#SOCS2018

 

  • ‘Democracy is much more than street protest and institutional politics, and Hong Kong people are now resisting in all possible and impossible ways’

    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 with student leader Yiu Wa Chung about his involvement in the pro-democracy movement and the prospects for democracy in Hong Kong.

    1. Three years after the 2014 protests, what has happened to the pro-democracy movement?

    Two separate processes have unfolded over the past few years: street protests and an institutional process that took place around the Legislative Council elections. What we demanded through street demonstrations in 2014 was true universal suffrage. We wanted China to change its electoral guidelines and the pro-China Chief Executive to resign.

    Since Britain returned it to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under the “one country, two systems” principle, which means the Hong Kong government has jurisdiction over internal affairs and trade relations, while the government of China is in charge of Hong Kong’s defence and foreign policy. We therefore enjoy limited self-determination and political rights, although we do have an independent judiciary and a free press.

    Hong Kong has the status of a Special Administrative Region, and our government is led by a Chief Executive who is chosen by a “nominating committee” of 1,200 people, most of them from pro-China elites. The Legislative Council is the legislative branch of government.

    The thing is, when Hong Kong was returned to China, we were promised that we would be able to elect our Chief Executive by universal suffrage by 2017; however, in 2014 it became clear that free elections were not going to happen, as a reform framework was passed in August that established that only a few committee-vetted (pro-China) candidates would be allowed to compete in these elections. And that was the trigger for the massive 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – in Hong Kong’s history.

    The main reason that mobilisation decreased in the years after 2014 is that people were discouraged by the lack of results. After such a big movement and 79 days of occupation that paralysed major roads in the financial centre, we got no reply from the government, and there was no institutional change. People devoted a lot of energy, time and effort and they sacrificed so much. Almost every single young protestor who appeared on camera or was interviewed by the media in 2014 is being prosecuted or is in jail. And it was all for nothing. In other words, the costs of protest increased and the expected gains decreased, so the momentum passed and street protest declined.

    However, in the years since 2014 there were two elections, for the local District Councils in 2015 and for the Legislative Council in 2016. Because of the atmosphere and because voting in elections has much lower cost than going out to the streets, the results of those two elections were quite good for the pro-democracy camp.

    But it is important to note that half the legislative seats are filled through small circle elections within functional interests, which works almost like an appointment, so regardless of how well we fare in the elections we still face considerable obstacles when looking at the overall composition of the Legislative Council. Moreover, what happened in 2016 is that after the elections that the pro-democracy camp won, the government found an excuse to disqualify six of the elected legislative councillors. For instance, they argued that one of the councillors had not taken his oath properly because he had changed the tone of his words, so his promise to obey the laws of the People’s Republic of China sounded more as a question than a statement. He hadn’t changed a single word, but according to the government he pronounced them in a questioning rather than a neutral tone. Another elected councillor took the oath properly, in a neutral tone and all, but after he had been sworn in, he chanted a pro-democracy slogan, “Rights to the people.” Another one paused excessively in between words and mispronounced the word “China,” and so on.

    The judicial process following a demand for disqualification takes about a year, during which time these elected councillors were banned from taking part in the Council’s deliberations. And when they were eventually disqualified, they were required to pay back the salaries they had received. This is something that not just anybody can afford. In other words, the government is using every means at their disposal to bend people’s opinion, including by forcing us to go bankrupt. The message that Beijing is sending to people in Hong Kong is that resisting is pointless.

    In sum, both in the streets and at the institutional level, the pro-democracy movement is currently in decline.

    1. Do you think a “culture of protest” emerged out of the Umbrella Movement, and that the public is now more prone to mobilising than in the past?

    It did look like it around 2015, but the enthusiasm has long since dissipated. By 2015 the government was not as authoritarian as it is today, and community organising flourished. There were lots of new organisations that put their efforts into all kinds of issues, including labour rights, universal suffrage and institutional change. But by 2016, with the government on the offensive, trying to disqualify elected lawmakers, passing restrictive bills and jailing people, protest and mobilisation had declined.

    I believe that the current authoritarian trend is no accident; it fits the long-term plans of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since the handover, the CCP has devoted a lot of human and financial resources to setting up satellite organisations in Hong Kong. They have consistently worked to infiltrate each and every sector and change the democratic culture, step by step. Hong Kong people resented this; resentment built up and resulted in the 2014 protests. The Umbrella Movement took the CCP and the Hong Kong government by surprise; nobody expected so many people to take to the streets. But they chose to ignore it and let it wear out by providing no response whatsoever to its demands. The occupation lasted 79 days, during which the CCP clearly sized the movement up. They got to know its weaknesses and limits perfectly well. They were aware that people were getting tired. They saw us as a wave coming from the ocean, gathering strength and gradually wearing out, and they waited it out. As the movement weakened, the CCP asserted its power. Increasingly authoritarian methods are hard to resist once you have used up all our energy. All that has been done has yielded no results, so people have retreated further and increasingly refrain from voicing their opinion.

    It should be noted that unlike in China, control in Hong Kong can be subtle. Different methods are being used, the prosecution and jailing of protestors being just the most blunt of them. But the government has also been deliberately increasing the cost of living in Hong Kong, and most notably rent, which is already the highest in the world. The effects of this are appalling: for many people, it means they have to work longer hours, with little time or energy left for leisure or politics, and that they have no leftover money for anything else, and organising obviously costs money. Additionally, the Hong Kong economy is very dependent on China, and if you have business with China you will lose everything for not playing by their rules, which include political alignment.

    Control is also cultural and educational. There is an increasing control of the school curriculum, and changes are being introduced in the content of schoolbooks, so young children learn from an early stage that they have to love and obey China and its leaders. Children are being told to love the CCP, the “most democratic” party there is. There is also an ongoing attack on our language, as they are trying to impose Mandarin instead of Cantonese in schools. In short, combined control tactics are being applied from all sides – they are truly a tight network of control - so there is no room to even think of resisting.

    The democratic camp has kept trying to mobilise support, but people are tired and less ready to respond. Public reactions against authoritarianism and rights violations have become exceptions rather than the rule in the present context.

    1. A number of pro-democracy activists were jailed in 2017. What was the background to this, and what was the civil society response?

    In August 2017, three student leaders of the pro-democracy movement were sentenced to between six and eight months in jail. They had originally been sentenced to community service for storming a fenced-off section of the government headquarters. They were charged with unlawful assembly, and inciting people to take part in illegal rallies. However, the local government appealed against the case arguing that community service was too light a punishment, and they were eventually sentenced to jail. Additionally, they were barred from running for public office for five years, which meant that one of them, who was considering running for a legislative position, would no longer be able to do so.

    In reaction to the sentencing tens of thousands of people took to the streets and marched to the Court of Final Appeal. This was the biggest demonstration since 2014. Sadly, it was only an isolated reaction, which probably was due to the fact that these students were some of the most visible leaders of the Umbrella Movement and their cases drew lots of attention.

    In contrast, in December 2017 the government approved changes in the Legislative Council’s Rules of Procedure that would break the balance between pro-democracy and pro-China camps, and there was no visible reaction. The democratic camp called for a protest, but only a couple of hundred people showed up and were easily removed. These procedure changes were accomplished because, with six of its democratically elected legislators disqualified, the pro-democracy camp did not have enough votes to block them. Over several weeks, numerous pro-democracy legislators were kicked out of the chamber for disrupting the debate with filibustering tactics, and the amendments eventually passed. As a result, the president will now have the power to reconvene meetings, to ban and combine amendments, and to stop legislators from raising adjournment motions.

    1. Looking ahead, what are the main challenges to the sustainability of the pro-democracy movement, and how are they being addressed?

    All the major tools that we had are gone. For protesting in the streets you get arrested and thrown into jail, and if you try the institutional path, you get disqualified or stripped of decision-making power. The cost of involvement in both arenas is going up.

    Democracy is much more than street protest and institutional politics, and it is much more than what you can see on camera. People in Hong Kong are now resisting in all possible and impossible ways, such as setting up a tiny bookstore to counter state-sponsored indoctrination, using public space for cultural activities or creating semi-public spaces for reading groups.

    But of course we are not going to defeat the network of control that oppresses us by ourselves, with a music concert or a reading group. We need help. This could take the form of the international media focusing more on Hong Kong, the United Nations setting up a special commission, or foreign governments putting economic pressure on China to change its Hong Kong policy. However, we all know that this will hardly happen. Not even Britain, our former colonial power, reacted strongly as China recently stated that their Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which laid the blueprint for Hong Kong to organise after its handover to China, no longer had any practical significance. China is not fulfilling its promises and Britain is not doing anything about it. There’s a lot the international community could do, but there’s not much they are willing to do, given the facts of China’s economic and military rise. They all want to do business with China and do not dare bring up the Hong Kong issue. The cause of Hong Kong is unfortunately not nearly as popular as that of Tibet.

     

  • ‘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.

     

  • ‘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

     

  • 2018 points to a new wave of citizen activism

    By Ines Pousadela

    When looking back at 2017, it is hard to lose sight of the fact that restrictions on fundamental freedoms were imposed at an ever-growing pace, even in countries that believed themselves to be immune to authoritarian temptations. However, along with increasing restrictions on civil society rights, we can also see civil society fighting back and continuing to claim rights.

    Read on : Equal Times 

     

     

  • Civil society tackling global challenges with ‘resolute resistance,’ says new report

    As 2017 gave way to 2018, many in civil society found renewed purpose in striving to make democracy real, and demanding human dignity and justice.

    Even as attacks on civil society have become more brazen, the story of the past year was one of resolute resistance against the rising tide of restrictions on fundamental freedoms and democratic values, according to CIVICUS’ 2018 State of Civil Society Report, released 6 March 2018. Sobering data from the CIVICUS Monitor reveals serious systemic problems with civic space in 109 out of 195 countries covered. However, there are also numerous examples of civil society successfully advocating for progressive new laws on women’s rights, access to information and protection of human rights defenders.

     

  • Civil Society, Resolute Resistance and Renewed Purpose

    By Mandeep Tiwana

    Each year, CIVICUS publishes the State of Civil Society Report, which chronicles major global developments and key trends impacting civil society. The report draws from interviews with civil society leaders at the forefront of social change from around the world and CIVICUS’ ongoing research initiatives. This year it reaches an important conclusion: even as fundamental freedoms and democratic values are being encroached upon, peaceful acts of resolute resistance by civil society give us reasons for hope.

    Read on:  International Institute for Sustainable Development 

     

  • Gender @ CIVICUS

    Taking back spaces for the feminist movement

    Women human rights defenders and gender rights activists experience all the risks and threats that male activists do, plus some specific to their gender and the patriarchal systems they challenge. These include, but are not limited to, gender-based violence, attacks in the home from family or community members, threats to their children or families, rhetoric that they are bad wives and mothers, or other forms of slander, intimidation and exclusion.

    These attacks can come when women challenge conventional gender roles, when activism is not seen as a suitable role for a woman, when they work on socially controversial issues, or a combination of these.

    How this changed in 2017

    As our latest State of Civil Society Reportpoints out, patriarchy is coming under the spotlight.

    In October 2017, the #MeToo  hashtag spread through social media, and stories of sexual harassment flooded the internet. Every single woman who spoke out meant someone realising she was not alone and daring to break the silence.

    In January 2018, the Time’s Up campaign helped democratise the issue by encouraging and enabling women in more disadvantaged positions to report sexual harassment and seek justice. Sexual harassment and violence are increasingly inexcusable, and now they’re becoming a crucial part of the debate about gender inequalities, and power and wealth imbalances.

    Strengthening how we discuss gender @ Civicus

    Gender equality and diversity is important to us at CIVICUS.

    We believe it is our duty to strengthen the discussion and recognise overlapping inequalities and discriminations. We will use that strength to push for greater representation and remedies for the struggles faced by women from excluded groups, such as impoverished and immigrant women, disabled, indigenous and lesbian and transgender women, among others.

    Our task is to promote awareness, understanding and engagement around civic space - the right to speak out, organise, and take action - and gender, as well asadvocate for the protection of women human rights and defenders (WHRDs).

    Our internal diversity and inclusion group collaborates in safe space to share ideas, concerns and recommendations, and brainstorm constructive solutions to pressing challenges around gender, diversity and inclusion, in the context of civic space.

    Our membership-based Gender Working Group is undergoing a renewal process. If you want to keep up-to-date on the activities of this group as we develop the member networking elements of it, email us here.

    Recent gender and inclusion initiatives

    • Supporting the staff-wide Inclusion Audit   with Human Resources and the management team, who are working toward the best possible inclusion policies and practices for CIVICUS Alliance and the Secretariat, and sharing learnings and outcomes with the Alliance.
    • Supporting allies in Geneva at the Human Rights Council and with special procedures and the Universal Periodic Review process (see examples that relate to women's rights, Colombia, Egypt, Pakistan) and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), where we connected members working on gender equality, women’s rights, sexual orientation and gender rights issues, sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls’    education, and other key areas, with each other and with international processes and spaces.
    • Participating in and convening events for:
      • #16DaysAgainstGBV in November-December 2017,
      • Global Women’s Marches in January 2017,
      • 8th March International Women’s Day,
      • #ADayWithoutAWoman women’s strike,
      • Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 61,
      • International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia,
      • #SheDefends Women Human Rights Defenders Middle East/North A   frica campaign.   
    • Highlighting gender-related learnings through spaces like the Gender, Inclusion and the State of Civil Society webinar, and amplifying the voices of women and sexual minorities where media opportunities arise.
    • Coordinate joint statements with LGBTIQ groups at the HRC on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) debates and work with LGBTIQ groups on the severe attacks they face.

    Join the conversation

    Send us an email with some info about the work you or your organisation is doing, and we’ll keep you informed about gender rights work going on within the Alliance.

     

  • It is #TimesUp for sexual harassment, including within civil society

    This is a significant time to be calling for greater progress in the fight against gender inequality and sexual abuse.

     

  • OPEN CALL for contributions to CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report on ‘Reimagining Democracy’

    French | Spanish

    The upcoming CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report, to be published in September 2018, will focus on the special theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’. The publication will explore the current state of democratic practices, the contemporary trends that are having an impact on them, and civil society initiatives to respond to major democratic challenges and reinvent democracy from the ground up. As with previous reports, we are seeking to collaborate with and hear the views of a wide range of civil society activists, leaders, experts and stakeholders.

    This is where you come in: we want your thoughts on the situation of and perspectives on democracy in your context, your stories about civil society action in connection to our theme, and your ideas about what civil society can do to reimagine, rebuild and project democracy into the future. Through your submissions, we hope to be able to view our theme from a variety of different angles in order to get as complete an nuanced a picture as possible.

    Submissions will be published in a dedicated section of our website and will help inform our final report.

    About submissions

    This is an open call for submissions, and anyone who has a story to share that is in one way or another related to the theme is welcome to participate.

    We will receive short written submissions (ideally of up to 1,500 words) on a specific aspect of the theme. Submissions should preferably focus on a practical case study of civil society experience and response. We are particularly looking for case studies that focus on innovative and creative responses to the challenges and limitations of current democratic practices.

    We would like to collect the widest possible range of experiences of legitimate democratic expressions - of the many ways in which ‘people power’ can express itself. We are taking a broad view of democracy, beyond elections, encompassing a variety of democratic practices at every level. Please feel free to present your working definition of democracy as you frame your issue and tell your story.

    Key questions for submissions to address may include:

    • How does your particular topic relate to the overall theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’?
    • What was the problem in your context that civil society sought to respond to?
    • What were the key ways in which civil society responded, and what was creative and innovative about the response?
    • What were the main successes and challenges encountered in responding?
    • What further civil society action is required, and what is needed to support this action?
    • What recommendations can you make for wider international learning?

    Submissions may be made by individuals or organisations, and may be written in English, French, Portuguese or Spanish. We encourage the submission of audio-visual material and photos alongside written submissions.

    All submissions received will be published, provided they show a clear relation to the theme, highlight examples of civil society action, and are consistent with CIVICUS’ core values and principles, as articulated in our 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. We may edit submissions before publication for house style and consistency of language usage, but will correspond with authors if substantive changes are suggested.

    About the theme

    Our theme. ‘Reimagining Democracy’, comes as a response to the various challenges to democratic practices observed in country after country around the world. These include personal presidential rule and challenges to the rule of law, pushback by the politically powerful against the expression of democratic dissent, public dissatisfaction with contemporary democratic practice, restrictive definitions of citizenship leading to the exclusion of many people, and the rise of extreme and polarising political movements.

    Seeking to move beyond pessimism, our main focus will be on the responses of civil society to defend, rebuild and deepen democracy – to reimagine democracy. We will highlight examples of successful practice in reimagining democracy, as well as the challenges encountered in responding, and make a series of practical recommendations on how civil society actions to reimagine democracy can be nurtured and strengthened.

    Possible topics as part of this theme include:

    • Presidential/personal rule, constitution and election rigging and the declining rule of law
    • Cronyism, elite collusion and grand corruption
    • Attacks on democratic dissent
    • Majoritarianism and attacks on political minorities and excluded groups
    • Political populism and extremism
    • The rise of uncivil society
    • Political disaffection and rejection of conventional politics
    • Democratic deficits in international institutions
    • Protest responses, social movements - and pushback against these
    • Civil society engagement before, during and after elections
    • Community organising and neighbourhood participation
    • Workplace democracy and democracy within civil society organisations

    For more information about the ‘Reimagining Democracy’ theme and process, see our background note here. If you have any questions, or to submit your contribution, please contact .

     

  • Report: The Fight Back Against Rising Repression in On

    By Andrew Firmin 

    In the face of rising restrictions and brazen attacks on fundamental freedoms, citizens across the globe are responding with resolute resistance, in creative, and powerful ways. This is the main takeaway of CIVICUS’ 2018 State of Civil Society Report. 

    Read on: Disrupt and Innovate