#ReimaginingDemocracy

 

  • La démocratie de façade en République Démocratique du Congo

    Réponse à l’appel ouvert par l’Action Contre les Violations des Droits des Personnes Vulnérables (ACVDP)

     

  • La nécessité de la revalorisation de la liberté d’expression dans la République Démocratique du Congo

    Réponse à l’appel ouvert par Diamena-Lema Matundu, activiste pour un Congo Libre

     

  • Le respect des mandats présidentiels dans la démocratie burundaise

    Réponse à l’appel ouvert par Me MBONGO Ali

     

  • Learning how to live and to act in free conditions

    Guest article by Artur Sakunts, Chair, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, Armenia

     

  • Les tensions du multiculturalisme au Canada et les limites du modèle interculturel du Québec

    Par Victor Armony, professeur de sociologie et codirecteur de l’Observatoire des diasporas du Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la diversité et la démocratie, Université du Québec à Montréal

     

  • Let’s imagine global citizen participation at the UN

    Guest article by Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders

     

  • México: En una democracia, no es posible que desaparezcan 43 estudiantes y todo siga igual

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Ana Cristina Ruelas, Directora de la oficina de ARTICLE 19 para México y Centroamérica. ARTICLE 19 es una organización de la sociedad civil independiente y apartidista que defiende los derechos a la libertad de expresión y al acceso a la información de acuerdo con los más elevados estándares internacionales. Para ello, promueveel derecho a la difusión de información y opiniones en todos los medios, investiga tendencias y amenazas a la libertad de expresión, proporciona acompañamiento a las personas cuyos derechos han sido violados, y busca contribuir al diseño de políticas públicas. 

    1. Según informes recientes, México es el país con mayor cantidad de asesinatos de periodistas en América Latina, y uno de los peor clasificados del mundo. ¿Cuáles son las causas de este fenómeno?

    Desde Artículo 19 consideramos que los tres niveles de gobierno y las instituciones del Estado tienen una política muy bien articulada para reducir los flujos de información efectiva para la ciudadanía, principalmente la relacionada con hechos de inseguridad y de corrupción. La violencia contra la prensa abarca una serie de mecanismos orientados a ese objetivo, el más sutil de los cuales es la asignación de la pauta oficial para dictar las líneas informativas de los medios de comunicación. En México, particularmente a nivel estadual, los gobiernos cubren hasta el 60 o 70% de los ingresos de los medios de comunicación, y es muy difícil hablar de pluralismo y objetividad de la información si los medios dependen a tal punto del dinero público. Al mismo tiempo, el hecho de que la asignación de la pauta es discrecional y opaca genera una altísima precariedad laboral para los periodistas. Los periodistas no cuentan con seguros de gastos médicos, si les roban una cámara mientras hacen cobertura su medio no se las paga… realmente falta una corresponsabilidad real por parte de las casas de medios para con sus periodistas.

    Respecto de esta forma de violencia económica, no se identifican grandes diferencias a lo largo del territorio; es una forma de control político de los medios que utilizan todos los gobiernos, incluidos los municipales. A fin de cuentas, lo que nosotros hemos observado es que normalmente las agresiones físicas son precedidas por el chantaje económico, que tiene que ver en gran medida con la publicidad oficial.

    1. ¿Los asesinatos de periodistas vendrían a ser tan solo la punta del iceberg?

    Exactamente. Es el fenómeno más grave, pero por detrás hay una serie de políticas y violencias mucho más ampliamente difundidas y muy bien articuladas, que empiezan desde lo económico y continúan por la criminalización. En más de la mitad de los estados de la República todavía están tipificados los delitos contra el honor: calumnias, difamación, injurias. Todavía existen los delitos de ultraje e incluso, por absurdo que parezca, hay seis estados que criminalizan el uso de memes. En esos casos, el uso de memes es clasificado como la manipulación de la imagen para perjudicar a funcionarios públicos e instituciones del Estado. Por otra parte, en varios estados donde se ha logrado la eliminación de los delitos contra el honor, hemos observado un aumento de la violencia institucional, bajo la forma de demandas civiles contra periodistas por daño moral. Estos procesos terminan impactando de manera directa sobre el patrimonio de los periodistas.

    1. ¿Hasta dónde tendríamos que remontarnos para rastrear la genealogía de la situación actual? ¿Ha habido algún cambio, para mejor o para peor, en los últimos tiempos?

    El tema de la publicidad oficial viene de los años 60 y 70; hay una frase muy famosa de un presidente de esa época, José López Portillo (1976-82), que ante los cuestionamientos de un medio le dijo al periodista: “no te pago para que me pegues”. Esta situación es histórica; lo que en los últimos tiempos ha empeorado es la violencia directa, que se ha vuelto más cínica y más desinhibida. Desde el inicio de la guerra contra el narco se han incrementado de manera constante las agresiones contra periodistas, incluidos los asesinatos. Artículo 19 documentó 397 agresiones en 2015, 426 en 2016, y 276 tan solo en el primer semestre de 2017 –un aumento de 23% en relación con el primer semestre del año anterior. Asimismo, en 2015 hubo siete asesinatos, en 2016 once, y este año han sido once hasta el mes de octubre. Cada 15,7 horas un periodista es atacado en el país. La situación se ha vuelto más tensa que nunca, porque ahora tú sabes que cualquier amenaza en tu contra puede significarte la muerte o la desaparición. Actualmente hay 23 periodistas desaparecidos.

    Si bien los casos de extrema violencia se concentran desproporcionadamente en ciertas zonas, en particular en los estados de Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero y Chihuahua, ello no significa que en el resto del país haya más libertad. De hecho, en muchos estados donde se registran menos agresiones físicas también hay más censura indirecta, ejecutada mediante el uso de la publicidad oficial. Nosotros tenemos un mapa de restricciones a la libertad de expresión donde se observa claramente el entramado de estos fenómenos, desde leyes restrictivas y nivel de conectividad a internet, pasando por calificaciones en materia de transparencia, hasta agresiones físicas y asesinatos.

    1. ¿Quiénes son los perpetradores de estas agresiones? ¿Qué responsabilidad le cabe al Estado, que por lo general las adjudica a acciones de actores no estatales?

    Nosotros tenemos cifras que desmienten esas afirmaciones de los funcionarios del Estado: en el 53% de los casos de agresiones documentadas en 2016 el actor perpetrador fue un agente del Estado, en primer lugar en el nivel estadual, seguidamente en el nivel municipal, y finalmente agentes federales. Desde 2007, por lo menos, cada año más de la mitad de las agresiones documentadas proceden del Estado.

    Una forma fundamental de violencia del Estado es precisamente la falta de reconocimiento de que son agentes del Estado quienes están cometiendo buena parte de estas agresiones, lo cual conlleva una impunidad casi absoluta. El Estado insiste en que la responsabilidad es del crimen organizado, aunque las estadísticas de la Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión y del Mecanismo de Protección para Defensores de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas, que son públicas, dicen que el principal perpetrador es el Estado. Con todo, en una sola ocasión escuchamos a un funcionario del Mecanismo de Protección reconocer públicamente y en esas palabras que el Estado es el principal perpetrador de agresiones contra la prensa.

    Esto incide directamente sobre la impunidad. Si bien es cierto que en México hay un nivel de impunidad general de aproximadamente 98,5%, en el caso de las agresiones contra periodistas la impunidad se incrementa hasta el 99,7%. Y ello se debe a que el Estado se niega a investigarse a sí mismo. El hecho de que la Procuración de Justicia depende directamente del Ejecutivo no ayuda en lo más mínimo.

    1. La mayoría de los países que presentan estos niveles de violencia contra periodistas no son democracias, mientras que México cumple con los requisitos mínimos de una democracia electoral. ¿Es México una anomalía? ¿Qué está fallando a nivel del sistema político mexicano?

    México no es realmente una democracia. México ha construido sus cimientos institucionales de manera autoritaria. El Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) permaneció setenta años en el poder y dejó estructuras institucionales muy enraizadas, que permiten por ejemplo que todo siga en pie como si nada hubiera sucedido tras la desaparición de 43 estudiantes [Nota del editor: se trata de los llamados “43 de Ayotzinapa”, estudiantes normalistas que desaparecieron el 26 de septiembre de 2014 cuando iban en camino a una  protesta en el estado de Guerrero, y a quienes se sospecha víctimas de una red de complicidades entre autoridades locales, fuerzas de seguridad y actores no estatales. El caso, aún no resuelto, se ha convertido en emblemático del fenómeno masivo de las desapariciones forzadas en México]. Quienes dominan el Estado no quieren reconocer las restricciones de la libertad de expresión porque la reducción de los flujos de información les resulta muy redituable, ya que les permite penetrar y generar narrativas propias que impactan en la sociedad y les permite mantener el poder.

    México tiene altísimos niveles de desigualdad y pobreza. Donde los niveles de pobreza son mayores, es precisamente donde solamente llegan los medios más vinculados con el Estado. En las zonas con mayores niveles de marginalidad, que en muchos casos tienen una alta proporción de población indígena, no existe ninguna pluralidad informativa. La población recibe la información que el gobierno quiere que reciba. Junto con medios que replican la narrativa gubernamental, estas localidades reciben programas sociales que funcionan como un mecanismo de control y de abuso de poder sobre las comunidades, y que en última instancia son una fuente importante de votos. La falta de transparencia y acceso a la información tiene efectos reales sobre el funcionamiento de la democracia, ya que la población desconoce absolutamente las reglas que rigen los programas sociales y es manipulada de modo que las prestaciones sociales se transforman en contrapartidas del voto. Los efectos de esta situación son amplificados por el simple hecho de que el Programa Prospera atiende a más de 6 millones de familias que se encuentran en extrema pobreza, que han crecido con este programa, y que junto con los beneficios sociales reciben también una narrativa que les dice que las cosas no van tan mal para ellos. Con controles tan efectivos de la información no hay posibilidad de una sociedad capaz de tomar autónomamente decisiones distintas.

    1. ¿Qué está haciendo la sociedad civil para enfrentar estas restricciones?

    En México, la imposibilidad de la sociedad para comunicarse con las instituciones hace de la protesta una forma corriente de diálogo a la fuerza. Pero cada vez más, particularmente en los estados, se utiliza la fuerza para limitar las protestas. Desde Artículo 19 buscamos que no se cierre el espacio de la protesta e intentamos generar redes de observación para monitorear el uso de la fuerza en manifestaciones.

    La sociedad civil organizada también ha tratado de influir sobre las políticas públicas de manera de garantizar la libertad de expresión y el acceso a la información. En los inicios del gobierno del Presidente Peña Nieto se hicieron muchos esfuerzos para, por ejemplo, dar más poderes y otorgar autonomía constitucional al Instituto Nacional de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Personales (INAI) y para producir una ley más robusta para eliminar las trabas al acceso a la información.

    Pero una de las cosas que aprendimos desde la sociedad civil es que si bien es importante tener en el papel instituciones más sólidas y robustas, también es importante poner atención a los procesos de designación de funcionarios, ya que si al frente de una institución como el INAI se coloca a personas que son cómplices del poder, se vuelve a retroceder en todo lo avanzado. Así, hemos denunciado que en su conformación actual, la mayoría de los comisionados del INAI se resisten a la transparencia, en particular en lo que se refiere a casos de violaciones graves de los derechos humanos. Por eso hemos estado impulsando procesos de designación transparentes y abiertos. Hemos logrado articular una coalición de sociedad civil empeñada en la promoción de instituciones más transparentes, robustas y efectivas. La gran batalla que tenemos delante es contra la corrupción y la impunidad, y creemos que solo lograremos avanzar mediante la creación de una fiscalía general de la nación realmente independiente. Hoy por hoy hay muchos obstáculos para que eso suceda, porque la pérdida del manto de impunidad es una posibilidad muy poco atractiva para la mayoría de los políticos.

    Respecto del tema más específico de la protección de periodistas, existen numerosas iniciativas de la sociedad civil, tales como los talleres de seguridad integral que dicta Artículo 19 y que cubren temas tales como identificación de riesgos, protocolos de seguridad, derechos digitales, ética y buenas prácticas, defensa legal y primeros auxilios; y diversas iniciativas impulsadas por coaliciones de sociedad civil de las cuales nosotros participamos tales como #AgendaDePeriodistas, orientada a la formación de una agenda permanente y la definición de un modelo organizacional para representar los intereses de los periodistas; y #RompeElMiedo, una red de monitoreo de la protesta y la cobertura electoral que se activó en las elecciones del 4 de junio de 2017 en varios estados del país con el objeto de minimizar las agresiones que sufre la prensa en contextos electorales.

    Pero todavía falta mucha articulación real y efectiva de la sociedad civil mexicana, de manera que las organizaciones podamos relegar nuestras propias agendas para impulsar conjuntamente agendas estructurales que produzcan cambios reales.

    1. ¿Qué acciones concretas debería adoptar de inmediato el gobierno de México para salvaguardar el espacio cívico, y más concretamente la libertad de expresión?

    Para combatir un problema de Estado se necesita una política de Estado. En lo que se refiere al marco normativo relativo a la libertad de expresión, ante todo deben eliminarse de los códigos penales todos los delitos de expresión. Adicionalmente, reclamamos que se reformen los procedimientos civiles relativos a las demandas de daño moral para que haya un análisis previo que permita determinar los méritos del caso y descartar aquellos en los cuales la demanda busque inhibir la libertad de expresión.

    Se necesita también una ley general de archivos que permita a los periodistas hacer investigaciones reales a través de los mecanismos de acceso a la investigación. Actualmente la gestión archivística no está regulada, de manera que los gobiernos generan la información solamente cuando es solicitada, lo cual da lugar a muchos errores. Adicionalmente, y lo que es aún más grave, hay una política deliberada de ocultamiento y revisionismo histórico: los archivos históricos son censurados, de modo que los periodistas que están investigando por ejemplo violaciones graves de derechos humanos durante la llamada guerra sucia de 1960-1980 ya no tienen acceso a los archivos. [Nota del editor: la entrevistada refiere al conflicto interno que tuvo lugar durante la Guerra Fría, durante el cual el gobierno mexicano respaldado, por Estados Unidos, buscó disolver por la fuerza los movimientos políticos de estudiantes y las guerrillas de izquierda, contra los cuales las fuerzas de seguridad utilizaron tortura sistemática, ejecuciones extrajudiciales y desapariciones forzadas, estimadas estas últimas en aproximadamente 1200].

    Además, deberían imponerse controles judiciales sobre la vigilancia y el acceso a metadatos, que actualmente no existen. Debe hacerse también una reforma estructural de la Fiscalía General de la República que le confiera autonomía real. Debe garantizarse la independencia de los servicios forenses existentes, que actualmente dependen de la Procuraduría, la cual a su vez depende del Ejecutivo. Es un círculo vicioso, de modo tal que las pericias terminan diciendo lo que el poder quiere que digan.

    Respecto de la regulación de la publicidad oficial, a mediados de noviembre de 2017 la Corte Suprema de Justicia ordenó al Congreso aprobar antes de fines de abril de 2018 una ley que reglamente el párrafo octavo del Artículo 134 de la Constitución. Entretanto, seguimos demandando al Ejecutivo la publicación de las cifras desglosadas del gasto en publicidad oficial.

    En lo que se refiere al Mecanismo de Protección, desde Artículo 19 insistimos en que no es necesario que existan mecanismos de protección a nivel local, sino más bien enlaces que permitan articular y coordinar de manera efectiva las medidas de protección para periodistas en todo el territorio. Al mismo tiempo, consideramos que el Mecanismo de Protección tiene que abarcar el combate a la impunidad, es decir, que tiene que articularse efectivamente con la Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, ya que no se puede hablar de protección mientras no haya un combate decidido a la impunidad. Caso contrario, nos llenaremos de periodistas protegidos pero las agresiones no disminuirán, porque no se está enviando a los perpetradores el mensaje de que atacar o matar a un periodista trae consecuencias.

    Respecto del derecho de protesta, finalmente, luego de las agresiones que sufrieron muchos periodistas cuando cubrían las protestas frente a la inauguración presidencial del presidente Peña Nieto, en 2012, conformamos junto con el gobierno y la comisión de derechos humanos de la Ciudad de México un grupo de trabajo para generar protocolos contra el uso de la fuerza y protocolos de concertación en el marco de las protestas. Su implementación en la Ciudad de México redujo significativamente el número de agresiones no solamente contra la prensa sino también contra manifestantes en general, cosa que no ocurrió en otros estados de la República. De modo que exigimos que se apliquen estos protocolos en los estados. Y por supuesto, ante todo deben eliminarse todas las leyes estaduales que permiten el uso de la fuerza en protestas.

    1. ¿Cuán conectada está la sociedad civil mexicana con sus contrapartes en otras partes del mundo? ¿De qué modo podrían los actores externos apoyar a los activistas y a las organizaciones de la sociedad civil en México?

    Hay muchas organizaciones que forman parte de redes internacionales, pero éstas no han sido efectivas para elevar sustancialmente el costo político internacional que las violaciones de derechos le generan al gobierno mexicano. Ha habido, sí, cambios positivos en los últimos años, en el sentido de que la sociedad civil se ha empezado a articular de manera más efectiva con otros sectores en torno de ciertos temas: por ejemplo, el colectivo que impulsa la nueva Fiscalía General incluye no solo a grupos de derechos humanos sino también a grupos de empresarios, y ha echado mano de las redes internacionales, en especial latinoamericanas, para identificar lecciones aprendidas en otros países y aplicarlas en nuestro país.

    Pero se necesitan mayores esfuerzos para generar costos de reputación al gobierno de México por su descuido de los derechos humanos. En ese sentido, es muy simbólico el caso de la Alianza para el Gobierno Abierto (AGA), de la cual México es miembro fundador. Desde la sociedad civil estamos exigiendo a la AGA que saque a México de su Comité Directivo, porque ¿cómo puede nuestro país estar liderando esta iniciativa internacional cuando tiene internamente este panorama que venimos describiendo? Es de un cinismo descarado, y está faltando presión internacional para que esto tenga algún costo.

    • El espacio cívico en México es clasificado por elCIVICUS Monitor en la categoría ‘represivo’, indicativa de la existencia de serias restricciones sobre las libertades de expresión, asociación y reunión pacífica.
    • Visite lapágina web o el perfil deFacebook de ARTICLE 19 México, o siga en Twitter a @article19mex y a @anaruelas.Ana Ruelas

     

  • Mobilising for a people-centred United Nations

    Guest article by Fergus Watt

     

  • Multistakeholderism: a new way for corporations and their new partners to try to govern the world

    Guest article by Harris Gleckman

     

  • Myanmar: Under the name of democracy, the military rules

    Guest article by Thinzar Shunlei Yi, Advocacy Coordinator, Action Committee for Democracy Development

     

  • Piecemeal application of freedom of association: the case of Malawi

    Open submission by Edward Chaka, Executive Director, Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development (PEFENAP), Blantyre, Malawi

     

  • Populism and human rights: a new playbook

    Guest article by César Rodríguez-Garavito and Krizna Gomez, Dejusticia, Colombia

     

  • Pressure increasing on Argentine civil society, a vital force for change

    Guest article by Gastón Chillier, Executive Director of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, CELS), Argentina

     

  • Reimaginando la relación entre la sociedad civil y el sector religioso en América Latina: nuevas alianzas para enfrentar viejos retos

    Contribución de membresía, por Gina Romero (Redlad) y Nicolás Panotto (GEMRIP)

     

  • Reimagining democracy in Zambia

    Open submission by Alex Mutale

     

  • Reimagining our organisations

    Guest article by Pauline Martin[1]

     

  • South African NGO scores legal victory in limiting the influence of ‘big money’ on democracy

    A South African NGO My Vote Counts recently won a court case in which it asked that political parties must be compelled to publicly reveal their sources of funds. CIVICUS speaks to Elizabeth Biney, a researcher with My Vote Counts on why they had taken this case and why this is an important victory for South Africa’s democracy

    Q: Why is it important for political parties to reveal sources of private funding?

    My Vote Counts believe that access to the private funding information of political parties is important and reasonably required for the effective exercise of political rights enshrined in the South African Constitution — namely, the right to vote and to make political choices. Political parties in South Africa occupy a unique and influential role in our constitutional democracy. Under our current electoral system, that is, a list system of proportional representation, only political parties determine which persons become members of the legislature as well as the national and provincial executives. These people then go on to shape public policies and the laws of the country. Given their pivotal role in the democratic functioning of the country, we cannot disassociate their activities from their funding sources.

    There is also the argument to be made in advocating for the disclosure of private funding information as a deterrent to corrupt activities. Transparency in the funding of political parties is good for our democracy, broadly speaking.

    Mandatory disclosures of private funding also allow us to detect and prevent possible cases of corruption and to control the influence of money in our politics. It is reasonable to anticipate that private political contributions can influence the manner in which political parties function. For instance, a political party may take a particular policy position in order to satisfy the expectations of substantial donors, at the expense of the majority that voted for it in an election. Secret funding of political parties creates the scope for and facilitates corruption.

    Therefore, the disclosure of this kind of information is not only necessary to preempt future likely behavior of parties, it gives more depth and value to the right to vote. Having all the correct information available to the citizenry before they make a political choice means people are making informed choices — a voter is knowingly choosing a party and its principles and programmes. Having ratified three anti-corruption international agreements, including the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the South African government already acknowledges the relationship between political donations and corruption. The obvious next step is to put appropriate preventative mechanisms in place to guard against political corruption. One such measure is to have formal legislation or regulation that compels parties to publicly and proactively disclose their private funding information.

    Q: What are the arguments by those parties who are against revealing funding sources?

    Under the South African Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), access to information can be refused for a number of reasons, all of which seemingly pivot on the “right to privacy”. For example, a request for information can be refused if the information contains financial, commercial or technical information of a third party. Another problem with PAIA is when the disclosure of the information “would constitute an action for breach of a duty of confidence owed to a third party in terms of an agreement”. This is particularly concerning because it essentially allows parties to enter into confidential agreements with donors in order to avoid disclosing private funding information. In any case, political parties may rely on any of these provisions to deny access to their private funding information.

    Some reasonable arguments have been advanced by smaller parties that warrant consideration. Most smaller parties are concerned about the possible intimidation of their funders and subsequently the loss of financial support to compete effectively with the ruling party.

    Undoubtedly the effects of funders withdrawing donations to opposition parties for fear of reprisals from a governing party may be a reasonable concern. However, this should be addressed through existing appropriate legislation. In any case, parties cannot sustain this argument since the potential threat is criminal in nature and would warrant legal action.

    However, the prevailing contention (mostly by the major opposition party) is that of the right to privacy versus disclosures.  For them, a disclosure regime will not only limit the rights of donors to privacy and to express their political support in secret; it limits the privacy of political parties themselves. We find this elevation of the right to privacy over the right of access to information very problematic. Privacy, like any right in the Bill of Rights, is not absolute and therefore can be reasonably attenuated. Our Constitutional Court has said as much when it affirmed that the right to privacy exists on a continuum — so the more public the space, the more it can be justifiably limited. The two rights are equally important so they need to be weighted carefully to ensure our democratic processes are responsive, accountable and transparent.

    Q: What are the next steps now that you have won the court case?
    The judgment will be referred to the Constitutional Court for confirmation, we will await that decision. In the meantime, we continue with our lobbying for legislative reform. The judgment was handed down after a parliamentary process had been initiated to review the current political financing landscape, with the intention of reforming it. So, there is now a parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on the Funding of Political Parties investigating the challenges in our party financing regime. We have been engaging with them on some critical issues as well as monitoring the entire process.

    The Committee has produced a draft political party Bill and is accepting public comments on the Bill. We are in the process of making written and likely oral submissions on this draft Bill with the hope of improving it to meet both international best practices and constitutional standards.

    Q: In your opinion, what is the state of democracy in South Africa?
    This is never an easy question to answer and besides it can yield such diverse responses given its subjective nature. Personally, I think our democracy is under threat. The level of political impunity and sheer disregard for ethics and good governance, both politically and administratively is alarming. You only need to track the number of issues that civil society has taken the government and Parliament to court on to see that the protection of South Africans and our liberties are in the hands of civil society and the media.

    Despite the slippery slope that we find ourselves in, South Africa’s democracy will not fail just yet. We have a constitutional democracy which means that despite political and administrative attempts to circumvent our democratic rights, the Constitution is paramount and the role the judiciary in this regard cannot be under estimated. Also, South Africa has a vibrant civil society sector constantly fighting for change and we will need to work together for the broader constitutional goal of a free and democratic society.

    Q: What role can civil society play in South Africa to strengthen democracy?
    I think civil society is doing what it is intended to and all it can do at the present moment. We are constantly asking the difficult questions that the ordinary citizen may be too scared to ask. We are demanding accountability of our leaders and private businesses.

    Although government is trying to close down the dissenting spaces that we operate in, we are putting up a fight. Our democracy can only flourish if there are oversight bodies like civil society. You cannot underplay the significant role that public watchdogs play in ensuring accountability, fairness and transparency in democratic governance.

    For us specifically, our role is to ensure that a few financial backers do not corrupt our political system. We want to see our democracy be as participatory as possible, and so we need to limit the influence of big money.

     

  • The compromised state of civil society in Bangladesh

    Open contribution by Rezwan-ul-Alam

     

  • The Political Parties Bill is ‘poison for Zambia’s ailing democracy’

    CIVICUS speaks to Zambian human rights defender McDonald Chipenzi. The Threatened State of Emergency invoked by the President on 5 July 2017 is due to expire on 13 October 2017 with no clear indication if the President will invoke a fresh Threatened State of Emergency. The country’s parliament is also considering a new Political Parties Bill. We ask Chipenzi what the Bill is about and what is the state of Zambia’s democracy.

    1. In your opinion, is there a governance crisis in Zambia?

    A writer called James Bovard (1999) once observed that: “Voting has changed from the process by which the citizens control the government to a process that consecrates the government’s control of the people.” Zambia has slipped into a governance crisis. It is on the verge of falling into an undemocratic cliff. All signs are pointing to the fact that freedom of expression, association and demonstrations or protests in Zambia have been curtailed even when citizens follow the procedure as prescribed by the law governing public assemblies. The civic, political and the general democratic spaces in the country have shrunk. There is much evidence to show that these spaces have been curtailed and citizens are now either living in fear or indeed have taken a docile and passive position in participating in national affairs.

    The declaration of the Threatened State of Public Emergency on 5 July 2017 by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu after invoking Article 31 of the Constitution over suspiciously stage-managed spates of fires believed by some to have been sponsored by the party in power has left devastating effects on people’s rights and freedoms. This meant the enforcement of the Preservation of Public Security Act Cap 112 of the laws of Zambia which gives sweeping powers to the police to search, arrest and detain suspects for longer than the constitutional requirement of 48hrs for a detained suspect to be brought before court. The Act also automatically derogates citizens’ freedoms of assembly, expression, movement and of the media.

    To buttress this suspicion, to date, the same government that emotionally attributed the acts of arson to opposition political parties’ sympathisers has failed to produce any report or evidence incriminating anybody for the arson. Religious freedoms too have not been spared and are steadily declining. For instance, the police in August 2017 sealed off the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where worshippers where supposed to conduct their Thanksgiving Prayers on account that they did not notify the police. The largest opposition party has also suffered denial to carry out their public political activities on account that the invocation of Article 31 was still in force.

    On 29 September, 2017, six civil society and opposition leaders, musicians and other activists like Laura Miti and Lewis Mwape (civil activists), Sean Enock Tembo (politician), Chama Fumba, aka Pilato (musician) and others were arrested at the entrance of the Parliament building where they had picketed the National Assembly during the presentation of the 2018 National Budget demanding accountability in the procurement processes following the controversial purchase of 42 firefighters engines at a cost of US$1-million each. They were only released at midnight after spending half a day in police detention and on paying K2 000 (US$220) each as police bond. On 2 October, 2017, the police formally charged the six with two counts of “An unlawful assembly” and “Disobeying lawful orders” They will appear in court on 27 October 2017.

    This Threatened State of Public Emergency will only come to end on 13 October, 2017.

    The country’s leadership is engulfed in alleged acts of serious national plunder, looting and misuse of public resources, corruption, bribery and other misgovernance and yet there seems to be no one to provide leadership as the President has developed the propensity of globetrotting, locally known as Kamweendo munjila. Some people estimates that since taking office in January 2015, the President has allegedly made 49 trips across the globe. This has created a leadership vacuum and consequently a governance crisis the country is now faced with. The rule of law and constitutionalism is no longer a hallmark of country’s democracy. Law enforcers have sacrificed declining professionalism, ethical conduct and integrity levels. They have become vulnerable to political patronages. The judiciary especially the Constitutional Court faces public contempt, so is the office of the Director of Public Prosecution due to an “outbreak” of Nolle Prosequi (abandoned court cases by prosecutors) which is unprecedented in the history of the country. Most of these favour the interests of the executive. Zambia has, indeed, slid into the rule of men and has assumed characteristics of a banana republic.

    The state of the country’s democracy is deplorable. The ruling elites hold a myopic view that democracy is the ballot or elections and that since they are not going to be held until 2021, the country is on the right path as far as democracy is concerned. They feel elections are the means and an end in themselves. Freedom of the media is under constant threat and self-censorship by government-owned media has become a norm. Opposition and divergent views are never entertained in government-owned media despite all citizens contributing a monthly levy to its management. Civic and political spaces continue to shrink on a daily basis. Poverty is growing in the neighborhoods of ordinary people while the opposite is different at State House and for ruling political party elites and their relatives and associates.

    There is a dictatorship and an emerging authoritarian leadership in Zambia. The religious, political, civic and media spaces are shrinking daily. Opposition, musicians and civil society members are arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. This has become the order of the day. Court orders are disregarded with impunity by law enforcement agencies at the perceived instruction by the executive. In other words, the executive has taken over all arms of government. Public confidence in public institutions such as the judiciary, police, National Assembly, electoral body among others is at its lowest. Corruption, abuse of public resources are taking their tow while the Anti-Corruption Commission remains tight-lipped if not defending corruption itself. The Zambian society has been divided on tribal lines and elections are perceived from the same angle.

    In essence, the democratic outlook in Zambia is very gloomy. What surprises us, however, is that the Southern Africa Development Community still believes in the Zambian leadership to an extent of allowing it to assume the position of deputy chair of the Organ on Security and Peace when it is a country at war with itself. This is so because, for the first time in 26 years, the country is living under a Threatened State of Public Emergency and citizens’ rights such as assembly, expression and protests are constantly denied or threatened. People have been arrested for expressing themselves on Facebook, others on TV or radio and detained for days or for months only to be released without any changes. This has prompted the church, the Commonwealth and other concerned regional and international dignitaries to intervene in the Zambian situation while SADC pursues it suspicious quiet diplomacy.

    2. Please tell us more about the Political Parties Bill

    The current debate on the need to develop a political parties’ law in Zambia has been triggered by the existing law. Article 60 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016 demands that there be a prescription of how the article on political parties would be operationalised which essentially means coming up with an Act of parliament. To this end, the government produced a draft Political Parties Bill which it later consulted stakeholders. Political parties under the umbrella of Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue  participated in the validation processes of the Bill which is yet to be tabled before the National Assembly for enactment. The Minister of Justice has already indicated a desire to table the Bill for enactment before the end of 2017. However, there are mixed reactions to the Bill: some commentators have described the Bill as unconstitutional while others have welcomed it. My view is that in its current form, the Bill is a recipe for stifling political parties’ existence and effectiveness.

    The proposed Political parties’ Act is about the provision of the registration and regulation of political parties services in the country. It is about the establishment of the Board of Political Parties to oversee the registration and operations of political parties and to provide mechanisms for the establishment and management of a Political Parties Fund. It will also inquire on and regulate the sources of funds for political parties and any matters connected with, or incidental, to the foregoing. This is as per objects of the draft Political Parties Bill (2017) signed off by the Attorney General, Likando Kalaluka. In other words, the pending Bill is trying to regulate, monitor and supervise political parties which consequently is likely to shrink and stifle political space in the country. In its current draft form, the suggested Political Parties Bill is draconian, unconstitutional and undemocratic.

    3. Does Zambia have other legal frameworks that govern political parties?

    Zambia has had no specific legal framework to regulate, monitor and supervise the conduct and administration of political parties in the country since independence. The draft Political Parties’ Bill, if passed into law, would be the first law specifically on political parties. However, all political parties, just like civil society and churches, are considered for registration under the Societies Act Cap 119 of the Laws of Zambia enacted in the 1960s. This is the Act which gave birth to all political parties and operationalised Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution which entitles citizens the right to expression and association respectively. The Act is administered by the Department of Registrar of Societies hosted by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Under the current set up, political parties are required, at least to have 10 members to be registered who also undergo thorough security checks. After registration, the concerned party is issued with a certificate and holds it in perpetuity until deregistered by the Registrar or winds down on its own. In 2012, the former ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was deregistered for not paying annual returns for the party’s branches in the provinces and districts as per law requirement and only saved by the courts. A number of churches during the same period suffered threats of deregistration from the registrar.

    4. What do you think has triggered the current proposed Political Parties Bill?

    There have been concerns from various stakeholders including within the political parties’ circles that political parties must be funded because they are the soul and lifeblood of the multiparty democracy in Zambia. The other school of thought has been that funding political parties would make them more accountable and transparent in the manner they raise and use funds either from government and/or other well-wishers. Others feared that having no mechanisms on how to monitor political parties’ source of income would be putting the country on an “auction sale advert” because political parties would be promising or baiting with money lenders and other unknown people and this could endanger the country especially during electoral campaign periods without citizens knowing. To this end, submissions were made during the previous constitutional reviews to include a political party clause in the Constitution. Therefore, the 2016 amended Constitution upheld this view and included a clause that defines a political party, prescribes dos and don’ts for a political party and introduces funding of political parties with representation in the National Assembly.

    5. What are the advantages and disadvantage of the Bill for Zambia’s democracy?

    Although the proposed political parties law has some positive aspects in it which are basically meant to bait for stakeholders’ buy-ins, its disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Some of the mischiefs it intends to treat include political parties limited accountability and transparency levels, lack of intra-and interparty democracies and proposes to emphasise on political parties’ need to hold regular internal elections and also the spirit of co-existence through the formation of political parties’ alliances, mergers and coalitions respectively. These aspects are not part of the legal framework today. The proposed law also awards rights to all registered political parties such as the right to hold and address political meetings anywhere in the country without interference, the right to police protection and assistance, and equitable access to the State-owned media.  It proposes funding to parties with representation though small parties have described the provision as promoting bigger parties at the expense of smaller ones.

    However, there are fatal disadvantages in the proposed Bill for instance sections 23(1) of the draft Bill states: “The Minister shall prescribe the matters to be included in the constitution or rules of a political party.” How does a minister who is also a political functionary of another political party dictate what another party should include in its constitution? Is this not stifling competitive political ideas and space? The proposed Act also does not include political parties’ representation on the political party Registration Board, instead, it only incorporates the church and government ministries. The Board also is appointed by and reports to the President, who is also party president of a political party. This will be problematic and would raise suspicions in the operations and decisions of the board. The disclosure aspect of the Act has also been received with caution especially that it may cause local businessmen and women to away shy from helping the opposition for fear of being victimised by losing business or denied business contracts with the government.

    The proposed Act further gives immunity to board members and officers working at the Political Party Board Secretariat from their omissions and commissions during their duties. For instance, section 16 of the proposed Act states: “An action or other proceeding shall not lie or be instituted against a member of the Board or a member of staff for or in respect of an act or thing done or omitted to be done in good faith in the exercise or performance, or purported exercise or performance, of any of the powers, functions or duties conferred under this Act.” The Acts, once enacted into law, would demand a full disclosure of political parties’ source of funds and penalises whichever political party conceals such information.

    6. What advocacy has been carried out concerning the Bill?

    There has been no serious advocacy around the formulation of the proposed Act. The government through the Ministry of Justice just announced of its drafting and invited stakeholders’ submissions on the same. Political parties and few civil society organisations did their submissions. However, the government quickly organised a national conference on the draft Bill to consolidate stakeholder’s submissions. The results of this convention are yet to be officially shared with the rest of the nation. Some political parties like the Party for Economic Progress walked out of the convention citing unproductive debates.

    7. What role can civil society play in building a more participatory society in Zambia?

    To curtail the exercise of power by the government, citizens must not adopt the role of victims but victors and become effective participants in the governance processes. This is currently lacking in the Zambian situation. There is a lot of fear of being arrested and thereafter fail to have resources to hire legal representation. There is need to enhance solidarity efforts among citizens and discard the spirit of the fear of government and its leadership that has engulfed many citizens. Civil society must bring to a stop the increasingly rise of statism in Zambia which has consequently put people’s rights and freedoms in perpetual chains and slavery. Zambia’s civil society movement needs to push and advocate for a more competent, more trustworthy, more tolerant, more democratic and more benevolent government and leadership in the country and reject by confronting the any emergency of oppressive, corrupt and intolerant regime.

    Therefore, one cannot be far from the truth in stating that Zambia’s democratic space and credentials have declined in the last six years of the Patriotic Front’s reign. The human rights and governance records are crumbling very fast on the watch of its citizens and the region at large. One wonders what has happened to a country that was a citadel of stability, unity and peace not too long ago and why it is now seemingly crumbling and its citizens living under forced peace and stability. There is no critical moment since the fall of the one party system in Zambian in 1991 than now that citizens have seen the scary emergence of a strong state that has put so much power in itself and coerced the opponents and critical voices, breaking their wills and compelling them into submission. The church, civil society, trade and students’ union movements have not been spared from the fear of the executive, if not divided on tribal and partisan lines. These movements, like majority citizens, have adopted the “watch and see” approach and the “wait for the 2021 elections” notion to sanction the political culprits. Perhaps, it is time that civil society in Zambia rediscover itself and stop leaving a “burning pot” unattended. Therefore, Zambian civil society and the citizens at large must not leave this battle to a few.

    8. Any other additional analysis?

    In Zambia currently, there is a growing imbalance between the citizen’s power to bind the government and the government’s power to bind the citizens. Theoretically, Zambian leaders still claim to be democratic, respecters of human rights and practitioners of good governance but in reality their practices speak to the contrary.

    Public policy today in Zambia is a vast maze of payoffs and kickbacks, tangling everything that the state touches in political intrigue. For instance, elections have become a futile exercise to reveal comparative popular contempt for competing professional politicians.

    Justice has become whatever serves the political needs of those in power. This is what has led to the emergence of the governance crisis in Zambia which has exhibited itself through declining or suppression of religious, civic, political and other liberties. It has also manifested itself in allegations of rampant corruption and abuse of public resources. The stronger the government grows, the more irrelevant the individual voter becomes to the leaders.

    • Civic space in Zambia is rated as “Obstructed” by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

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