organisations (CSOs) has recently concluded that in the past five years the human rights situation in the Netherlands has deteriorated. The victims of this deterioration have been not only refugees and Muslims living in the Netherlands, but also ordinary Dutch citizens. Human rights are about rights for all; the power of human rights is that they are all important. There are no left-wing human rights and right-wing human rights. Let us stick to that.   

    1. In which ways have the recent elections altered the political and ideological landscape? Has the political conversation deteriorated as a result of the challenge posed by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party?

    There is a major international misconception that the extreme right lost the Dutch elections. This is wishful thinking. In reality, Geert Wilders’ party increased its presence in the Dutch Parliament, from 12 to 20 seats. Moreover, a new extreme right-wing party, the Eurosceptic and nationalistic Forum for Democracy, also won two seats in the Dutch Parliament. Leftist parties have become very small in comparison to their past selves.

    At the same time, parties at the centre have increasingly accommodated language from the extreme right, so the public conversation has definitely changed for the worse. Even in the left, among social democrats, there are voices calling for ignoring refugees’ basic rights. The Christian-Democratic Party is obsessed with winning back political power, and references to exclusion have therefore become vital to their political strategy. It is going to be hard – not to say impossible – for these parties to return to their traditional positions and, in fact, to their core ideologies. But of course that there are still some good people with a heart for human rights within those parties, and we should work with them to make things better.

    1. What is progressive civil society doing, and what should it do, to resist the rise of authoritarian, isolationist populism?

    The major current challenge for Dutch civil society is to bridge differences and to start working together. In the past, many CSOs have focused on competition rather than cooperation, and on their own cause rather than the general cause. I have a feeling that this is changing, and that is for the best. CSOs can all contribute to a cause from their own experience and skills, as long as we share an agenda. An interesting trend in Dutch civil society, as well as at the international level, is that new CSOs tend not to focus exclusively on themes anymore, but rather on specific skills and assets. As a civil rights organisation, for instance, Kompass focuses on using lobbying experience and techniques to advance human rights. There is another new organisation in our country that focuses on litigation. We need to cut internal discussions short, and start working on outreach. 

    It is important to note that CSOs are setting the agenda again: that civil society is being able to frame issues rather than just respond to issues put forward by other actors. We have some things to learn from the (extreme) right, who have managed to communicate a clear message through their own media, as well as through the mainstream media. It is important for us to take a position, and not appear as indifferent.

    At the same time, it is important to avoid taking a high moral ground. Actively seeking polarisation will bring us nowhere. The election result was clear, and the fact that so many people abandoned progressive and left-wing parties needs serious consideration. Parties that criticise human rights treaties like the Geneva Conventions and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights now have a majority in Parliament; it is important to take stock of this. Polarisation might be useful to bring together very leftist or progressive groups, but it will alienate many others, even those in the centre. It is important to find a common ground: to persuade rather than accommodate or win discussions.

    What we can learn from commercial lobbying is how to build political support among parties that do not necessarily agree. In the past, some CSOs were of the opinion that they had a role in raising problems, but that it was politicians’ job to come up with a solution. That approach just does not work in the current political setting and climate. We do not need to create moral upheavals, but to propose concrete solutions and actions. The reason why companies are spending such enormous amounts of money on lobbying is that it works. We need to learn from what they are doing.

    • Civic space in the Netherlands was recently downgraded from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that rates the conditions for civil society in every country in the world. This downgrade was influenced by increasing infringements of protest and expression rights and a rise in hate-inducing and harmful speech during the election.
    • Get in touch with Kompass through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow @KompassNL on Twitter

     

  • ‘If citizens are not able to recognise what is going on and mobilise, Romania will very likely join the club of ‘illiberal democracies’ of the region’

    The special theme of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report will be ‘reimagining democracy’. The report will explore how citizens and civil society organisations are working to build more participatory forms of democracy, and how civil society is responding to the citizen anger and sense of disconnection that is driving more extremist and polarised politics in many countries. Ahead of publication, we’ll be interviewing civil society activists and leaders in countries experiencing these trends. Here, CIVICUS speaks to Stefan Cibian, president of the Federation of Non-Governmental Development Organisations of Romania (FOND) and Board member of the Romanian Association for International Cooperation and Development (ARCADIA). Founded in 2006, FOND includes some of the most important civil society organisations in the country, and currently has 33 member organisations. Since its inception, it has organised capacity-building training for its members to become more active in the field of international development cooperation, volunteering and humanitarian assistance as well as landmark events for the Romanian development community, such as the Romanian Development School and for the broader region, including the Black Sea NGO Forum.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in Romania? Has the practice of democracy changed over the past few years?

    I would describe the current state of democracy in Romania as worrying. In essence, there used to be a positive trend at the grassroots level, where individuals and communities came to life after the treacherous totalitarian regime that lasted until 1989. More recently, however, the political mood has reverted back towards the totalitarian practices of before 1989. This is unfortunately part of a broader trend, with several countries in the region being led by democratically elected leaders who are, in essence, destroying or undermining the democratic systems that brought them to power. Country after country in Central and Eastern Europe - and not only in that region - are following the same approach: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Turkey and now Romania.

    In Romania’s case the practice of democracy had improved over the past decades. The positive side includes, or rather included, a strengthened judiciary with an increasingly efficient anti-corruption agency, that until now managed to increase respect for public assets; a media landscape with some weaknesses in terms of ownership structure and politicisation, but nevertheless is free and diversified; an increasingly stronger civil society with grassroots movements that give life to broadly disempowered communities; and an increasingly empowered citizenry that expresses itself through mass protests and online, as well as through community engagement, increased donations and participating in sporting activities. This trend is made possible by a new generation shaped by access to information and technology – a generation that has partially different aims and behaves fundamentally differently from its predecessors.

    Romanian democracy faces, however, challenges that are similar to those faced by many countries experiencing an externally-assisted democratisation process. Its most important weakness relates to its citizens’ capacity to fulfil their constitutional mandate. While democratic systems place power in the hands of citizens, democratisation processes to date have largely ignored the capacity of citizens to make good use of the power they possess (including the way a citizen votes, decides to be involved and holds political leaders and state institutions to account). The key problem is a lack of critical thinking and abilities to put into practice the rights offered by democratic constitutions. Understandably, if they are not able to live and practise the freedoms brought about by democracy, citizens are not going to defend their democratic system, whenever needed.

    A set of other challenges relate to inherent weaknesses in the sustainability of organised civil society. Democratisation driven by donors’ assistance has not generated any sustainable organised civil society in terms of resources, nor in terms of connection to the governmental sphere, or indeed, often to local communities.

    A last set of challenges relate to the party system. Rather than holding to democratic principles, the parties that emerged after the Communist period in Romania function as mechanisms to capture the state for various private or even illegal interests.

    2. Is Romanian civil society currently able to fully contribute to democratic governance?

    I would say it is partially able to do so. While protests have made a positive contribution over the past few years, the democratic system has been significantly altered when it comes to the relations between civil society and political parties or state institutions. With the exception of some new parties born out of civil society initiatives, relations between political parties and society are not yet embodying democratic principles. Parties attempt to control society, not to represent it, and civil society is weak in terms of organisation and its ability to articulate common interests, while keeping a distance from the main political parties. Therefore, in the way the current system works, it is unlikely that civil society will be able to contribute fully to democratic governance.

    3. What triggered the anti-corruption demonstrations that took place earlier in 2017? What fuelled them, and why did they continue after the government rolled back the decree that motivated them in the first place?

    There are two key aspects here: first, the dynamics were not only about corruption, but also about the type of power that is deployed along with it. Second, the word we live in is being fundamentally transformed by technology, which is creating societal needs that cannot be catered for by current organisational models. This poses fundamental challenges to the way in which our societies are organised. Whether we talk about civil society, political or business organisations, those changes are taking us towards a new world that exposes new ways of being and living.

    In Romania’s case, protests have been about corruption, but they have also been about much more – a fundamental lack of trust in political parties and core institutions, which are de jure but not de factodemocratic. Protests have continued for a good reason, as recent laws passed by the Romanian parliament, including new regulations on civil society organisations (CSOs), and emergency decrees issued by the Romanian government, have indicated that public institutions are being used to dismantle democracy and limit the space for civil society. Therefore, the aim is not corruption; corruption is just the means. The true aim is to hold control over society, and gaining discretionary power over resources is necessary in that regard. That is also the reason why, although the government’s reactions to citizens exercising their right to protest was soft at the beginning, there has been a growing tendency for the government to intervene to limit protests, spark violence, and then use that violence as an excuse for repression.

    4. Would you say a full-fledged anti-corruption movement has emerged from the protests?

    No. What this year’s mobilisations have produced is, on one hand, an increasing number of angry people, and on the other a growing number of disempowered people. Established CSOs have played a role in the protests, but up to now it has been a marginal one. Their ability to mobilise citizens, or even to coordinate amongst themselves, has remained alarmingly low.

    While some connections have been established with like-minded mobilisations in other parts of the world, these have taken place mostly at an inspirational level, and for very few of those involved.

    For the time being, the 2017 mobilisations have only succeeded in postponing the ruling party’s plans, which are now being rolled out through parliament. Citizen reactions, on the other hand, are now far from the strength that they had at the beginning of 2017.

    This is a crucial moment for Romanian democracy. If citizens are able to recognise what is going on and they mobilise, they will be able to protect their rights and re-establish a democratic system. If they do not, Romania will very likely join the club of ‘illiberal democracies’ of the region.

    • Civic space in Romania is rated as ‘narrowed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating the existence of some restrictions on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression
    • Get in touch with FOND through their website or Facebook page, and contact ARCADIA through their webpage, or follow @stefancibian and @FONDRomania on Twitterdemocracy 

     

  • ‘It is for civil society to step in and fill the void on human rights and good governance issues’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Dr Fred Sekindi, Director of Research, Advocacy and Lobbying at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) based in Kampala, Uganda. Established in 1991, FHRI isan independent, non-governmental, non-partisan and not-for-profit human rights organisation seeking to remove impediments to democratic development and the meaningful enjoyment of fundamental freedoms through research, monitoring, legislative advocacy, strategic partnerships and the dissemination of information and best practices through training and education.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in Uganda? Has the practice of democracy in the country changed over the past couple of years?

    In the past few years, the incumbent government has demonstrated its resolve to hold on to power at all cost. In this quest to hold to power, ideals of democracy have increasingly been under threat. President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for over 30 years and has been declared triumphant in the six presidential elections that have been conducted since the 1995 Constitution was promulgated, amidst widespread discontent with electoral laws. Elections by themselves are not a symbol of democracy, particularly if electoral laws are not able to translate the will of the people into true democratic choice. A recently introduced and very unpopular proposal to amend the 1995 Constitution to remove age restrictions on the presidency, and the brutal force employed by state security forces against dissenters, also illustrate the state of democratic decay of Uganda. Civil society organisations (CSOs) that have criticised the proposal to amend the Constitution have had their accounts frozen and some have been threatened with closure. The government has resorted to draconian laws such as the 2013 Public Management Order Act, which prohibits public gatherings without the approval of the Inspector General of Police, to prevent public gatherings and demonstrations against the proposed constitutional amendments. Over the past few years, Uganda has also witnessed an escalation in the harassment and unlawful detention of political opponents of the government and political and human rights activists.

    1. In this context, is civil society able to contribute to democratic governance in Uganda?

    CSOs working in the area of service delivery continue to operate without any notable hindrances from the government, while those working on land rights, democracy, governance, anti-corruption and transparency continue to face an uphill task.

    The controversial Non-Government Organisations Act, enacted in 2016, has increased government supervision and control over CSOs. The Act creates an obligation for CSOs not to engage in any act that is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda and that is not in the interest of Ugandans. It further establishes an NGO Bureau with powers to revoke the licences of offending CSOs. Any CSO that engages in such loosely defined acts is liable to deregistration. Augmented by the Public Order Management Act, the Non-Government Organisation Act further restricts civic space - the space for civil society - for CSOs working in the areas of democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and transparency. This has come during a period of increasing impunity of state officials and when the government has embarked on unpopular constitutional amendments.

    CSOs, especially those engaged in the fields of democracy and governance, are perceived by the government as political and partisan, and as agents of western governments, since their roles include monitoring government policies and actions and holding government officials accountable to the public.

    In October 2017, the police raided a number of CSO offices and seized their computers and documents. The central bank froze these CSOs’ bank accounts, as well as the personal accounts of their directors. These raids were soon followed by orders from the NGO Bureau for CSOs to submit their bank account statements for the past 10 years. The police claimed that they were investigating allegations of money laundering.

    Thus CSOs in Uganda continue to struggle to contribute to democratic governance in a very hostile environment shaped by a draconian regulatory framework and systematic practices of intimidation and self-censorship.

    As a result of the government’s failure to ensure the fundamental rights of the people, CSOs have stepped in to fill this gap. The increasing popularity of CSOs among the populace, more so in a time of political upheaval when Ugandans need a sense of direction and strong leadership, lays a fertile ground for antagonism between the government on one hand, and CSOs and the citizenry on the other.

    1. What impact are the restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental freedoms having on civil society activities?

    A Private Members’ Bill introduced by a ruling party parliamentarian to remove age restrictions on the presidency was tabled in Parliament in September 2017. This bill seeks to allow the incumbent President Museveni to run for additional terms in office.

    Coincidentally, the police raided the offices of ActionAid and the Great Lakes Initiative for Strategic Studies in Kampala, and Solidarity Uganda in the Northern city of Lira, on 21 September 2017, as part of its campaign to clamp down on CSOs that, in their opinion, are working against the removal of the age limit.

    As a result of the recent wave of government intimidations and restrictive legal framework, CSOs are operating in a very uncertain environment. To continue working in this hostile environment, some CSOs have resorted to self-censorship, in order to avoid deregistration. This, however, poses the risk of these CSOs becoming irrelevant, as they are not engaging with the issues that concern the citizenry the most. The other challenge is that, in an environment in which the observance of fundamental freedoms is increasingly neglected by the government, restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental rights are likely to carry on unabated.

    The police raids have also had another two-pronged effect on CSOs: on one hand, the police seeks to deter the organisations from carrying out any activities that could prevent the incumbent president from achieving his ambition of a life presidency, by portraying them as working against the ‘public interest’ or the ‘security of the state’; on the other, it aims at tarnishing CSOs’ reputation and dissuading their donors from continuing to financially support their work.

    The police has continued to use the Police Act and the Public Order Management Order Act to stifle the freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association, and to arrest and detain persons unlawfully. The Police Act authorises the use of ‘preventive detention’ for the protection of the detainee and to starve off the spread of communicable disease. This power has been misused to arrest human rights activists and political opponents arbitrarily and to prevent political activities and demonstrations from taking place. In turn, the Public Order Management Act requires the organiser of a public procession to submit a ‘notice of intention to carry out a public meeting’ to the police. Spontaneous meetings are exempted from the notice. However, the police has repeatedly dispersed spontaneous meetings, prevented meetings arranged by opposition parties, CSOs and political activists, and arrested demonstrators.

    In sum, the government continues to employ bully tactics to harass dissenters. CSOs, opposition political activists and journalists are the main victims of these attacks.

    1. What support or solidarity can international civil society offer to you in these times?

    Uganda is at a crossroads. The quest by the incumbent to hold on to power poses a risk to the relative peace the country has witnessed over the past 30 years and renders the country vulnerable to a return to the old unviable struggles for political power. The determination to hold on to power at all costs has coincided with an increase in state abuses of fundamental rights. It is within this environment that CSOs in Uganda operate. To fill the void in the promotion and protection of human rights, and to provide a sense of direction and leadership to the populace, CSOs must situate their work within the current political and human rights context.

    Thus, technical and financial support from international civil society to CSOs in Uganda will be crucial in steering Uganda towards democratic governance. International partners may also lobby the Ugandan government on issues of good governance and human rights as another method of exerting influence. International CSOs could also create a fund for protecting and evacuating human rights defenders in emergency cases.

    Most importantly, international CSOs have a role in supporting local CSOs in their work to build civic competences among the citizenry as well as to safeguard fundamental rights.  In times when the government’s priority is the incumbent’s survival in power, issues of good governance and observance of fundamental rights have been neglected. It is for CSOs to step in and fill this void. This task would be impossible to achieve without the support of international partners.

    • Civic space in Uganda is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative through theirwebsite, or follow@FHRI2 on Twitter.

     

  • ‘La presencia de mujeres en espacios de representación política es buena no solo para las mujeres sino también para la democracia’

    English

    En noviembre de 2017 Argentina aprobó una ley de paridad de género con el objeto de garantizar un 50% de representación femenina en su Congreso Nacional. CIVICUS conversa con Natalia Gherardi, Directora Ejecutiva del Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género (ELA), una organización de la sociedad civil argentina que persigue la equidad de género mediante acciones de incidencia, trabajo en redes y el desarrollo de capacidades de actores políticos y sociales. Fundada en 2003 y basada en Buenos Aires, ELA es un equipo interdisciplinario de mujeres con trayectorias en el Estado, la práctica del derecho, la academia, los organismos internacionales y la sociedad civil.

    1. Según datos de laUnión Interparlamentaria, solo 12 países en todo el mundo tienen más de 40% de mujeres en sus cámaras de diputados o legislativos unicamerales. ¿En qué situación se encuentra la Argentina, y qué cambiará con la aprobación de la ley de paridad de género?

    Argentina fue un país pionero cuando en los años ’90 aprobó una ley que estableció una cuota mínima de mujeres en ámbitos legislativos. Esta reforma se hizo a través de la introducción en el Código Nacional Electoral de un cupo femenino del 30% en las listas partidarias para las elecciones de diputados y senadores nacionales. En los años que siguieron, todas las provincias argentinas sancionaron leyes similares paras sus legislaturas provinciales. Esa medida de acción afirmativa buscaba subir el umbral de incorporación de mujeres en el ámbito legislativo y ese objetivo se alcanzó, aunque no sin dificultades. Según un estudio que hicimos en 2011, las legisladoras nacionales pasaron de menos de 5% en 1983, cuando recuperamos la democracia, a casi 40% en 2011.

    Durante los 25 años que lleva de vigencia, sin embargo, fueron frencuentes las trampas en la implementación de la Ley de Cupo Femenino. Esto dio lugar a varios procesos judiciales por la impugnación de listas que burlaban el cupo de mujeres requerido por la ley. Todavía en 2015, el 10% de las listas presentadas en las elecciones nacionales incumplían de diversas maneras el mandato legal, sin que la justicia electoral ejerciera acabadamente su función de control.

    El proyecto de reforma electoral que el Poder Ejecutivo impulsó en 2016 podría haber incorporado medidas para mejorar la implementación del cupo, pero no lo hizo. En todo caso, ese hubiera sido un objetivo pequeño. El compromiso con una democracia de calidad exige bastante más: la paridad. El debate en América Latina ya se estaba formulando en estos términos. Por ese motivo, en Argentina las mujeres de diversos partidos políticos se unieron en torno de diversos proyectos de ley para incorporar el principio de paridad, hasta llegar en noviembre de 2017 a la sanción de la ley de reforma del Código Nacional Electoral.

    Como consecuencia de esta nueva ley, a partir de las elecciones de renovación legislativa de 2019 las listas que los partidos políticos presenten para las elecciones nacionales deberán incluir un 50% de mujeres, alternando la composición de la lista entre una mujer y un varón de modo de repartir en forma equitativa las posiciones elegibles.

    Esperamos que la aplicación de esta ley tenga impacto al menos en dos niveles. En un sentido muy práctico, implicará un aumento en la cantidad de mujeres en los espacios legislativos, y eso se traducirá también en mayor cantidad de mujeres en todas las áreas del Congreso. Pero además, la aplicación de esta ley contribuirá a profundizar el consenso social acerca de la necesidad de contar con mayor presencia de mujeres en todos los espacios de poder y en todas las áreas de la vida social, política, económica y cultural de nuestro país.

    1. En los últimos años hemos escuchado a muchos, casi indefectiblemente hombres, insistir en que ya no hay en Argentina discriminación y desigualdad de género desde el momento en que una mujer ha podido llegar a presidente. ¿Qué es lo que falla en este razonamiento, y cuál es la mejor manera de rebatirlo?

    Fue muy importante contar con una mujer en la presidencia (así como hoy en la gobernación de la provincia más grande de Argentina) porque abrió la puerta a un mundo de posibilidades. En estos años las mujeres han demostrado con creces que pueden ocupar lugares de poder en muy diversos espacios, no solo en la presidencia sino también en la Corte Suprema, en el Ministerio Público y en la gestión de las políticas universitarias. Estos cambios se fueron dando tanto a nivel nacional como en varias provincias. Se trata de modelos de rol que permiten ir transformando las miradas que la sociedad tiene sobre las mujeres (y que las mujeres -sobre todo las jóvenes- tienen sobre sí mismas) y los modelos de ejercicio del poder.

    Sin embargo, los detractores de las medidas de acción afirmativa se toman de los casos particulares para argumentar que las mujeres “lo han logrado todo”. Básicamente, sostienen que si una mujer ha llegado a uno de esos espacios, entonces las medidas de acción afirmativa ya no son necesarias. Sin embargo, justamente el hecho de que podamos nombrar a “la” mujer que ha accedido a la presidencia, a la Corte Suprema, la gobernación, el decanato de la facultad o la dirección de la compañía demuestra que esa mujer es la excepción antes que la regla. Si las podemos nombrar, las podemos contabilizar, y eso es porque siguen siendo pocas en comparación con los cargos disponibles.

    Los adversarios del cupo también argumentan que el establecimiento de una cuota o una regla de paridad socava el mérito como regla para acceder a los cargos públicos, e insinúan que no habría suficientes mujeres calificadas para ser legisladoras. Sin embargo, esto es desmentido por diversos indicadores. Por ejemplo, desde hace más de 20 años el 60% de los graduados de varias facultades de universidades nacionales son mujeres. En el Congreso Nacional, las mujeres que integran las cámaras tienen mayores credenciales educativas que sus pares varones: las mujeres con un título de educación superior superan en un 10% a los varones con similares títulos. Además, parecen ser más eficaces en su trabajo ya que a pesar de ser menos numerosas, impulsan más de la mitad de los proyectos de ley.

    Otros dicen que debemos ser pacientes ya que con el tiempo se desarrollarán liderazgos femeninos que podrán acceder a lugares de decisión sin necesidad de políticas que impulsen el proceso. Este argumento no solo soslaya los mecanismos de poder que operan en la confección de las listas partidarias por efecto de la limitada democracia interna de los partidos políticos (donde abunda el nepotismo, pero el tema solo parece preocupar cuando la nominada es una mujer) sino que además pasa por alto el hecho de que la participación de las mujeres en el Congreso lleva largo tiempo estancada. En 2001 entró en vigencia la reforma impulsada a partir del reclamo interpuesto por una dirigente de la Unión Cívica Radical ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH). María Teresa Merciadri de Morini había denunciado que el partido había violado la ley que establecía el cupo de 30%, ya que al conformar la lista de seis candidaturas electorales había colocado a dos mujeres en los puestos tercero y sexto, aunque el partido solo renovaba cinco cargos. Como consecuencia de la intervención de la CIDH el Estado nacional reformó la reglamentación vigente para resolver el problema que dio origen al reclamo. Desde entonces, hubo un aumento constante en la participación de las mujeres en el Congreso, que creció a un ritmo de 2,5 puntos por elección hasta 2009. Desde entonces y hasta 2015 la tendencia comenzó a decaer: la capacidad de promover la paridad a partir de la implementación del cupo del 30% se agotó hace casi una década.

    Otro argumento frecuente contra el cupo sostiene que las mujeres no tendrían interés en ocupar esos cargos de responsabilidad, y que por eso no persiguen oportunidades de liderazgo o las declinan cuando se presentan. De acuerdo con esta línea de pensamiento, las mujeres prefieren otras formas de desarrollo personal, principalmente ligado a la construcción de una familia a la que dedican gran parte de su tiempo y esfuerzo en el trabajo invisible de cuidado. Este es un argumento interesante, porque parte de datos ciertos. De acuerdo con la Encuesta sobre Trabajo No Remunerado y Uso del Tiempo, en la Argentina las mujeres dedican el doble de tiempo que los varones a las tareas de cuidado. El análisis de las trayectorias personales de los integrantes del Congreso Nacional muestra que las mujeres son en mayor proporción viudas, solteras o divorciadas y tienen (en promedio) menor cantidad de hijos que sus pares varones. Eso parece indicar que para aprovechar las oportunidades políticas (y otras) las mujeres deben tener menos responsabilidades directas de cuidado. Pero hay varios aspectos que deben puntualizarse: ¿todas las mujeres realizan las mismas elecciones? Esas elecciones ¿no están en determinadas en cierta medida por el contexto cultural? Y finalmente, ¿qué rol deben cumplir las políticas públicas para favorecer una organización social del cuidado más justa en términos de género, de modo que el trabajo no remunerado no recaiga desproporcionadamente sobre las mujeres? El Congreso mismo fue hasta hace poco tiempo indiferente a la necesidad de garantizar políticas públicas para responder a esta problemática generalmente relegada a la privacidad de las familias: sólo recientemente se reformó el reglamento para habilitar a las diputadas usar el jardín maternal de la Cámara de Diputados, cuando una diputada fue madre durante su mandato e hizo el pedido. Entonces, ¿deben retirarse las mujeres o debe cambiar el Congreso?

    Entender que las mujeres pueden y deben ocupar puestos de liderazgo como parte de su derecho a participar plenamente de la vida social, política y económica es un proceso en construcción. Por eso es importante no retroceder en los avances que se han logrado y responder a los argumentos falaces con que se trata de detener el proceso.

    1. ¿Por qué es bueno que haya más mujeres en cargos políticos? ¿Es bueno para las mujeres, o es bueno para la democracia?

    Asegurar la diversidad en la integración de los cargos públicos, y en particular en el Legislativo que es el ámbito deliberativo por excelencia, mejora la calidad del debate público y fortalece los valores de la democracia.

    La experiencia nos indica que en muchos casos –aunque ciertamente no en todos- han sido las mujeres quienes impulsaron políticas de igualdad, leyes contra la violencia de género y políticas para garantizar los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, entre tantos otros avances de las últimas décadas. Sin embargo no es esa la razón por la cual ha de promoverse a las mujeres a espacios de poder, ni tampoco deberían ser las mujeres las únicas responsables de promover la igualdad de género. Esta es una obligación derivada del compromiso auténtico con la democracia y los derechos humanos, y en tanto que tal debemos exigirla de todas las personas que ejercen poder en el ámbito que sea.

    Sin embargo, las estructuras partidarias siguen siendo en general poco abiertas a las mujeres. Es interesante preguntarse porqué. ¿Es por efecto de los estereotipos que afectan a las mujeres? ¿O porque esas estructuras son parte de un sistema que concentra el poder en pocas y siempre en las mismas manos? Porque lo cierto es que no solo las mujeres están excluidas de los espacios de poder: la falta de diversidad no tiene que ver solamente con el género.

    La paridad es un compromiso ético y político que parte de la convicción de que las mujeres deben estar presentes en los espacios de representación política porque eso es bueno no solo para las mujeres sino también para la democracia. El intercambio de ideas propio de todo proceso democrático se enriquece con la diversidad de miradas que aportan personas con distintas trayectorias y experiencias.

    A partir de esta convicción se conformó en Canadá un gabinete paritario: no porque así lo dispusiera ley sino porque eso es lo que demanda una sociedad moderna, integrada e igualitaria. “Porque estamos en 2015” fue la justificación espontánea de Justin Trudeau, el Primer Ministro canadiense, en la conferencia de prensa que siguió a la presentación de un gabinete que reflejaba la diversidad de Canadá más allá del género, ya que incluía a varones y mujeres, personas con discapacidad y personas de distinto origen étnico y distintas orientaciones sexuales.

    Hacia esa convicción debemos ir en Argentina y en América Latina.

    1. ¿Cuánto trabajo le insumió a la sociedad civil lograr que el tema fuera tratado y que la ley de paridad fuera aprobada?

    En América Latina varios países avanzaron antes que Argentina en la regulación legal de la paridad en los espacios legislativos. Tales son los casos de Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, México y Nicaragua. Los consensos regionales que surgen de las Conferencias Regionales sobre la Mujer de América Latina y el Caribe hace ya varios años que promueven las políticas de paridad como un compromiso ético y político que mejora la calidad de la democracia.

    En Argentina ya antes de 2015 había en el Congreso varios proyectos de ley que buscaban avanzar hacia la paridad. Así, cuando el Ejecutivo planteó la reforma electoral, muchas mujeres y algunos varones referentes de todas las fuerzas políticas se unieron para apoyar una propuesta ampliamente superadora del proyecto oficialista. Es importante destacar la colaboración de mujeres del oficialismo y la oposición, que trabajaron articuladamente entre ellas y con las organizaciones de la sociedad civil, el movimiento de mujeres y las feministas con un objetivo común. Las organizaciones de mujeres, académicas y de derechos humanos acompañamos el reclamo a través de la campaña #MujeresALaPolítica.

    Entre las estrategias que utilizamos para contribuir a instalar y sostener el tema en la agenda pública se cuentan la organización y participación en mesas de debate, la elaboración y difusión de estudios sobre el impacto de las mujeres en la política, la publicación de notas de prensa y artículos de opinión, la generación de espacios de intercambio permanente con mujeres de las diversas fuerzas políticas y las campañas en las redes sociales y en la vía pública.

    Así se logró avanzar en un dictamen conjunto que incluyó el principio de paridad en la reforma electoral que había presentado el Poder Ejecutivo, que la Cámara de Diputados aprobó en octubre de 2016. Al mismo tiempo avanzó y logró media sanción un proyecto independiente que buscaba incorporar el principio de paridad en el Código Nacional Electoral, y que fue aprobado por la Cámara de Senadores el mismo día de octubre de 2016. De ese modo se terminó ese año legislativo con dos proyectos de ley de objetivos similares: incorporar el principio de paridad en el Código Electoral. Paradójicamente, ninguna de las cámaras trató el proyecto iniciado en la otra, y ninguno de ellos logró convertirse en ley.

    En ese situación se inició el año legislativo de 2017. Ese año, diputadas del gobierno y la oposición asumieron el compromiso público de avanzar en la sanción del proyecto que ya tenía media sanción del Senado. Esto se hizo realidad, finalmente, en la última sesión ordinaria del Congreso, nuevamente gracias a la articulación inteligente de las mujeres de distintas fuerzas políticas. Una vez colocado el proyecto en el temario, la enorme mayoría de la Cámara acompañó la sanción de la ley.

    1. ¿El trabajo de ustedes ha terminado aquí, o anticipan que habrá problemas de implementación que tendrán que monitorear?

    No, el trabajo no termina aquí. La aprobación de una ley no es un punto de llegada sino el punto de partida de otro proceso complejo para garantizar su aplicación. Tal como sucedió cuando se reformó el Código Nacional Electoral para incluir el cupo femenino en los años ‘90, también en esta oportunidad los próximos años serán fundamentales para garantizar una adecuada reglamentación y aplicación del principio de paridad. Deberemos estar muy atentas a que la justicia electoral cumpla con su función de contralor. La provincia de Buenos Aires ya nos recordó la necesidad de mantener una mirada atenta sobre la implementación de los logros normativos, cuando la autoridad electoral emitió una resolución para eludir la aplicación de la ley de paridad que ya regía en la provincia. Contra esa resolución presentamos un recurso que todavía no ha sido satisfactoriamente resuelto.

    1. ¿Se ha vuelto más inclusiva la democracia argentina en los últimos años? ¿Hay perspectivas de progreso en esa dirección?

    La ciudadanía se ha vuelto más exigente con la democracia, y eso es muy positivo. Un proceso democrático no solo requiere que se respeten la formalidad de la votación cada dos años. Una democracia robusta requiere debates informados, acceso a la información, procesos de discusión con la participación más amplia posible. Y sí, también requiere la inclusión de la diversidad, y no solamente en términos de género.

    Avanzar en equidad de género requiere ir transformando la cultura y ese es un proceso lento que requiere consolidarse a lo largo del tiempo. En ese camino, contar con modelos de rol permite a una nueva generación de niñas y jóvenes verse en espejos distintos y proyectarse en una mayor variedad de posibilidades. Al mismo tiempo, ayuda a los varones valorar las capacidades de las mujeres con una mirada más igualitaria.

    Claro que para sostener ese proceso es imprescindible revisar atentamente los mensajes que los medios de comunicación contribuyen a modelar y difunden. Y también debe enfatizarse la corresponsabilidad en el cuidado, no solo de niños y niñas sino también de personas adultas mayores y de todas las personas en situación de dependencia. Este debe ser asumido por mujeres y varones en condiciones de igualdad, con políticas publicas adecuadas para reducir su impacto en términos no solamente de género sino también socioeconómicos. Ignorar este tema impacta no solo en la igualdad y el acceso equitativo al poder, sino también sobre el empleo y demás condiciones para el ejercicio de la autonomía.

    Espero que la incorporación del principio de paridad en el ámbito legislativo permita avanzar en la concreción del compromiso igualitario que da sustento a nuestra democracia. Además, espero que permita acercar al espacio de representación de los intereses del pueblo un reflejo más fiel de sí mismo, al tiempo que contribuya a establecer una conversación sobre la participación de las mujeres en otros espacios de decisión. En definitiva, la paridad de género se plantea como un principio rector de la democratización de las relaciones sociales entre los géneros.

     

     

    El espacio cívico en Argentina es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contáctese con ELA a través de supágina web o su perfil deFacebook, o siga a @EquipoELA y a @NataliaGherardi en Twitter

     

  • ‘La sociedad civil trabaja por una democracia no solo más representativa sino también más participativa’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Ramiro Orias, abogado y defensor de derechos humanos boliviano. Orias es Oficial de Programas de la Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF) e integrante y ex director de la Fundación Construir, una OSC boliviana establecida con la finalidad de impulsar procesos de participación ciudadana para fortalecer la democracia y el acceso igualitario a una justicia plural, equitativa, transparente e independiente.

    Hace unos días se produjo en Bolivia una protesta nacional contra la posible re-reelección presidencial. ¿Observa en el intento del presidente Evo Morales de volver a reelegirse una degradación democrática?

    El intento del presidente de volver a buscar la reelección forma parte de un proceso más amplio de erosión del espacio cívico democrático por efecto de la concentración de poder.

    La búsqueda de una nueva reelección presidencial requiere de una reforma de la Constitución de 2009 (que fue promulgada por el propio presidente Evo Morales). Algunas de las disposiciones introducidas entonces en el texto constitucional fueron muy progresistas; hubo un importante avance en materia de derechos y garantías. Al mismo tiempo, se incluyeron reformas políticas destinadas a consagrar un proyecto de poder. Por ejemplo, hubo un cambio en la composición y en los equilibrios políticos de la Asamblea Legislativa destinado a sobre-representar a la mayoría; se destituyó anticipadamente a las principales autoridades del Poder Judicial (los miembros de la Corte Suprema y el Tribunal Constitucional fueron enjuiciados y obligados a renunciar) y se instauró un sistema de elección mediante el voto, sin una fase previa de calificación de méritos. Las instituciones árbitro, como la fiscalía, el Órgano Electoral o el Defensor del Pueblo, también fueron cooptadas en diversa medida por el Ejecutivo.

    En relación con el Ejecutivo, la principal reforma constitucional consistió en habilitar la reelección, pero por una sola vez, es decir para un máximo de dos mandatos consecutivos. El primer mandato de Evo Morales (2006-10) hubiera debido contar, porque así lo establecía una cláusula transitoria de la nueva Constitución; sin embargo el gobierno luego argumentó que ese primer mandato no contaba porque se había producido bajo la vieja Constitución (la cual lo inhabilitaba a una nueva elección consecutiva). De modo que el presidente fue reelecto dos veces, en 2010 y en 2015. Es decir, ha cumplido tres mandatos consecutivos, uno más de los que permite la nueva Constitución, y ahora está buscando alguna vía constitucional para habilitar un cuarto mandato.

    A principios de 2016 el gobierno convocó a un referéndum para consultar a la ciudadanía sobre una posible reforma de la Constitución para que Evo Morales pudiera competir nuevamente por la presidencia en 2019. Por un ajustado margen, el gobierno perdió ese referéndum; por eso acaba de presentar ante el Tribunal Constitucional una demanda de inconstitucionalidad, que el tribunal aceptó considerar.

    Según el presidente, la prohibición de volver a competir afecta el principio de igualdad y discrimina contra los actuales representantes electos, por lo cual sería contraria al Pacto de San José de Costa Rica (la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos). Es el mismo argumento que utilizó en Nicaragua el presidente Daniel Ortega, quien logró que la Corte Constitucional declarara inconstitucional su propia Constitución y le permitiera reelegirse. Es un argumento bastante forzado, porque los derechos invocados no son absolutos, sino que admiten regulaciones en función del bien común y el interés general (de hecho, el derecho a competir por la presidencia incluye restricciones de nacionalidad y edad, por ejemplo) así como limitaciones en función de valores superiores de una sociedad democrática – por ejemplo, el de la alternancia y el fortalecimiento de las instituciones democráticas.

    El 10 de octubre pasado, precisamente cuando se cumplían 35 años de la restauración de la democracia en Bolivia, se realizó una manifestación nacional contra la reelección indefinida y en defensa de la voluntad expresada por la ciudadanía en el referéndum del año pasado. Esta protesta fue convocada por diversas organizaciones cívicas, plataformas ciudadanas y partidos políticos de oposición. Fue una expresión callejera masiva, con las mayores concentraciones en las ciudades de La Paz y Santa Cruz y otras menores en Cochabamba, Potosí y Oruro. Afortunadamente el derecho de reunión pacífica fue respetado, en el sentido de que no hubo violencia ni intentos de suprimir las protestas. Sin embargo, el gobierno reconoció que la división de Inteligencia de la Policía siguió y vigiló de cerca de las marchas y a los propios dirigentes opositores, al punto que recabó al detalle las conversaciones que mantuvieron ese día. Lo cual es inadmisible en una sociedad democrática, ya que el uso de una policía política es propio de los gobiernos autoritarios.

    ¿Piensa que la lucha por la reelección se dará en los tribunales o acabará saldándose en las calles? ¿Convocará el gobierno movilizaciones a favor de la reelección?

    Creo que la demanda de inconstitucionalidad es un artificio jurídico; no estamos ante un problema de derecho constitucional, y menos aún ante una cuestión de derechos humanos de los que detentan el poder. El proceso judicial es una táctica más en una estrategia de lucha política en pos de la concentración del poder y la permanencia en el gobierno. La solución de esta controversia se dará en el terreno político. Una característica de la ética política de este régimen es que cuando un tema está en discusión, la aceptación de un arreglo o acuerdo no necesariamente es el punto final.

    ¿Diría que la sociedad civil está dividida en función del apoyo o el rechazo al gobierno?

    La sociedad civil está dividida. Como en todo proceso de cambio político, hay sectores ganadores, que han recibido beneficios importantes y apoyan la continuidad. Por ejemplo, algunos grupos sindicales, como la Confederación Sindical de Colonizadores de Bolivia (CSCB). Al mismo tiempo, hay sectores que en principio se sentían representados por el MAS pero acabaron perdiendo. El gobierno boliviano ha perdido apoyos, sobre todo en su base social indígena, debido a algunas medidas que supusieron retrocesos en la agenda indígena – por ejemplo, la decisión de construir una carretera a través del área protegida del TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure), sin respetar el proceso de consulta previa, libre e informada de los pueblos indígenas titulares de ese territorio. El gobierno también autorizó la explotación de hidrocarburos en áreas protegidas. Esto resultó en cierto alejamiento de la base social que le había dado una amplia mayoría en los inicios de su gobierno.

    La llegada de Evo Morales Ayma a la presidencia y las reformas que se plasmaron en la nueva Constitución implicaron una transformación política, social y cultural enorme, sobre todo en términos de inclusión. Sin embargo, la falta de institucionalización, que se expresa en la ausencia de nuevos liderazgos, ha hecho que el proceso se agote y ya no represente un abanico tan amplio de la sociedad boliviana. Hoy es más difícil para el gobierno erigirse en representante de los movimientos sociales en sentido amplio. Muchos sectores de la sociedad civil que en algún momento vieron con simpatía el proceso de cambio liderado por Evo Morales, hoy lo ven con preocupación porque se ha convertido en un proceso de acumulación de poder político que no ofrece garantías para que puedan realizar libremente su trabajo.

    El resquebrajamiento de sus apoyos llevó al gobierno a imponer regulaciones dirigidas a desmovilizar a la sociedad civil que no adhiere en forma militante al proyecto gubernamental. Esto está afectando seriamente la capacidad de trabajo de muchas OSC. La situación se ha vuelto bastante difícil para los defensores de derechos humanos, y en particular para los defensores de pueblos indígenas y del medio ambiente, que han recibido diversos embates y presiones a su labor.

    También ha habido cambios importantes en la regulación de las OSC nacionales. El principal cambio normativo, que dejó a las OSC en una posición de gran vulnerabilidad, fue la ley No. 351 de Otorgación de Personalidades Jurídicas (2013). Esta ley exige el alineamiento de los objetivos y acciones de las OSC con las políticas gubernamentales y reemplaza el principio de reconocimiento de la existencia legal de una organización, que se deriva de un acto constitutivo de derecho civil, por el otorgamiento de la personería jurídica por parte del Estado, un acto administrativo que concede amplia discrecionalidad a las autoridades centrales. La personería jurídica puede ser revocada mediante un procedimiento administrativo, sin ninguna garantía del debido proceso. Al mismo tiempo, las OSC no alineadas con el gobierno son estigmatizadas públicamente.

    ¿Qué se requeriría hoy para lograr la concreción de esa promesa democrática que en su momento expresó Evo Morales?

    Al revés de la tendencia dominante de entregar más poder a una sola persona, uno de los principales temas pendientes en la agenda democrática boliviana es el reencauzamiento de la representación política a través de un sistema de partidos plural, institucionalizado, con prácticas internas democráticas. Si el tema de la reelección presidencial está en la agenda, es precisamente porque falta institucionalización: la fuerza en el gobierno no tiene un liderazgo de recambio. Más que un partido político, en el gobierno hay una coalición de diversos intereses que solo el presidente Morales logró amalgamar.

    La democracia representativa, sostenida en instituciones, es un sistema que permite ciertas certidumbres en la vida política, con reglas que se cumplen con regularidad y actores que se someten a ellas de buena fe. Lo que estamos viendo actualmente es que el gobierno usa los mecanismos democráticos cuando le sirven, y cuando no le sirven se aparta de ellos y trata de modificarlos en beneficio propio.

    En el marco de un sistema de partidos políticos débil, la sociedad civil cobra un relieve particular. Cumple un rol de preservación de las libertades de asociación, expresión y manifestación pacífica gracias a las cuales puede promover sus ideas de cambio social. La sociedad civil trabaja por una democracia no solo más representativa sino también más participativa.

    ¿Qué apoyos necesita la sociedad civil boliviana para superar los obstáculos y avanzar en dirección de una democracia más participativa?

    Lo más importante que necesita la sociedad civil en sus labores de promoción y defensa de los derechos humanos es un sistema de justicia independiente. Ha habido un proceso de debilitamiento de las instituciones judiciales por parte del Ejecutivo, que difícilmente podremos revertir en el corto plazo sin la cooperación de otros actores, nacionales e internacionales.

    Necesitamos, entonces, solidaridad internacional. De hecho, hay un diálogo político intenso con los embajadores acreditados en Bolivia, que reconocen la necesidad de crear un ambiente habilitante para la sociedad civil, así como valoran la urgencia de promover un sistema de justicia independiente. También necesitamos apoyo para que las OSC se empoderen, mejoren sus propios procesos internos de rendición de cuentas y aseguren la transparencia de su propia gestión institucional. Pero lo cierto es que mientras no haya una justicia independiente capaz de tutelar derechos fundamentales, la situación de la sociedad civil seguirá siendo de extrema indefensión.

    • El espacio cívico en Bolivia es clasificado en elCIVICUS Monitor como “estrecho”.

    Contáctese con Fundación Construir a través de susitio web o perfil deFacebook, o siga en Twitter a @fconstruir.

     

  • ‘Most of what you hear is noise and government propaganda’

     

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme ofreimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks tojournalist Aleksey Volosevich about recent political changes in Uzbekistan and what they might mean for civil society.

    1.From outside Uzbekistan, it appears that socio-political reforms are underway, at least to some extent. How real have reforms been, and what are the limitations?

    There is no real socio-political reform; most of what you hear about this is noise and government propaganda. There are very few changes. I would characterise what is happening rather as the elimination of the worst excesses and restrictions committed under the late President Islam Karimov. This is mainly happening in the economic sphere and in establishing relations with neighbouring countries, as under Karimov relations were very bad. For example, current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was Prime Minister under Karimov for 13 years, was able to establish relations with neighbouring Tajikistan and both countries abolished the visa regime and set up transport and air services, for the first time in around 20 years.

    But there have been almost no institutional changes. All reforms are half-hearted and almost none are fully implemented. President Mirziyoyev does not bring many reforms to an end. But all the state-controlled media makes noise about the so-called great reforms, and this noise, unfortunately, is picked up by foreign media that do not understand what is happening here.

    There are some achievements. Recently, a tax reform was carried out, which most economists evaluated as a positive change. The forced mobilisation of the population during the annual cotton harvest campaign has been partially abolished. The ban on photography has been lifted, and it is now possible to take photographs on the metro, for example, when earlier this would have led to the photographer being immediately detained and dragged to the police. Things have become less paranoid than under Karimov, which was a reflection of his psychopathic personality. The atmosphere in the country has improved; it has become a little easier to breathe.

    In addition, the government has begun to change the way its reacts to publications in the press. Now there is some kind of response to 10 to 20 per cent of critical messages. The country's leadership shows signs that it understands criticisms, and there are examples of it abolishing unpopular decisions, dismissing officials and governors who are at fault, and attempting somehow to improve the situation. Under Karimov nothing like this happened.

    Almost all political prisoners, around 20 people, have been released. But none of them have been rehabilitated, and none of their investigators, who tortured them and fabricated criminal cases, have been punished. So this positive move has not been brought to its logical conclusion.

    And still the law does not ensure the rights of private property. A house, a shop, an enterprise of any kind can be demolished immediately, in order to build something else, while the compensation given is scanty or non-existent. Recently, along the so-called ‘presidential highway’, several dozen cottages and country houses, some built at great cost, were demolished. And no one could do anything. Investors see this and are not in a hurry to invest their money in Uzbekistan.

    Also take, for example, the loud noise that was made about the introduction of currency exchange. Under Karimov this was not officially allowed, but the entire population was quietly changing money with street currency traders. At any moment it was possible to buy and sell any currency from traders, while banks did not buy currency. Under Mirziyoyev, the police dispersed all street currency traders, and banks were ordered to buy dollars. But banks do not sell dollars, and there are no currency exchange points. So where do we buy dollars now? No one knows. So the reform made things worse than before. But the press loyal to the authorities screams that currency reform has taken place in Uzbekistan, and now the authorities are moving away from discussing the topic. There are many such reforms that have begun but have not been brought to a logical conclusion. They touch upon the most basic moments of life in Uzbekistan.

    It should be emphasised that Karimov created a tough authoritarian system for our new authorities, which they consider to be convenient for themselves. All changes and reforms are going to be carried out strictly within its framework, without affecting its foundations. There is no question of complete freedom of speech, fair elections and an independent judiciary. At the same time, representatives of the new government have redistributed beneficial ownership in their favour, taking control, for example, over the vast majority of imports entering the country, wholesale trade and, of course, the sphere of exports and construction.

    There is still no question of protecting basic civil liberties. There is no one to protect them. Often, even such thoughts do not arise. The population is apathetic, uneducated and cowardly. There is practically no one to rely on. For the people to mature, you need at least a few decades. And then it will be possible to speak only about the next generations.

    2. What have been the driving forces and motivations behind the limited changes you have seen so far?

    What changes there have been have come about partly as a result of internet publications, social networks and people’s exposure to examples of life in developed countries. When everyone reads, for example, that in some underdeveloped countries the average salary has become higher than in Uzbekistan, people begin to resent it. And representatives of government and their relatives are also constantly on the internet and discuss all this. They feel the growth of dissatisfaction in some directions, and, if this does not contradict their own careers and selfish interests, try to somehow reduce discontent and solve some problems. In this respect, Mirziyoyev is much better than Karimov, who did not use the internet and, accordingly, did not care.

    The influence of the media and social networks is great, and therefore they are an important catalyst for change. But it must be understood that at the same time, Islamist fanatics are creating their own information field, and its strength and influence also grows. There is a tension because Uzbekistan is religiously and culturally part of the Islamic world, but is also secular, and has many supporters of European values and the European way of development.

    3. How have changes affected civil society so far?

    It has become easier to work with the media, which has become bolder and begun to issue a whole stream of news. Over the last two years this is a major move. But still they dare not criticise the president, prime minister and their entourage. If they do, they may be deregistered or closed, or staff may be fired.

    There are only two independent sites that provide critical commentary on Uzbekistan: my site, AsiaTerra.info, and Uzmetronom.com, which belongs to another journalist. Otherwise, there is little analysis of the type that would be considered normal elsewhere.

    Fuller freedom is appearing in social networks. Just two years ago the authors of anti-government statements, or simply those that were critical, would have been summoned to the police and threatened with a criminal case. And now many people write what they want, and nobody pursues them. But this is not because the laws have changed. The laws are still the same. It's just that the new president has allowed people to express their opinions more freely. However, if he leaves his post and another person takes it, everything can immediately become as it was, because no irreversible changes have occurred. But while the trend is positive, gradually people can get used to greater freedom of expression, and this is important in itself.

    But there is almost no independent civil society in Uzbekistan. There are only a few hundred people who are active on Facebook, and about a third of them live abroad. Any attempt to hold a protest on an important occasion will attract at best a handful of people. Compare this to when the authorities in the autumn of 2017 promised to distribute free plov - Uzbekistan’s national dish - in the centre of the capital, Tashkent: tens of thousands of people gathered with bowls.

    There are also many religious fanatics who, due to the fact that Karimov pursued them for many years, prefer to sit quietly and not show themselves. But when a prominent Islamic figure died a couple of years ago, about 80,000 people turned out for his funeral. The authorities did not expect such an influx and were very frightened, although everything ended peacefully.

    If voters were given the opportunity to vote in absolutely honest elections, there is a danger that a populist using religious slogans would come to power. Uzbekistan, over the long term, needs an enlightened and adequate leader who can lead the country along the path of progress, even if a large part of the population does not want it.

    4. What are the key challenges for civil society in the current context, and how might they be addressed?

    For those few hundred socially active people, perhaps the most basic difficulty at the moment is that the authorities do not notice them and do not seek to make any contact. Officials are afraid of being accused of disloyalty, so they are afraid to talk with civil society activists, and even mention their names. There is no interaction with the authorities, through the fault of the officials.

    The world outlook of people needs to change. In Soviet times, despite all the excesses, there was some general progress. Women gained rights. The power of the Islamic clergy was limited. All children were sent to schools, taught to read and write, and given some knowledge about the world. Particularly rapid development took place during the last decades of the Soviet Union. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union there was powerful pullback. Perhaps the ubiquitous spread of the internet will help spread knowledge and information, and enlightenment in general. But, given the current speed of these changes, I think it would take 200 years. Most of the population does not read anything and does not want to read, except for simple correspondence in social networks.

    5. What can the international community and international civil society do to support favourable conditions for civil society in Uzbekistan?

    There are three key things. The first is to give financial support to independent media and active human rights groups. The second is to prosecute thoroughly the criminal representatives of the regime who are in the West, bring criminal cases against them, demand that their bank accounts be blocked and their property confiscated - in general, not to leave them alone for a minute. And third, in no way to demonstrate their loyalty to Uzbek religious extremists entrenched in the West. These are the main enemies of democracy and human rights.

    Support of the media and active human rights groups is important. If some outside agencies have the opportunity to give financial support to independent media in Uzbekistan and similar countries, it would be desirable to do so. A free media in attitudes and expose torture, the exploitation of people and corruption. Both those and others, as a rule, stand for democracy and liberal values. But getting this support because of bureaucratic obstacles, including from donors, is very difficult.

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

    Get in touch with Aleksey via hiswebsite or hisFacebook page.

     

  • ‘People are eager to use any opportunities at hand to influence decision-making’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Elina Leinonen, Communications Officer for the Service Foundation for People with an Intellectual Disability, a Finnish civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at finding individual solutions through the development and provision of high-quality services to support people with intellectual disabilities or special support needs and their families. Elina was also the communications lead for the Not-for-Sale campaign, which used a citizen initiative to promote the rights of people with disabilities in Finland.

     

  • ‘People have power, even if they don’t usually feel like they do’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson of the Abortion Rights Campaign, in the aftermath of the historic vote that repealed the eighth amendment of Ireland’s Constitution. Passed in 1983, this constitutional amendment recognised equal rights to life to an ‘unborn’ and a pregnant woman, banning abortion under any circumstances.

    See also our interview with Ivana Bacik, Irish Senator and campaigner for abortion rights.

    1. The vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution exceeded 66 per cent. Did you see it coming?

    We had lots of surprises – we certainly never saw 66 per cent coming. We thought it would be hard win, slightly over 50, 55 per cent at the most. We also thought that the people who were not really engaged would just stay home and not make what they surely considered a tough choice. But with close to 70 per cent, turnout was the third highest ever for a referendum.

    Just so it is clear, it wasn’t our choice to go to a referendum, and I would never recommend it if it can be avoided. It is really tough, and while we won, it was a hard win, as people had to expose themselves and their stories. It was also expensive. But it was the only way to do this, as the amendment was in the Constitution.

    2. What was the state of public opinion when the process started?

    It is not easy to put a date to the beginning of the process. For my organisation, the Abortion Rights Campaign, it began in 2012. We started work in reaction to two major incidents around abortion rights that took place in Ireland in 2012. In the summer of that year, Youth Defence, a very militant anti-choice organisation, put up billboards all around Dublin, saying that abortion hurt women, stigmatising women who had had abortions, and saying lots of things that weren’t true. The protests that took place in reaction to this campaign were the biggest pro-choice demonstrations in a long time. This time, we were also organising online, on Facebook and Twitter, and this made it easier to get information out, so the protests were quite large. The first March for Choice, held in September 2012, gathered a couple of thousand people, which was no small feat at the time. It was the biggest in about a decade.

    A month later, Savita Halappanavar died. Savita was pregnant and died because she was refused an abortion. She had been told she was going to have a miscarriage and there was a risk of infection but, according to the law, doctors were not allowed to intervene until her life was at imminent risk. This was a real wake-up call and put us under the global spotlight. Soon afterwards, in January 2013, the Abortion Rights Campaign began its work.

    But none of this happened out of the blue; it was the result of decades of activism. And of course, the Abortion Rights Campaign was just one among many groups rallying for repeal. But Savita’s death was a turning point: many young people started their journey when it happened. From then on, the Marches for Choice got bigger and bigger every year and at some point, we figured out that we had to call a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and push for political change. We had been agitating for a while, marching in the streets and getting bigger and stronger, and in the meantime, other terrible things that happened strengthened the view that change was necessary, including a horrific court case involving a young brain-dead woman kept on life support against her family’s wishes because she was 16 weeks pregnant.

    3. How did you manage to shift public opinion towards repeal?

    In early 2016 Amnesty International commissioned a poll that showed overwhelming support for change, with a breakdown of where people stood regarding different causes for legal abortion, including incest, rape, risk to the woman’s health and foetal abnormality. A little under 40 per cent were in favour of allowing women to access abortion as they choose, while about 40 per cent were in favour of allowing it only under very restrictive circumstances. Going in, we estimated we were looking at a maximum of 45 per cent of support.

    So we started with a strong, solid base of 40-plus per cent, and we knew the other side had a solid 10 to 20 per cent. There were lots of people, another 40 per cent, who were in doubt, unsure of where they stood. These were the people who could tip the scale, so we had to go talk to them. The common thinking is that people who are unsure will stick to the status quo because that’s what they know. But we knew that when people get the facts, when they get to listen to the evidence, they tend to come to a more pro-choice position. We knew this because that is exactly what happened to each of us, personally: we heard about the issue, thought about it, said ‘well, actually that’s really unfair, let’s work on it’. That’s also what we saw happen at the Citizen’s Assembly and again at the Joint Parliamentary Committee. We saw this time and again and knew it was just a matter of letting people have these conversations. We knew there was a big swathe of people that needed to be persuaded one way or the other, so this was a big part of our strategy: to encourage conversation and bring the tools so they could take place.

    As activism grew and marches got bigger, we figured out a couple of things. One was that there was an increasing sentiment for change: no matter how you felt about abortion, there was a growing sense that the status quo was not helping women. Our abortion policies had drawn criticism from international human rights bodies. This just couldn’t go on – so at some point we needed to start talking to politicians to make sure they understood that they couldn’t brush the issue under the carpet anymore.

    So we decided to make abortion a red-line issue in the 2016 general elections – that is, a key issue that politicians would be asked about daily as they knocked on our doors to ask for our votes. And we gave people the language to talk to their politicians about the issue. We knew that if they encountered the issue once and again when they were canvassing, they would pay attention. We did this in a number of ways: we had civic engagement training sessions where we would give people information about how referendums work, how the law works, what it says about the issue, what we can do and what our position regarding free, safe and legal abortion is. And it worked! We succeeded in forcing the issue into the agenda.

    The other thing we realised is that, if and when this came to a referendum, it couldn’t just be a Dublin-based campaign – we had to go national. So we worked very hard to set up regional groups in every county around Ireland. By the time the referendum came, there was a pro-choice group in every county. And those groups went on to form canvassing groups that would hold their own events and talk to their politicians.

    4. What role did the media play in the process? How did you work with both traditional and social media?

    From my perspective, a key takeaway from the process is that it is vital to use social media to create a space so people can have a nuanced discussion about these issues.

    With traditional media, our hands were tied, because when it comes to controversial issues, they are required to provide ‘balanced coverage’. According to a 1995 Supreme Court ruling, it is unconstitutional for the government to spend taxpayers’ money to provide arguments for only one side in a referendum. As a result, any broadcaster that receives state funding must allocate equal airtime to both sides. So, if you talk on TV about how you had an abortion, or you say you are pro-choice, the opposite view has to be given space as well. Even if someone was telling their actual story of needing an abortion and having to travel to the UK, saying exactly what had happened to them, rather than preaching about right or wrong, there would be someone who would be called in to ‘balance’ that. And the rule was interpreted very broadly, so it applied not just during the referendum campaign but also for years before that. It was very stifling.

    In other words, traditional media were a massive block to people’s education. You normally look to the media to educate yourself on an issue, but it is not educational to constantly pitch ideas against each other, especially on an issue as complex and nuanced as abortion can be. So we had to bypass the mainstream media to get to the people. Fortunately, we exist in the time of social media, and we put a lot of effort into it and gave people the language and the nuance to talk about these things. We were used to hearing discussions about the morality of abortion where it was either right or wrong: there was no middle ground for people who were not that comfortable with it but thought the status quo was bad, and there was no room to talk about it.

    We advocate for free, safe and legal abortion for anyone who wants or needs one, no questions asked, because we know it’s the gold standard and believe that women having choice and control over their own lives is a good thing. But we didn’t want to impose this on people. Rather we wanted to give people the language to talk about it, allowing them to ask more questions, to find out what they were ready to accept and how far they were ready to go. This really worked. There has been so much discussion about the dark web, bots, trolls and possible interference with the campaign – but there were hundreds of pro-choice Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles set by hundreds of pro-choice individuals, and we had tools to protect the space we had created where these discussions were taking place. For instance, a group of volunteers created Repeal Shield, which was basically a public list of bots and troll accounts. When a user flagged an account by messaging @repeal_shield, a volunteer would investigate, and if the account met the criteria of being a bot or troll, it would be added to the list. As a result, people could keep having a conversation without interference.

    One big takeaway from this is that people have power. They usually don’t feel like they do, but what they do matters. Someone clicking ‘like’ on your page because they really like it means so much more than paid advertising. People don’t realise that, but when it comes to something that needs to be shared by many people or otherwise won’t be visible at all, this gives everyone a bit of power. Of course, there’s a lot more to activism than clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook post, but every little thing adds up.

    We are always told that there we are an echo chamber, that we only talk with people who already think alike, but it turned out that we weren’t doing this at all. We got 66 per cent of the vote. That was not an echo chamber. That was reality.

    Traditional media and politicians were slower to catch up to this, so we carved our own way. I am not saying this is the way to go for every activist group around the world. For one, Ireland has very good internet coverage, most people have access to it, and we have high user rates of Twitter and Instagram. This is not the case everywhere. But we used the tools we had, and it worked for us.

    5. What other tactics did you use?

    We gave people the language and an understanding of the political process, and that didn’t happen on social media; it happened on the ground. We would talk to people and they would bring the issue to their doorsteps. The Abortion Rights Campaign is a grassroots organisation, and what we did best was give people those tools so that they could then use them themselves. For years we had stalls every second week so people would come, have a chat, get information, take a leaflet. We had monthly meetings so people would learn about the organisation and how they could join, and sometimes we had somebody bring in a different perspective, such as a migrant or somebody from Direct Provision, a terrible institution for asylum seekers. We also developed training activities for marginalised groups about abortion in a wider reproductive context.

    Other groups would lobby politicians. We are now probably going to do so, but at the time the grassroots campaign was our main concern. We also did advocacy at both the national and international levels, including submissions to various United Nations bodies. And we maintained links with Irish groups in other countries, because the Irish diaspora is very focused on this issue. We also had connections with other organisations that didn’t have a direct pro-choice mandate but might support a repeal stance, such as migrants’ rights groups, disability groups and others.

    Beyond women’s rights organisations, we got the support of international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, which meant a lot because everyone knows who they are, as well as some migrants’ rights organisations. An awful lot of the charity organisations in Ireland would have a nun or a priest on their board, so they would not take a stand on this issue. But a lot did, and we got a lot of support. More than a hundred organisations eventually signed up.

    And of course, we sold t-shirts, repeal jumpers, so we gave people visibility. People became visibly pro-choice. You knew somebody was on your side when you saw them. You felt supported on a decision that maybe once you took and never told anybody about. Now you knew there was a visible crowd of people who supported you.

    6. What was the tone of the debate?

    A lot of it was about the moralities of abortion. Many people would say ‘I believe that life begins at conception; I believe you are taking a human life’ – and that’s okay, it’s people’s beliefs. But there were also lots of arguments that were brought in that were disprovable, greatly exaggerated, or not responding to the reality of what people were going through. Abortion is a contentious issue and there are indeed conversations to be had around disabilities and the like. But people were saying things like: ‘99 per cent of the people who get a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome will abort’. And may be true in certain contexts, but not necessarily here. And in any case, that says more about our attitudes towards people with disabilities than it does about abortion.

    While some of it was about people’s deeply held beliefs, there were also lies, exaggerations and a deliberate misuse of stats. Some really nasty stuff happened: a huge amount of graphic images were used and are still out there. I absolutely do not think that every ‘no’ voter is a terrible person - people have their beliefs and their struggles - but I do think the anti-choice campaign made it quite nasty. It never got as bad as we had expected, but it was still hard.

    7. For things to happen, changing the Constitution seems to be just a first - big - step. What work remains to be done, and what will be the role of the Abortion Rights Campaign?

    When the eighth amendment was repealed, legislation about abortion had already been put on the table. It wasn’t fully spelled out, but it provided broad strokes of legislation coming from the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Parliamentary Committee. As a result, people knew going in what they were voting for: 12-week access with no restrictions as to reason, and longer if a woman’s life or health is in danger or in case of severe foetal abnormalities. There are discussions about mandatory wait periods and this kind of thing, and we are not that happy about those, but part of our work is to have discussions about that.

    The legislation will be debated in the autumn and we expect it to be brought forward at the beginning of 2019. In the meantime, our job is to keep the pressure on to make sure that the legislation includes the right language and that people who continue to travel or take pills are taken care of. The Abortion Rights Campaign has a broader mandate. We have a mandate to seek the establishment of free, safe and legal abortion, but we also have a longer-term mandate aimed at de-stigmatising abortion. We’ve taken huge steps towards that because we’ve had this national conversation and it’s not possible to avoid the issue any more, but we still have a long way to go.

    It’s been more than a month since the referendum, and we are already strategising about what we want and how we see our role moving forward, in forcing legislation through and making sure people don’t fall through the cracks. Are people still having to travel to the UK? What improvements can be made? We need to make sure our legislation is good enough, that it allows people to get access. All along, part of the ban on abortion was also a ban on information about abortion, and most of all about how to get one. You were basically left to your own devices to go sort yourself out in the UK, and there were rogue pregnancy agencies giving terrible advice and purposefully delaying women seeking abortions. So a big part of what will come in the future will be making sure that doctors can actually take care of their patients. We take it that conscientious objection is going to come into play and need to make sure that it does not undo any of the good that we have achieved.

    Civic space in Ireland is rated as ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Abortion Rights Campaign through itswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@freesafelegal on Twitter.

     

  • ‘People invested in wanting a change’ – civil society and the Malaysia elections

    Malaysia’s May election saw the ruling party defeated for the first time in 61 years, amid widespread public anger about corruption. CIVICUS asked Gayathry Venkiteswaran, media activist and Assistant Professor of media and politics at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, for her perspective on recent events, and what these meant for civil society.

    KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: A Malaysian voter casts her ballot in a polling station in Kuala Lumpur 
    on May 9, 2018. Photo by Alexandra Radu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    1. Given that the same party had been in power since independence, what factors do you think led to their defeat this time?

    I think it’s too early to tell, but I will say that the electorate certainly rejected the kinds of politics and corruption practised by the previous government. The transgressions were too obvious, and it was a matter of how big the loss would be for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition - but we didn't expect the fall to be this big. This election was significant because despite the challenges and obstacles placed in terms of the electoral processes, people were determined to reject the propaganda of the BN and insisted on change.

    2. In what ways was civil society active in the run up to the elections, and what challenges did civil society encounter?

    Civil society work to build political awareness and participation has been ongoing but it took a significant turn after the emergence of the Reformasi (reform) movement in 1998, and then the Bersih movement’s protests for electoral reforms. Bersih provided a focus for the change, even though various interest groups also brought their particular concerns such as anti-corruption, environment and indigenous rights. This mobilisation, together with exposés by independent and citizen media on the corrupt practices of the previous government, raised the stakes for citizens to demand change.

    During this election, voters demonstrated commitment, including outstation and overseas voters, and people participated by being monitors at polling stations and provided other forms of checks and support to prevent cheating or malpractice on polling day. These are indications of people invested in wanting a change. The use of social media to share information, especially on voting practices, and the post-election vigilance of the newly elected government also shows a society that wants governments - whether at the federal of state levels - to be accountable.

    While there was momentum for change and a number of initiatives that saw civil society coalitions or collaborations focused on the outcomes of the elections - for example, by issuing alternative manifestos - there was little real discussion on the possible scenarios, given the uncertainties and concerns that unlawful methods would be used to resist this change. It wasn't clear what civil society's stance would have been had the outcomes been different, and how it proposes to move forward in this environment.

    3. What are civil society’s main hopes and fears now following the change of government?

    Certainly, it is an environment filled with hopes. There are opportunities to carry out real institutional reforms, and hopes that the government will be more open to engaging with human rights-based civil society organisations (CSOs). The results showed a rejection of fear-mongering and bribery, and a willingness to bridge race/religion narratives as the main reference point for electing parties.

    It is hoped that there will be room for a more inclusive and liberal approach in addressing the real concerns of citizens about their identities, needs and expectations. Having said that, there were and may still be fears that the BN coalition, especially members of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party and organisations associated with them, use provocations to destabilise the situation, and that Malay/Muslim electorates are pressed hard to become more fundamentalist in response to a multiracial narrative. At the same time, there are concerns that the ruling coalition could backtrack on its promises in order to accommodate the opposition and resistance from among BN and UMNO supporters.

    4. What three things could the new administration do to most improve the conditions for civil society in Malaysia?

    The main step is to respect the rights of civil society members on their freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This can be done by refraining from using existing laws to curb their activities - among them, the Peaceful Assembly Act, the Immigration Act, Sedition Act and the Anti-Fake News Law, and announce plans on reforming these restrictions.

    Given the newly formed Institutional Reform Committee, it is hoped that the government will institute mechanisms for engagement with civil society, particularly in the areas of policy making and law making. Among others, there should be meaningful consultations before the drafting of policies and laws at the executive level, by departments and ministries, and at the legislative level, in select committees or parliamentary hearings. The public should have access to information on these processes and be given the rights to submit inputs and feedback.

    5. What should Malaysian civil society do next to make the most of the opportunity presented by the change in government, and what support does civil society need now?

    I think it is urgent for civil society to sit down and come up with a road map of action plans, which can include recommendations and mechanisms to check on the government's actions. Civil society can pool its resources to build its own monitoring platforms and processes for engaging with the government. But most importantly, there should be leadership and commitment to ensure that change is for the long term, irrespective of which political parties come into power. We've done this in the past, after the 2008 elections, with the setting up of the Coalition for Good Governance (CGG) for the state of Selangor, and the Penang Forum. The CGG didn't last, but these are worth considering as a model, with adequate fine-tuning so that there is clear focus, accountability systems and sustainability plans.

     

  • ‘Solo un gobierno auténticamente democrático podrá enfrentar seriamente el problema del cambio climático’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Enrique de León, dirigente del Comité Nacional de Lucha Contra el Cambio Climático (CNLCC), unaorganización de la sociedad civil dominicana que lucha por la desaceleración del calentamiento global. La organización trabaja para diseminar información y educar a la ciudadanía sobre el cambio climático, monitorear y presionar para que el gobierno cumpla con los compromisos contraídos en la materia, y promover las energías renovables y la descarbonización de la economía nacional.

    1. ¿A qué se debió el fuerte impacto que tuvieron los recientes huracanes Irma y María sobre el Caribe? ¿Cabe considerarlos desastres solamente “naturales”, o tuvieron causas humanas y acaso hubiera podido hacerse algo para morigerar sus impactos?

    En el Caribe siempre hemos tenido huracanes; los ha habido antes de que se iniciara el registro histórico. Pero han cambiado su intensidad, su frecuencia y su previsibilidad. Este año los ciclones fueron consecutivos y en línea, lo que no había pasado en mucho tiempo, por no decir nunca desde que se tenga registro. Y han tenido un comportamiento muy difícil de prever. Esto se debe al cambio climático, y más precisamente al aumento de la temperatura por efecto de la creciente concentración de partículas de dióxido de carbono. Sabemos que el enorme volumen de emisiones de dióxido de carbono en todo el planeta está creando las condiciones para que los huracanes en el Caribe sean más frecuentes, intensos y difíciles de prever.

    Lo que se puede hacer para evitarlo lo sabemos hace mucho, aunque algunos lo nieguen: tenemos que disminuir las emisiones de dióxido de carbono. Es difícil, porque nuestra civilización está basada en la quema de combustibles fósiles – carbón, gas natural, petróleo - que emiten gases de efecto invernadero, causantes del calentamiento global. Pero la solución al problema está en manos de la humanidad, y en particular de la parte de la humanidad que es responsable de la mayor parte de la emisión de gases, es decir de los países altamente industrializados – aunque también los países menos industrializados tenemos un alto nivel de emisiones en términos relativos.

    Las emisiones de dióxido de carbono y el consiguiente calentamiento global constituyen una amenaza particularmente grave para los países insulares, vulnerables a la elevación del nivel del mar. Tal es nuestro caso, que además vivimos de nuestras playas. Más del 80% de nuestra población vive en las costas, y estamos perdiendo territorio. La elevación de la temperatura está afectando también la biodiversidad en nuestros arrecifes y, por consiguiente, la viabilidad de la pesca. De modo que también está en juego nuestra seguridad alimentaria.

    Los huracanes están provocando fenómenos extremos: en 2014-2015 tuvimos una gran sequía, mientras que a fines de 2016 tuvimos un diluvio en una época inhabitual, que fue un verdadero desastre. En 2017 tuvimos tres huracanes que vinieron en fila india, y si bien la isla de Santo Domingo – que la República Dominicana comparte con Haití – se libró por poco de su impacto directo, Puerto Rico fue atravesado por el huracán María, y todavía no consigue recuperar ni siquiera la energía eléctrica.

    En suma, se puede hacer algo para modificar la intensidad y el comportamiento de los huracanes en el Caribe: disminuir las emisiones de dióxido de carbono tal como lo establecen los Acuerdos de París de noviembre de 2015. Pero es difícil, porque ello depende de la introducción de cambios profundos en el sistema económico global.

    1. Más allá de lo que pase a nivel global, ¿hay algo que los países más afectados por estos fenómenos puedan hacer para protegerse?

    Ante todo, podemos y debemos emprender una acción política, consistente en apelar a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a los países con mayor responsabilidad en la emisión de dióxido de carbono, para que reduzcan sus emisiones. Y nosotros también debemos hacer lo mismo, dado que si bien son bajas en términos absolutos, las emisiones per cápita de la República Dominicana son muy altas (3,8 toneladas anuales). De modo que somos corresponsables, y no podemos demandar que otros reduzcan sus emisiones si nosotros no hacemos lo mismo.

    Por lo menos es necesario cumplir con las metas fijadas por el Acuerdo de París, aunque habría que fijar metas más ambiciosas, ya que está comprobado que con aquellas no será suficiente para llevar el calentamiento global a niveles aceptables. El Comité Nacional de Lucha Contra el Cambio Climático (CNLCC), al igual que todo el movimiento ambientalista latinoamericano y mundial, sostiene que los países más vulnerables, que son los estados insulares del mundo en desarrollo, deben exigir que los mayores responsables por un lado reduzcan las emisiones, y por el otro ayuden a mitigar los efectos del cambio climático y a establecer un sistema económico más sostenible.

    Este tiene que ser un movimiento político. Hemos hecho una apuesta fuerte en la Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (COP 23) que tuvo lugar en Noviembre de 2017. Con el liderazgo de los compañeros peruanos, que han resultado muy golpeados por el cambio climático, hemos formado una coalición latinoamericana con apoyos europeos que presiona para que se alcancen acuerdos puntuales, tales como la eliminación para 2020 del uso del carbón para generar electricidad. Aunque la eliminación de la minería de carbón pueda llevar más tiempo, al menos no deben seguir construyéndose nuevas plantas eléctricas de carbón. También hemos planteado, sobre todo con los compañeros bolivianos y brasileños, que para 2030 se mantenga por lo menos el 80-85% de las reservas mundiales de hidrocarburos bajo tierra. Como contrapartida, deben usarse energías renovables tanto para la generación de energía eléctrica como para el transporte y otras necesidades.

    Lamentablemente, dependemos de la voluntad de los gobiernos y de los políticos, que en muchas partes del mundo responden a intereses económicos muy mezquinos. El mejor ejemplo de esto es el presidente de los Estados Unidos, que es realmente un energúmeno, pero no uno cualquiera sino uno que representa a otros energúmenos cuyos intereses y fortunas están vinculados a la reproducción de una economía basada en la quema de combustibles fósiles. El hecho de que Estados Unidos se haya retirado de los Acuerdos de París es un retroceso catastrófico, así como la expresión de que la cúpula dominante de ese país está dispuesta a arriesgar un holocausto global con tal de conservar sus tasas de ganancia.

    Esta es una batalla política que no puede ser de unos pocos, y que como todas las luchas cruciales debe librarse en las calles. Tenemos que sacar a la humanidad a la calle, como lo hicimos en 2015, para dejar en claro que no está dispuesta a sacrificarse en aras de las ganancias de una minoría, y exigir que los yacimientos de hidrocarburos permanezcan bajo tierra y que se impulsen con fuerza las energías renovables en todas sus expresiones. En las islas del trópico, por ejemplo, debe promocionarse la energía solar y eólica.

    1. Internamente, en la República Dominicana, ¿libran ustedes en tanto que sociedad civil  una lucha similar con su propio gobierno, o acaso el gobierno dominicano está alineado con estas posturas?

    Efectivamente libramos una lucha similar. El nuestro es un gobierno canalla: de un modo ilegal y corrupto hasta un grado nunca visto en nuestra historia, desde 2013 construye dos plantas de carbón de 770 megavatios en Punta Catalina, a 50 kilómetros de la capital. Al mismo tiempo, en noviembre de 2015 nuestro presidente fue a París a liderar a los estados insulares más amenazados en el planteo de la demanda de reducción de la huella de carbono, y a prometer una disminución del las emisiones de 25% para 2030. Cosa que será imposible de cumplir si se pone a funcionar unas plantas de carbón que por sí solas generarán 6,34 millones de toneladas anuales de dióxido de carbono, lo cual supone un incremento de más de 20% en las emisiones totales del país.

    Así, mientras construye estas plantas de carbón que van a disparar nuestras emisiones de carbono, que ya son altas en términos relativos, el gobierno se compromete con la comunidad internacional a reducirlas sustancialmente. Frente a esto, desde principios de 2016 el CNLCC, junto con otras veintitantas OSC, sobre todo del movimiento ambientalista, desarrolló una campaña intensa para que nuestro país ratificara los Acuerdos de París. Una vez que, gracias a la campaña, logramos que el Congreso de la República ratificara los acuerdos, y que lo hiciera de manera rápida, unánime y en una sola lectura, tuvimos que esperar tres meses para que del despacho de la Cancillería se dignaran a informárselo a la Secretaría de la Convención sobre el Cambio Climático de las Naciones Unidas. Para que eso sucediera tuvimos que movilizarnos; el gobierno se resistía a la ratificación porque sabía que con las nuevas plantas de carbón le sería imposible cumplir con las metas, más allá de su plan de sembrar un millón de árboles de caoba, con los cuales en 50 años con suerte lograrían absorber la cuarta parte del dióxido de carbono que esas plantas van a emitir.

    Nuestro país tiene una gran necesidad de energía eléctrica porque, aún bajo un modelo de gran desigualdad y exclusión, la economía está creciendo. Actualmente tenemos déficit energético, con producción de energía cara e ineficiente, y por eso tenemos grandes apagones. O sea que sí necesitamos producir más y mejor energía, pero lo que no necesitamos es que esa energía salga del carbón, cuando nosotros ni siquiera somos productores de carbón. Gracias a la lucha de la sociedad civil dominicana, en 2012 fue aprobada la ley de la Estrategia Nacional de Desarrollo, que en su artículo 27 estableció la meta de reemplazar antes de 2030 los combustibles fósiles importados por energías renovables, y así descarbonizar la economía. Pero desde que llegó al poder en 2013, el gobierno de Danilo Medina ha hecho todo lo contrario, con acuerdos muy redituables para establecer nuevas plantas eléctricas de carbón.

    1. ¿Por qué el gobierno dominicano optó por el carbón en vez de energías renovables? ¿A qué intereses representa?

    La opción por el carbón, así como la elección de la empresa Odebrecht, que encabeza el consorcio que construye Punta Catalina, fue una decisión de financiamiento político. El gobierno de Danilo Medina necesitaba reelegirse, y la reelección estaba prohibida, de modo que tuvo que financiar primero la reforma electoral y luego la campaña para la reelección. Ese financiamiento lo facilitó la planta de carbón construida junto con Odebrecht. Está plenamente documentado que la licitación fue amañada: Odebrecht compró ese contrato, tal como lo confesó en diciembre de 2016 en Nueva York. En tanto que forma de financiamiento político corrupto, la obra incluyó desde el principio una sobrevaluación de mil millones de dólares. De los 2945 millones de dólares que iba a costar la obra, mil eran sobreprecios. Esto lo denunciamos, pero no hubo forma de que se abriera un proceso de investigación serio, porque nuestro Poder Judicial es extremadamente dependiente del Ejecutivo.

    De hecho, esas plantas van a terminar costando mucho más caras, porque recientemente se develó que hay un sobrecosto de 708 millones más, ya que no se habían hecho los estudios correspondientes y para hacerlos le están pasando la factura al gobierno. Además, una de las socias de Odebrecht en la construcción de la planta ha hecho una reclamación por 720 millones por montos adeudados a proveedores y por la reposición de un generador dañado por la empresa estatal cuando quiso montar a toda velocidad la primera unidad para hacer una demostración. Nosotros denunciamos que la planta no estaba lista, y efectivamente tiene una enorme demora, pero para demostrar que no era así el gobierno se apuró y dañó un generador. En cuanto a los pagos adeudados, los retrasos se deben a la campaña que hicimos con el apoyo de aliados europeos para que los bancos europeos que estaban financiando las obras detuvieran el desembolso por razones de corrupción.

    1. ¿Cómo reaccionó la ciudadanía dominicana a medida que se develaron estos hechos de megacorrupción?

    Desde el 22 de enero de 2017 ha habido todos los meses manifestaciones multitudinarias inéditas en nuestra historia, en reclamo del fin de la corrupción y la impunidad. Y el corazón de esa demanda es Punta Catalina, que es realmente la prueba del delito. Estos reclamos expresados en las calles obligaron al gobierno a montar una ópera cómica: al fin y al cabo procesó a todo el mundo menos a los principales culpables. Odebrecht ha comprado contratos desde 2001 hasta 2015, y el gobierno procesó a gran parte de los presuntos implicados hasta 2012, pero a ninguno desde 2012 para acá. Es decir, no rozó siquiera a los involucrados en Punta Catalina, entre ellos el propio Presidente de la República. Además, ni uno solo de los procesados está en prisión.

    El país no solo está indignado: está frustrado y harto, y se siente violentado. Para contener posibles reacciones ciudadanas, el Ministerio Público apeló la liberación de dos de los imputados: el empresario Ángel Rondón, intermediario a cargo del reparto del dinero de los sobornos y las ganancias ilícitas, y Víctor Díaz Rúa, ministro de Obras Públicas del gobierno anterior. Sin embargo, la Suprema Corte mantuvo la libertad de ambos. Esto realmente no sorprendió a nadie.

    El pueblo dominicano hizo uso del medio más democrático que tenía a su disposición: la manifestación callejera. El gobierno se mantuvo indiferente y apostó al desgaste del movimiento: lo dejó gritar y patalear hasta cansarse. Pero ya hay una parte importante de la población que piensa que este gobierno es el principal obstáculo para impartir justicia y acabar con la impunidad, y que hay que terminar con él. Hace poco se comprobó que en las elecciones de 2016, en las que fue reelecto el presidente Danilo Medina, la empresa que proveyó los escáneres también programó el conteo de los votos. La ciudadanía lo tomó con calma, porque de hecho ya lo sabía, pero desde entonces se está buscando alguna forma de acortar esta presidencia.

    El 16 de julio de 2017 el movimiento anticorrupción Marcha Verde hizo la manifestación más grande en la historia del país, y allí se lanzó la idea de procesar al presidente. El pueblo dominicano ha hecho todo lo que ha estado a su alcance para encontrar una salida, y hasta ahora no la ha encontrado porque el Poder Ejecutivo tiene secuestrada a toda la institucionalidad democrática. Ni el Legislativo ni el Judicial son poderes independientes, de modo que ¿quién va a procesar al presidente?

    Más recientemente, sectores de la Marcha Verde y diversas agrupaciones políticas están haciendo el planteo de que el año próximo se busque un gran acuerdo de todos los sectores para ponerle fin al mandato presidencial y buscar una solución institucional mediante una Constituyente que establezca un Poder Judicial y un Poder Legislativo realmente independientes y provea garantías de pulcritud electoral, de modo de preparar las condiciones para la elección de un nuevo gobierno en 2020.

    1. ¿Hay alguna chance de que nuevas elecciones lleven al poder a alguien que represente intereses más amplios, y que esté en condiciones de enfrentar seriamente el problema del cambio climático?

    No perdemos las esperanzas de que así sea. El pueblo dominicano nunca se ha cansado de luchar por una auténtica democracia. El 22 de enero de 2017, un pueblo al que muchos creíamos derrotado se levantó con fuerza en rechazo de la corrupción. No lo hizo por aumentos de salarios ni por rebajas en los precios de los alimentos, ambas causas legítimas, sino por simple indignación en relación con las implicaciones que las confesiones de Odebrecht tenían para nuestro país.

    El Estado dominicano está atravesado de punta a punta por la corrupción y la impunidad, y ello limita fuertemente su capacidad para luchar contra el cambio climático. Hoy por hoy, a las autoridades no les importa en lo más mínimo mentirle a la comunidad internacional, prometiendo una cosa que saben que no van a cumplir.

    Nosotros abogamos por que una parte del Fondo Verde establecido por la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático se utilice para mitigar los daños que sufre la República Dominicana a causa del calentamiento global. Es decir, que una parte de esos 100 mil millones de dólares anuales que los países desarrollados, los mayores emisores de gases causantes del cambio climático, aportarán para materializar acciones de mitigación y adaptación en las naciones en desarrollo, financie la adaptación tecnológica, cultural y productiva de nuestro país. Para mitigar desastres y volver a reconstruir se necesita mucho dinero: por ejemplo, el huracán Georges, que en 1998 nos pegó de lleno, provocó en República Dominicana pérdidas que representaron el 14% del PIB (de 1997). La lluvia de finales de 2016 nos costó 9478 millones. Con el huracán María, nuevamente, hemos tenido entre 9 mil y 10 mil millones de dólares en pérdidas, pese a que no nos pegó directamente sino que solamente pasó cerca.

    El problema es que si ese dinero llega hasta aquí, corre el riesgo de perderse, ya que los desastres y la posterior reconstrucción son ocasiones perfectas para la corrupción. Así, por ejemplo, los fondos destinados a la mitigación de los efectos de las lluvias de 2016 nunca llegaron a los territorios. La gente de Marcha Verde en las regiones más afectadas reclamó una y otra vez que el dinero no había llegado. De modo que enfrentamos un dilema muy duro: al mismo tiempo que reclamamos a la comunidad internacional apoyo para enfrentar las consecuencias y combatir las causas del cambio climático, nos sometemos a la rapacidad de nuestros propios gobiernos. Evitar que ese dinero se pierda y lograr que llegue a su destino es un problema que compartimos con otros países de la región. Solo un gobierno auténticamente democrático, que represente los intereses de la mayoría de la ciudadanía en vez de los intereses concentrados de los empresarios y los políticos aunados por la corrupción, podrá enfrentar seriamente el problema del cambio climático.

    • El espacio cívico en República Dominicana recibe la calificación de ‘obstruido’ en elCIVICUS Monitor, lo cual indica la existencia de restricciones serias de las libertades cívicas.
    • Visite el perfil deFacebook delCNLCC o siga en Twitter a @CNLCC2016

     

     

     

  • ‘The democratic revolution is currently in hibernation; from a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Egypt’s democracy as below zero’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Reporton the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we areinterviewing civil society activists and leadersabout their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so.CIVICUS speaks to Mohamed Zaree, a human rights activist and legal expert, andthe Egypt Country Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). Following the crackdown on Egyptian human rights organisations, CIHRS was forced to relocate its headquarters to Tunis, and Mr Zaree is currently being prosecuted for his human rights advocacy. He risks life imprisonment if convicted. In October 2017 he was awarded the annualprize of the Martin Ennals Foundation for his contribution to promoting human rights amid the government’s escalating harassment and intimidation of activists.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in Egypt? What happened to the democratic resurgence of 2011?

    There is no democracy in Egypt. It is obvious to everyone here that this is a dictatorship: there is no rule of law, there is a lack of an active civil society and political parties, and the space for civil society (civic space) is closing. Even if there is an appearance of democratic institutions, including parliament, there is no democracy of any kind. Institutions are controlled by the security apparatus. Even the elections for parliament have not been a competition among political parties as much as a competition between security apparatuses, so members of parliament don’t represent the people as much as they represent the security apparatus. This situation is reflected in all the laws that have been recently enacted, including the infamous NGO (non-governmental organisation) Law (also known as Law 70) that has been widely criticised.

    So I wouldn’t like to say that the 2011 democratic revolution has been defeated, but at least we must acknowledge that it has been momentarily set back. We put high expectations on the 25 January Revolution, and it gave us some hope, which still lives on. But technically, nothing is left from the revolution except for the benefits for the army, the police and the judiciary – there have been no gains for the people who participated in or led the revolution. Many people who took part in it are now in jail or in exile. But it is still not over yet; even if we are going through the hardest of times, a step was taken on 25 January 2011 that is very difficult to erase. So I would rather say the revolution is in hibernation right now.

    1. What do you see as the minimal conditions for a functioning democracy, and what should be the role of civil society in it?

    Elections are a very important democratic procedure, but at the end of the day they are just a procedure. The practice of democracy is the art of compromise among different opinions; it involves the peaceful coexistence of diverse views and requires a dynamic and lively society. So democracy means a free media, free civil society and free political parties, or, in other words, the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

    Elections are therefore necessary, but they are not enough. To fulfil their purpose, elections need to meet a number of conditions that cannot be taken for granted. In the upcoming presidential elections, to be held in early 2018, we are supposedly going to vote for a president, but the election could easily become a referendum on the incumbent president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, since there is no democratic atmosphere that can guarantee that there is a meaningful competition among candidates for office. We are currently living under a state of emergency, with military courts and military trials for civilians, and a potential presidential candidate is facing a politically motivated trial; if convicted, he would be prevented from running.

    The highly repressive NGO law that was passed earlier this year cripples the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to monitor the elections. The 1914 Assembly Law and the 2013 Protest Law severely restrict the ability of citizens to gather and demonstrate. The state and the security agencies control the media, even nominally private channels, so there is no chance for a variety of opinions to be heard. So the elections are likely to turn into a referendum.

    1. How far is Egypt from achieving a functioning democracy, and what should the government do in the short term towards that end?

    From a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Egypt as below zero. So for starters, for the upcoming elections to be actual elections, some changes should take place immediately: the state of emergency and the Assembly and Protest Laws should be repealed so that candidates are able to organise assemblies and run their campaigns. Political activists and media workers who are in jail should be released. An independent entity should oversee the media in order to guarantee a fair coverage for all candidates, instead of the ongoing disproportionately negative coverage of opposition candidates on state-owned media. Media channels should be open to all citizens. And for civil society to be able to play its role, the NGO Law should be repealed.

    1. 4. What do you think the government was trying to achieve with the NGO Law? What restrictions does the new law impose on the activities of civil society?

    The government was, and is, trying to close civic space completely. Or rather, the president along with the security apparatus is, and not necessarily the government, since the president is in practice ruling alone.

    The NGO Law is clearly not an isolated piece of legislation; it fits perfectly within a wider strategy to restrict civil society. It is not targeted specifically at human rights organisations, but encompasses all of civil society, including charity and developmental organisations. Under the new law, a CSO can be fined and its director can be jailed for up to five years for conducting a poll or publishing a report that has not been approved by the government, or for hiring a foreign worker. A sentence of two years in prison can be imposed for merely changing the organisation’s headquarters without notifying the authorities.

    Similar to the National Security Council provided for in the constitution, which is responsible for identifying ways to secure the country and respond to crises and disasters, the bill provides for an entity known as the National Agency for the Regulation of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations. To be constituted by presidential decree, the agency will consist of representatives from three security bodies, as well as representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, International Cooperation, the competent ministry for civic associations, the Central Bank, the anti-money laundering unit, and the Administrative Control Authority. Under the law, this agency will determine all matters related to the affairs of international CSOs, funding and cooperation between Egyptian associations and any foreign body. In utter disregard for constitutional principles, the law specifies that applications to the agency receiving no response within two months will be considered denied. In an attempt to combat civic action by all possible means, the law gives the government the right to object to all internal association resolutions, nominations to their boards of directors, and the regularity of their meetings.

    So this law is truly a declaration of intentions from the president toward civil society. The message is: you will work under very strict supervision, and if you are not able to work at all, that is fine with us, because you are not wanted.

     

    1. Have you or your organisation directly experienced restrictions? How has this clampdown on civil society affected your work - and your life?

    I don’t think the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies will be very affected by the NGO Law specifically. There are a lot of articles in the Penal Code that are affecting civil society a lot more than the NGO Law. For instance, the assets of our Director have been frozen, but this happened as a result of the application of the Penal Code rather than the NGO Law. I have been under a travel ban not because of this law, but because of the Penal Code. I have been under investigation and faced three charges, two of them under the Penal Code and the third, the softest, under the NGO Law.

    The latter charge is punishable with up to six months in prison. The other two, in contrast, can lead to life imprisonment. The two most serious charges I face, which have nothing to do with the NGO Law, are related to receiving unauthorised foreign funding and setting up an organisation of an international nature without a permit. Although this case, also known as the Foreign Funding Case against CSOs, or Case 173, dates back to 2011, these crimes became more serious after the Penal Code was amended in 2014. As I am facing two charges, I could receive two back-to-back life sentences. A life sentence in Egypt amounts to 25 years, so I could receive more than 30 years imprisonment overall, if I were convicted.

    As a result of the travel ban, I was unable to travel to Geneva to receive the Martin Ennals Award. The organisers tried to contact the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to have it lifted, but they didn’t receive any response, so my wife and two daughters travelled to receive it on my behalf.

    Of course all of this has affected me. I am in denial; I try not to think that I may be going to prison. In fact, I avoid this kind of thought and try to live a normal life. My family are also worried, and all of this has affected their morale, so it was good for them to go to Geneva to get my award. In Egypt you cannot predict anything; there is always fear of what could happen next. I could finish this interview only to find the police knocking on my door to arrest me. This could happen at any time, so it’s better not to think too much about it.

    1. You, your organisation and other civil society organisations keep working nonetheless. What are you doing to counteract these threats?

    We have learned that challenging restrictions such as travel bans and freezing asset orders through legal means is somehow useless, given the destruction undergone by the Egyptian judicial system. What we are doing instead is raise these issues with the international community. Pressure from the international community doesn’t automatically make our situation better, but at least it helps so that our situation does not get any worse. International actors have been in many meetings with government officials, in Cairo and abroad, to put pressure so that no additional charges are raised and the cases against us are closed.

    From our end, we also keep challenging the legality of the procedures followed on our cases. Some human rights defenders have challenged the legitimacy of the judge presiding on their cases. The Cairo Institute has questioned the decision to extend the appointment of the judge presiding over Case 173 and claimed that this and other legal and procedural violations have marred the case.

    Besides, we keep trying to do our normal work on a daily basis. As we monitor human rights abuses, we have more work than ever. We are experiencing the worse restrictions just at the time when we are needed the most. Many human rights organisations have downsized or have moved some of their staff abroad. I am still in Cairo, but many people with the CIHRS have left the country and the organisation has been based in Tunisia since 2014.

    In sum, we are pursuing two strategies to counteract restrictions: legal challenge and international pressure. But in terms of effectiveness, international pressure definitely comes first.

    1. What additional international support does Egyptian civil society need to be able to respond better?

    We need the international community to keep putting pressure on the government, facilitating the work of human rights organisations in Egypt and abroad, and providing protection for threatened human rights defenders.

    The Egyptian government is now facing the threat of extremism, and insist that we should all stand together against terrorism. But what they need to understand is that security and human rights are very much linked. Rather than dealing individually with terrorists by arresting or bombing them, they need to deal with the root causes of radicalisation in Egypt. It is important that they realise that repression is not part of the solution as much as it is part of the problem.

    The leaders of democratic societies are in the best position to put this kind of pressure. I don’t want French President Emmanuel Macron to lecture anyone on human rights. That is not his job; it is actually my job. What he could do is show integrity by providing protection and using his leverage to bring about slight improvements in the human rights situation, instead of selling Rafale warplanes and other military equipment to Egypt. So far, remaining silent and praising a dictator has been the price tag of those Rafale fighters.

    • Civic space Egypt is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor, indicating serious restrictions in civil society rights.
    • Get in touch with CIHRS through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow @CIHRS_Alerts on Twitter

     

  • ‘Threats to women’s and LGBTI rights are threats to democracy; any retrogression is unacceptable’

    Recent years have seen an apparently growing tendency for anti-rights groups to seek to claim the space for civil society, including at the intergovernmental level. CIVICUS speaks about it with Gillian Kane,asenior policy advisor for Ipas, a global women’s reproductive health and rights organisation.Founded in 1973, Ipas is dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion. Through local, national and international partnerships, Ipas works to ensure that women can obtain safe, respectful and comprehensive abortion care, including counselling and contraception to prevent future unintended pregnancies.

    1. Do you observe any progress on sexual and reproductive rights in the Americas? What are the main challenges looking ahead?

    Ipas has robust programmes in Latin America, and we have definitely seen progress on legislation that increases women’s and girls’ access to safe and legal abortions, including in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico City. Still, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organisation, more than 97 per cent of women of childbearing age in the region live in countries where abortion is restricted or completely banned. A woman who lives in restrictive settings and wants an abortion will have to do so under illegal conditions and at great risk to not just her health, but also her security. Women who have abortions are vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, arrest, prosecution and even jail time.

    We also see that restrictive abortion laws are damaging the provider-patient confidentiality relationship. A study by Ipas and the Georgetown Law School’s O’Neill Institute found that an alarming number of medical staff across Latin America are reporting women and girls to the police for having abortions. Many countries now require, protect or encourage medical providers to breach their confidentiality duties when they treat women seeking post-abortion care.

    1. Are we facing a democratic regression at the global level? Do you think women are being targeted?

    We are indeed facing a democratic regression, and I do think women are being targeted, both which are incredibly alarming. With the United States leading, we’re seeing the rapid degradation of the political and legal infrastructure that is designed to promote and protect the interests of citizens. For example, you see this in attacks against the Istanbul Convention, which is intended combat violence against women. You would think this would be uncontroversial. Yet, there are right-wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) objecting to the Convention, claiming that it takes away parental rights and that it promotes gender as social construct, and not as a binary biological truth, as they see it. This is also happening in international spaces. This year at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, the US State Departmentappointed two extremists to represent it. One was an executive leader of a known LGBTI-hate group, and the other was from an organisation that has advocated for the repeal of legislation that prevents violence against women. And at the country level, for example in Brazil, conservative leaders are downgrading the power of ministries that promote equal rights for women and black communities.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom. Women are responding forcefully. Poland provides an amazing example of women organising and effecting change. In late 2016 thousands of women and men crowded the major cities of Warsaw and Gdansk to join the ‘Black Monday’ march, to protest against a proposed law banning abortions. The full ban wasn’t enacted, which was a huge victory. And of course, the women’s marches and the #MeToo movement are incredible, and global.

    1. Not many people in Latin America have ever heard of the Alliance Defending Freedom. How is this organisation surreptitiously changing the political conversation in the region?

    ADF is a legal organisation. It was founded in 1994 by a group of white, male, hard-right conservative evangelical Christians. It was designed to be the conservative counterpoint to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which they saw as out to squash their religious liberties. They are huge, and have a global reach, which they say is dedicated to transforming the legal system through Christian witness. To that end they litigate and legislate on issues linked to the freedoms of expression and religion.

    I wouldn’t say that their actions are surreptitious; they’re not deliberately trying to fly under the radar. They are intervening in spaces that don’t necessarily get a lot of news coverage, such as the Organization of American States (OAS). But in recent years they have definitely increased their activism both at the regional and country level in Latin America. In terms of the conversation, what they are doing is reframing rights issues to use religion as a sword, rather than a shield. Right now they are litigating, in the United States Supreme Court, the case of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. As my colleague Cole Parke has explained, they are corrupting religious freedom. They are claiming it is legal to discriminate against a gay couple because of religious beliefs: that religion trumps all other rights. They are doing the same with conscientious objection: they have supported a midwife in Sweden who has refused to provide abortion as required by law. The list goes on.

    1. What strategies have anti-rights groups used, and what accounts for their success in international forums?

    As I have explained in a recent op-ed, in international forums these groups express concern for the wellbeing of children, who they claim are being indoctrinated by permissive governments in the immoral principles of ‘gender ideology’. Of course there is no such thing as a gender ideology, and much less governments forcing children to learn inappropriate material. The wellbeing of children is being used as a cover to disable efforts to enforce rights and protections for girls, women and LGBTI people.

    The 2013 General Assembly of the OAS, held in Guatemala, witnessed the first coordinated movement agitating against reproductive and LGBTI rights. This was, not coincidentally, also the year when the OAS approved the Inter-American Convention against all forms of discrimination and intolerance, which included protections for LGBTI people.

    At the 2014 OAS General Assembly in Paraguay, these groups advanced further and instead of only being reactive, began proposing human rights resolutions in an attempt to create new policies that they claimed were rights-based, but were in fact an attempt to take rights away from specific groups. For instance, they proposed a ‘family policy’ that would protect life from conception, in order to prevent access to abortion.

    From then on, their profile increased with each subsequent assembly, in the same measure that their civility declined. At the 2016 General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, they even harassed and intimidated trans women attending the event as they entered women’s restrooms. As a result, the annual assembly of the OAS, the regional body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and democracy in the western hemisphere, turned into a vulgar display of transphobic hate.

    1. Should progressive civil society be concerned with the advances made by these groups in global and regional forums? What should we be doing about it?

    Progressive civil society should definitely be concerned. Constant vigilance is needed. There are many ways to respond, but being informed, sharing information and building coalitions is key. I would also recommend that progressive movements think broadly about their issues. Consider how groups like ADF have managed to attack several rights, including abortion, LGBTI and youth rights, using one frame, religion. We need to be equally broad, but anchored, I would argue, in secularism, science and human rights. We started the conversation talking about democracy, and this is where we should end. We need to show how threats to specific rights for women and LGBTI people are threats to democracy. Any retrogression is unacceptable.

    Get in touch with Ipas through theirwebsite or theirFacebook page, or follow @IpasLatina and @IpasOrg on Twitter.

     

  • ‘We are an activist group that seeks to restore faith in democracy’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, the challenges they encounter in doing so, and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Rangsiman Rome, co-founder of the Democracy Restoration Group, a Thai civil society organisation seeking to restore faith in democratic processes, particularly among young people, and promote accountable and responsive democratic institutions.

     

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