civic space

 

  • Call for proposals: Application for partners for pilot national civil society assessment in El Salvador, Georgia and Indonesia.

    Español 

    BACKGROUND INFORMATION

    The Enabling Environment National Assessment (EENA), developed by CIVICUS and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), is a participatory, civil society-led and action-oriented research methodology.

     

  • Cambodia: the international community must step up efforts to address human right violations

    Statement at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Mr President, and thank you Special Rapporteur for your report.

    In the face of ongoing reporting by the Special Rapporteur, the Cambodian government has shown no political will to undertake democratic or civic space reforms.

    Cambodian human rights defenders and activists continue to face repression and persecution. Highly politicised courts mean that those arbitrarily detained and charged are often held for prolonged periods in pretrial detention and have no chance of getting a fair trial. The ongoing harassment of the Nagaworld workers union and attacks on press freedom is extremely worrying.

    The criminalisation of the opposition in the last five years and recent efforts to harass and undermine new political parties during the commune elections are precursors of what the Cambodian people can expect from their national elections next year.

    If the international community wants to see a free and fair elections in Cambodia it must step up efforts to address these violations.

    We call on the Council to take note of the benchmarks set out in the Special Rapporteur’s report, particularly those relating to the opening up of civic and political space and ceasing the persecution of human rights defenders, specifically:

    • Release detained human rights defenders and political dissidents and drop the charges against them
    • Desist from applying and reform draconian laws including the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO)
    • Restore and re-enfranchise a variety of political parties, and ensure free and fair elections.

    If these benchmarks are not met, the Council must be prepared to take stronger action by way of a stronger monitoring mandate. Failure to do so will see the one-party state entrenched still further in years to come.


     Civic space in Cambodia is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • CAMBODIA: ‘No free and fair election can take place in the current political environment’

    Lee Chung LunCIVICUS speaks about Cambodia’s communal elections of June 2022 with Lee Chung Lun, Campaign and Advocacy Programme Officer of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).

    Established in 1997, ANFREL is a regional civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes democratic, free and fair elections by conducting election monitoring, capacity building and civic engagement in member countries.

    How free and fair were the recent local elections in Cambodia, and what were their results?

    The official results of the elections for the commune and sangkat – an administrative subdivision – council held on 5 June 2022 gave the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) 9,376 (80.7 per cent) of the 11,622 council seats and 1,648 (99.8 per cent) of the 1,652 positions of commune chief. The recently reactivated Candlelight Party gained 2,198 (18.9 per cent) of council seats and four commune chief positions. The remaining 48 council seats went to other small parties.

    The CPP’s victory is no surprise given its tight control of politics and the pressures on the opposition, including the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. In such context, the CPP won over 3,000 more seats than it did in the 2017 elections, and its popular vote surged from 3.5 million to 5.3 million.

    However, it was unexpected that the Candlelight Party only managed to secure four commune chief positions despite winning one-fifth of the popular vote. The disproportionate vote-to-seat translation warrants further investigation.

    Overall, Cambodia still falls short of the benchmark for free, fair and inclusive elections, as assessed in ANFREL’s pre-election assessment mission. ANFREL’s member, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), also noted various irregularities in the process.

    The undemocratic elements of the existing legal framework continue to allow room for abuse. In recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, crackdowns on the media, CSOs and the political opposition have increased. Numerous opposition candidates and members of opposition parties, most notably from the Candlelight Party, became the target of harassment and intimidation throughout the election period. As long as threats against the opposition and civil society continue to be prevalent, there can’t be a genuine and legitimate election.

    What role did civil society play in the election process? 

    In July 2021, a coalition of 64 Cambodian CSOs launched a list of recommendations that they named ‘minimum conditions for legitimate commune and sangkat council elections’. These included enabling a free political environment and active participation in political activities and allowing the main opposition to review and select members of the National Election Committee (NEC). They also called for greater political neutrality of military forces and independence of the courts, as well as freedom for the media and CSOs to function. Regrettably, no significant changes have been made since then.

    CSOs such as COMFREL recruited, trained and deployed citizen observers to monitor the election process. The NEC’s accreditation standards, however, are questionable, given that 93 per cent of the 74,885 accredited election observers came from organisations closely linked to the CPP. More than half of them came from the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia and Cambodian Women for Peace and Development, led by Cambodian prime minister’s son Hun Manet and deputy prime minister Men Sam An, respectively.

    Cambodia is virtually a one-party state and now has a mostly closed civic space as a result of ongoing attacks on CSOs, independent media and the political opposition. Since 2017, the government has arrested, imprisoned, and harassed hundreds of activists, opposition figures and journalists. Some flee the country out of fear of retaliation.

    The draconian provisions outlined in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations continue to be in effect. The law forbids unregistered organisations from carrying out any activity and grants sole authority over the registration process to the Ministry of the Interior, while registered organisations must adhere to a broadly defined ‘political neutrality’ requirement. CSOs are frequently required to go through informal approval processes with local authorities to carry out their work on the ground, even though the law does not require them to do so.

    Do you think the results of the communal elections will be replicated in the upcoming national elections?

    The results of the commune and sangkat council elections can be regarded as a predictor of the results of the next National Assembly elections, scheduled to take place in July 2023. They confirm once again that no free and fair election can take place in Cambodia’s current political environment. If attacks on the opposition and civil society continue, the CPP will retain its power in the next election.

    What support does Cambodian civil society need from international organisations?

    Cambodian civil society needs more attention from the international community on critical human rights violations and the dwindling state of democracy. International organisations should keep up their efforts to monitor developments in Cambodia closely and extend solidarity with Cambodian civil society, which frequently faces threats and harassment while carrying out their work. Local CSOs also need funding to continue their advocacy and campaigning on the ground.

    Civic space in Cambodia is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Asian Network for Free Elections through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@Anfrel on Twitter. 

     

  • CAMBODIA: ‘This is a textbook case of organised crime with links to the state’

    CIVICUS speaks with Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national and co-founder of Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC), a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia’s natural environment. Due to their work, the authorities have systematically intimidated and criminalised MNC activists. Gonzalez-Davidson has been convicted in absentia for his activism and currentlyfaces further charges.

    Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson

    What were the origins of MNC?

    We founded MNC in 2013, and the most important factor leading to its founding was that the environment in Cambodia, and especially the forest, was being decimated so fast. Because I could speak Khmer, I was a translator and was reading about it in the news and eventually also seeing it happen.

    This senseless destruction was being disguised as development, but in reality it was organised crime sponsored by the state, including the army, the police, politicians at all levels and local authorities. It was painful to see. Local Indigenous people were being cheated and this got me fired up.

    I also came to the realisation that civil society, and especially international organisations that were allegedly protecting the environment, were not doing anything that was effective enough. Local groups were not able to do much, and some international groups were doing greenwashing: misleading the public with initiatives that were presented as environmentally friendly or sustainable, but were not addressing the real causes of the problems. 

    A small group of friends and I started a campaign to stop a senseless hydroelectric dam project, which we knew was never about electricity but about exploiting natural resources and allowing logging and poaching. I was deported a year and a half after we started MNC. Over time, we have had to evolve to try and expose environmental crimes by the state on a large scale.

    What have been the main activities and tactics of MNC?

    They have changed over time. Back in 2013 to 2015, we could still do community empowerment and hold peaceful protests. We could bring people from cities to remote areas. In 2015, the harassing and jailing of activists started. We realised peaceful protests could not happen anymore because protesters would be criminalised. We continued to do community empowerment until 2017, but then had to stop that too.

    One of our biggest tactics is going to a location, recording short videos and presenting them to the public so that Cambodians can understand, click, share and comment. We have received millions of views. We also did shows on Facebook live and lobbied opposition parties in parliament. From 2019 onwards, activists could no longer appear in the videos and we had to blur their faces and distort their voices. Now we can’t even do that because it is too risky.

    What is the state of civic space in Cambodia?

    The regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen has destroyed democratic institutions, including active and independent civil society, independent media and opposition parties. It has dismantled all these as it realised people were ready and hungry for democracy.

    There is a lot for the regime to lose if the status quo changes, mainly because of money. The regime is mostly organised crime. They don’t want pesky independent journalists, activists organising protests or CSOs doing community empowerment. They don’t want to lose power and be held accountable. This is why now there is very little space compared to five years ago, and the situation is still going downhill. 

    Most civil society groups have retreated and are not pushing the boundaries. They are afraid of their organisation being shut down, funding being cut, or their activists and staff being thrown in jail. Indeed, working in Cambodia is difficult but it’s not acceptable to have a very small number of CSOs and activists speaking up.

    What gives me hope is that conversations and engagement among citizens about democracy are still happening, and that repression cannot go on forever.

    Why has MNC been criminalised, and what impact has this had and what is impact of the court cases?

    Cambodia doesn’t really have any other group like us. We are a civil society group, but we are made up of activists rather than professional staff. Other activists used to do forest patrols in the Prey Lang forest, but the government forced them to stop. There are also Indigenous communities and environmental activists trying to do some work, but what happened to MNC is also a message to them.

    In 2015, three MNC activists were charged and subsequently convicted for their activities in a direct-action campaign against companies mining sand in Koh Kong province. In September 2017, two MNC activists were arrested for filming vessels we suspected were illegally exporting dredged sand on behalf of a firm linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. In January 2018, the two activists were fined and sentenced to a year in jail.

    In September 2020, three activists affiliated with MNC were arbitrarily detained while planning a peaceful protest as part of a campaign against the planned privatisation and reclamation of Boeung Tamok lake in the capital, Phnom Penh. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison for ‘incitement’.

    Most recently, in June 2021, four environmental activists affiliated with MNC were charged for investigating river pollution in the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh. They have been charged with ‘plotting’ and ‘insulting the King’. There are currently six MNC activists in detention.

    We have been charged with threatening to cause destruction, incitement, violating peoples’ privacy – just for filming at sea – and the latest additions to the list are ‘plotting’ to violently overthrow institutions – just for recording sewage going into the Mekong river – and insulting the King. The government is no longer even pretending that this is about law enforcement and is now just picking crimes to charge us with.

    As we become more effective in what we do, the state’s rhetoric against us has become more aggressive. The authorities have vilified us, calling us traitors and terrorists. Repression starts from the very bottom, with the local police, the mayor, the military police and their civilian friends who are in the business of poaching, logging and so on. They follow you, threaten you and even try to bribe you. They also control the media narrative and have trolls on social media. Even if all you do is a media interview, they will threaten you online.

    This has created a climate of fear among activists. As in any other dictatorship, Cambodia has always been ruled by fear. This percolates down to young people, who make up the vast majority of our activists. Their families and friends get really worried too. When people feel there is less of a risk in getting involved, the state hits activists and civil society again with more arbitrary and trumped-up charges, as a way to instil further fear in people’s minds.

    The impact of the court cases against MNC has been strong. At first we were able to put up with them by diversifying our tactics and putting new strategies in place, but over the last two years and with six people in jail, it’s become more difficult. But this won’t stop our activism. It will not defeat us.

    Have you faced threats from private companies?

    The line between the private sector and the state is blurred in Cambodia, and in certain cases is just not even there. You don’t have a minister or the army saying, ‘this is my hydroelectric dam’ or ‘we are doing sand mining’, but everyone knows the links are there.

    Those representing the state will provide the apparatus and resources to threaten activists and local communities, and businesspeople – who sometimes are their own family members – will give them a percentage of the earnings. For example, sand from mining exported to Singapore – a business worth a few hundred million dollars – was controlled by a few powerful families, including that of the leader of the dictatorship, Hun Sen. This is a textbook case of organised crime with links to the state. And when a journalist, civil society group or local community tries to expose them, they use the weapons of the state to silence, jail, or bribe them. 

    Why did MNC decide to formally disband?

    In 2015 the government passed a repressive NGO law with lots of traps that made it difficult for us to be in compliance. I was also no longer in the country, as I was not allowed to return even though I had been legally charged and convicted there. In 2013, when we registered, there were three of us, plus two nominal members who were Buddhist monks. The other two founders were taken to the Ministry of Interior and told to disband or otherwise go to jail, so they decided to disband.

    We also thought it would be better not to be bound by the NGO law. Cambodian people have the right to protect their national resources. According to the Cambodian Constitution and international treaties the state has signed, we are not breaking the law. But we know this will not stop them from jailing us.

    What can international community do to support MNC and civil society in Cambodia?

    Some things are being done. Whenever there is an arbitrary arrest of activists, there are embassies in the capital, United Nations institutions and some Cambodian CSOs who speak up. 

    That’s good, but sadly it’s not enough. If you are doing business with Cambodia, such as importing billions of dollars per year worth of garments, you have to do more than just issue statements. You should make a clear connection between the health of democracy in Cambodia and the health of your business relationships. For example, the UK is working on a trade deal with Cambodia, and it must attach to it conditions such as ensuring a free media and halting the arbitrary jailing of activists. 

    The problem is that some diplomats don’t understand what is going on or don’t care about the human rights situation. Southeast Asian countries should also help each other and speak up on the situation in Cambodia. Not just civil society but members of parliament should call out, send letters to their ambassador and so forth.

    Civic space inCambodiais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Mother Nature Cambodia through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@CambodiaMother on Twitter. 

     

  • Cambodia: Drop Fabricated Charges against ‘ADHOC 5’

    Cambodian authorities should immediately drop politically motivated bribery charges against five human rights defenders known as the ADHOC 5 (“FreeThe5KH” in social media campaigns), five international organizations said today. The trial of the five – four current and one former senior staff members of the nongovernmental Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) – is scheduled for August 27, 2018, after lying dormant for a year. If convicted, each faces between 5 and 10 years in prison.

     

  • CAMEROON: ‘The Anglophone discontent must be addressed through meaningful discussion with all parties’

    DibussiTandeCIVICUS speaks with the Cameroonian writer and digital activist Dibussi Tande about the ongoing crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. The conflict emerged in 2016 out of a series of legal and educational grievances expressed by the country’s Anglophone population, which is a minority at the national level but a majority in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions.

    Dibussiis the author ofScribbles from the Den. Essays on Politics and Collective Memory in Cameroon. He also has a blog where he shares news and analyses of the situation in Cameroon.

    What have been the humanitarian consequences of the escalating conflict in Cameroon?

    The main humanitarian issue is the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the conflict. According to the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency, by August 2021 there were 712,800 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Although some have since returned, there are still over half a million IDPs spread across Cameroon.

    The priority needs of IDPs and returnees today are housing and access to healthcare, food, water and education. However, help has not been readily available, which explains why this conflict has repeatedly been classified as one of the most neglected displacement crises since 2019.

    Let’s not forget that the UN Refugee Agency has an additional 82,000 Cameroonian refugees registered in Nigeria. Add the millions of people trapped in conflict zones and caught in the crossfire, and you have the recipe for a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

    What will it take to de-escalate the situation?

    It’s quite simple. First, the parties involved in the conflict must be willing to look beyond the military option, which so far has not resolved anything, and seek a peaceful resolution instead. There can be no real de-escalation until they give meaning to the now derided calls for an ‘all-inclusive dialogue’ that have become a platitude and an excuse for inaction. That said, I think the onus lies primarily with the government of Cameroon, which is the party with the resources to at least initiate real dialogue.

    Second, the international community needs to revise its approach to the conflict. All attempts thus far at international mediation – for example, the ‘Swiss Process’ in which the government of Switzerland convened talks – have either dragged on for years or simply failed. The international community must step up the pressure on all factions, including the threat of individual and collective sanctions for their continued obdurateness. Without this two-pronged approach, there will not be a de-escalation anytime soon.

    What kind of challenges does civil society face when advocating for peace?

    Civil society faces numerous challenges. For starters, civil society organisations (CSOs) have limited access to conflict zones. They must also walk a fine line between government and Ambazonian groups – those fighting for the independence of Ambazonia, a self-declared state in the Anglophone regions – who both routinely accuse them of supporting the other side. Even when civil society gains access to conflict zones, it operates with very limited financial and other resources.

    That said, the most serious challenge to their operations is government hostility. Local CSOs have routinely complained about intimidation and harassment by Cameroonian authorities as they try to work in conflict zones. In 2020, for example, the Minister of Territorial Administration accused local CSOs of colluding with international CSOs to fuel terrorism in Cameroon. He claimed that these ‘teleguided NGOs’ had received 5 billion CFA francs (approx. US$7.4 million) to whitewash the atrocities of separatist groups while publishing fake reports about alleged abuses by the Cameroonian military.

    International humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have also faced the wrath of the government. In 2020, Cameroon suspended MSF from carrying out activities in the Northwest region after accusing it of having close relations with separatists. And in March 2022, MSF suspended its activities in the Southwest region after four of its workers were arrested for allegedly collaborating with separatists. MSF complained that the government confused neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian aid with collusion with separatist forces.

    What were the expectations of English-speaking Cameroonians for 1 October, proclaimed as ‘Independence Day’ in the Anglophone regions?

    English-speaking Cameroonians come in different shades of political ideology, so they had different expectations. For independentists, the goal is simple: independence for the former British Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons. As far as they are concerned, any negotiation with the government must be about how to end the union and not about whether the union should continue.

    But other segments of the population still believe in a bilingual Cameroon republic, albeit under new political arrangements. Federalists believe that Anglophone expectations will be met if the country returns to the federal system that existed between 1961 and 1972. This system gave the former British Southern Cameroons constitutional protections within a federal republic, including the right to its own state government, an elected legislature, an independent judiciary, a vibrant local government system and state control over the education system.

    The government of Cameroon has accommodated neither the radical demands of independentists nor the comparatively moderate demands of the federalists. Instead, it is forging ahead with a ‘decentralisation’ policy that gives nominal power to the regions but does not even begin to address the fundamentals of the so-called ‘Anglophone problem’.

    What should Cameroon’s government do to ensure the recognition of the rights of English-speaking Cameroonians?

    For starters, the government should abandon its stopgap and largely cosmetic approach to resolving the conflict, because it only adds to the existing resentment. This is the case, for example, with the much-maligned ‘special status’ accorded to the Northwest and Southwest regions, supposedly to recognise their ‘linguistic particularity and historic heritage’, but which does not give them the power to influence or determine policies in key areas such as education, justice and local government, where this ‘particularity’ needs the most protection.

    The historical and constitutional origins of the Anglophone discontent within the bilingual Cameroon republic are well documented. This discontent must be addressed with a holistic approach that includes meaningful discussions with all parties, from the federalists to the independentists. Dialogue is a journey, not a destination. And the time to start that journey is now, no matter how tortuous, frustrating and challenging, and despite the deep-seated distrust, resentment and animosity among the parties.

    How can the international community support Cameroonian civil society and help find a solution?

    Cameroonian civil society needs financial, material and other resources to adequately provide humanitarian and other assistance to displaced people and people living in conflict zones. This is where the international community comes in. However, international aid is a double-edged sword, given the Cameroon government’s suspicion and hostility towards local CSOs that have international partners, especially those that are critical of how the government has handled the conflict so far. Civil society also needs resources to accurately and adequately document what exactly is happening on the ground, including war crimes and violations of international human rights laws.

    To be able to play a pivotal role in the search for a solution to the conflict, CSOs will have to figure out a way to convince the government – and Ambazonian groups that are equally suspicious of their activities – that they are honest brokers rather than partisan actors or trojan horses working for one side or the other. This is a Herculean, if not virtually impossible, task at this juncture. So, for now, civil society will continue to walk a fine line between the government and the independentists, all the while promising more than it can deliver to the people affected by the conflict.

    As for international support to finding a solution, there has been a lot more international handwringing, from the African Union to the UN, than real action. The international community has so far adopted a largely reactive stance towards the conflict. It issues statements of distress after every atrocity, followed by hollow calls for inclusive dialogue. And then it goes silent until the next tragedy. Hence, the parties have little incentive for dialogue, especially when each believes, rightly or wrongly, that it is gaining the upper hand militarily.


    Civic space in Cameroon is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Dibussi Tande through hiswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@dibussi on Twitter.

     

  • CAMEROON: ‘The international community hasn’t helped address the root causes of the Anglophone conflict’

    MoniqueKwachouCIVICUS speaks with Cameroonian feminist researcher and writer Monique Kwachou about the ongoing crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. The conflict emerged in 2016 out of a series of legal and education grievances expressed by the country’s Anglophone population, which is a minority at the national level but a majority in the Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions.

    Monique is the founder of Better Breed Cameroon, a civil society organisation (CSO) working on youth development and empowerment, and the national coordinator of the Cameroonian chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationalists.

    What have been the humanitarian consequences of the escalation of the conflict in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions?

    The crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon has internally displaced close to 800,000 English-speaking people, according to monitoring by humanitarian organisations. Many people are also emigrating to other countries in search of safety. Unfortunately, civilians have been used as a weapon so the only way they are able to protect themselves is by fleeing to safer regions within the country or fleeing the country altogether.

    People are also becoming increasingly hopeless and are no longer investing in the Anglophone regions as they used to. As a clear indication of how unsafe it is right now in the Anglophone regions, before stepping out of my house I have to do a risk assessment and decide whether what I have to do is worth taking the risk.

    Unlawful killings and kidnappings are now rampant and somewhat normalised: they no longer shock us as they once did and there is a general trauma fatigue that breeds apathy, which is dangerous.

    As we speak, some are trying to get a hashtag trending for Catholic clergy and worshippers who were recently kidnapped in the Northwest region. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom of 30 million CFA francs (approx. US$45,000) but the church is hesitant to pay because they know if they do it once, more people will be kidnapped and they will have to continue paying. Yet most social media comments on the news encourage payment based on the idea that there is nothing else that can be done. Apathy is the result of having heard too many such stories.

    Given that the security forces have a reputation for violence and contributed to the development of the crisis with their burning down of whole villages earlier on, people don’t have faith in them either.

    As a teacher I think one of the saddest impacts of this crisis has been on education. I don’t think anyone is receiving quality education. Many people have migrated to other regions, particularly to Douala, Cameroon’s largest city, and Yaoundé, the capital. As a result, schools there have become overpopulated. The teacher-to-student ratio has gone up and the quality of education has dropped. In the crisis regions, the future of students is put on hold with each and every strike and lockdown and their psychological wellbeing could be affected.

    What will it take to de-escalate the situation?

    I think the government already knows what needs to be done for the situation to de-escalate. Edith Kahbang Walla, of the opposition Cameroon People’s Party, has outlined a step-by-step process of de-escalation and peaceful political transition. But the problem is that the ruling party does not want a transition. However, as it looks like their plan is to stay in power forever, it would be better for them if they made changes to benefit all regions of Cameroon.

    Extreme measures have been adopted to bring attention to the problems faced by English-speaking Cameroonians. The Anglophone regions continue to observe a ghost town ritual every Monday, taking the day off to protest against the authorities. On those days schools don’t operate and businesses remain closed. The original purpose was to show support for teachers and lawyers who were on strike but it is now having a negative impact on the lives of residents of the Anglophone regions.

    If the government could consider a better strategy to negotiate with secessionists, the situation could be dealt with effectively. Unfortunately, the government has made negotiation impossible since the crisis began, as it arrested those who took part in the protests. Who is the government going to have a dialogue with now? They claim they won’t negotiate with terrorists while forgetting that they created the monster. They should acknowledge the root causes of the problem or otherwise they won’t be able to fix it.

    What challenges does civil society face while advocating for peace?

    Civil society is a victim of both sides of the ongoing conflict. CSO activities geared towards development have been greatly affected by the crisis, as CSO work is now geared mostly toward humanitarian action.

    On one hand, the government is undermining Anglophone activism through arrests and restrictions on online and offline freedom of speech. Anyone who speaks up against the government and what the military are doing in the Anglophone regions may be in danger. For example, journalist Mimi Mefo was arrested for reporting on military activity and had to leave Cameroon because her life was threatened.

    On the other hand, peace activists advocating for children to go back to school are also being attacked by secessionist groups who think their activities are being instrumentalised by the government. Hospitals have been attacked by both the military and secessionist armed groups because they helped one or the other.

    Aside from the challenge of danger that CSO members face in the course of their work, there is also the challenge of articulating messages for peace and the resolution of the crisis without being branded as pro-government nor pro-secessionists, particularly as the media tries to paint the conflict as a simply black-or-white issue. This has not been an easy task. Limited resources also make it difficult to carry out peacebuilding work.

    How can the international community support Cameroonian civil society?

    Humanitarian organisations started becoming visible in the Anglophone regions during the crisis. They are giving humanitarian aid, but it is like a plaster on a still-festering wound, because it happens after the damage has been done: it is in no way addressing the crisis.

    I have not seen the international community help Cameroon address the root causes of the conflict. It could help, for instance, by tracing the sale of arms to both sides of the conflict. Our main international partners could also use their influence to pressure the government to move towards actual inclusive dialogue and ensure the adoption of effective solutions to the crisis.


    Civic space in Cameroon is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch withMonique Kwachou through herwebsite and follow @montrelz on Twitter.

     

  • Carta desde la prisión: líder campesino nicaragüense, Medardo Mairena

    El líder campesino Medardo Mairena escribe una carta a los medios de comunicación desde la prisión 

    SOSNicaragua6

    Medardo Mairena Sequeira, es Coordinador del Consejo Nacional de Defensa de la Tierra, el Lago y la Soberanía y miembro de la Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia. Medardo es uno de los líderes del movimiento contra la construcción del Canal en Nicaragua, fue detenido el 13 de julio junto con el líder campesino Pedro Joaquín Mena Amador cuando planeaban abordar un avión a los Estados Unidos para participar en un evento de solidaridad con Nicaragua. Medardo y otros dos líderes campesinos, se enfrentan a cargos falsos que van desde terrorismo, asesinato, secuestros, robo agravado y obstrucción a los servicios públicos.


    Agradezco a Dios y a mi familia, al pueblo de Nicaragua, a los medios de comunicación independiente, a las comisiones de derechos humanos nacional e internacionales, a la Organización de Estados Americanos, al Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas por no dejarnos solo al pueblo de Nicaragua.

    A todos mis amigos, amigas, a todo el pueblo en general, les pido que nos mantengamos unidos en oración en estos momentos difíciles para todos, por los presos políticos, que nos tienen detenidos injustamente solo por pensar diferente. El régimen de Ortega no es más que un cobarde, por eso nos detiene, por alzar nuestras voces por los que no pueden y por los que ya no están con nosotros.

    En el sistema penitenciario, en las cárceles estamos en máxima seguridad, las celdas están en malas condiciones, no hay luz, los servicios higiénicos están dañados, las ventanas que son para que entre aire las han cerrado. Nos tienen como si nos estuviéramos horneando en un horno y aislados de los demás presos. En esta modelo estamos los campesinos, en la 300, conocida como el “infiernillo”. Estamos 20 presos en las mismas condiciones. He estado enfermo igual que otros y no nos permiten que nos revise un médico. Gracias a Dios estoy mejorando, por el poder de Dios. Nada más aquí hay zancudos, cucarachas, alacranes, etc. No nos sacan de las celdas ni a tomar el sol. A mi amigo Pedro Mena le quitaron su tratamiento, ya que él padece de azúcar, de la presión. Él trae su tratamiento en su mochila y se tiene que tomar una pastilla diaria. Nos tratan inhumanamente.

    Insto al pueblo a seguir manifestándose pacíficamente, como siempre lo hemos hecho. Aunque no me vean, mi corazón está con ustedes, en las calles. Porque tenemos que exigir nuestra liberación, porque somos inocentes de lo que nos acusan. El día que sucedieron los hechos en Morito, nosotros estábamos en la marcha en Managua exigiendo que se reanudara el diálogo, ya que es la mejor salida pacífica a la crisis, porque pensamos como personas civilizadas, porque queremos justicia y democratización. No podemos olvidar a los que les arrebató la vida el régimen. Al menos mi familia todavía tiene la esperanza de verme pronto, pero las madres que perdieron a sus hijos no, y no las dejaremos solas.

    Atentamente,

    Medardo.

    Transcripción de la carta original


    CIVICUS ha pedido a las autoridades de Nicaragua que retiren todos los cargos contra Medardo Mairena, Pedro Joaquín Mena y Víctor Manuel Díaz y los liberen en condiciones de seguridad. CIVICUS también pide la liberación de todos los líderes rurales, estudiantes y activistas actualmente detenidos por ejercer su derecho a la protesta.

    Nicaragua ha sido añadida al listado de países del "watchlist" que están sufriendo una alarmante escalada de amenazas contra las libertades fundamentales. Este listado es recopilado por el CIVICUS Monitor, una plataforma online que evalúa las amenazas a las que se enfrenta la sociedad civil por todo el mundo. 

     

     

  • Chad: Stop violence against peaceful protesters and respect democratic rights of Chadians

    Chadian authorities must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protesters and ensure an immediate democratic transition in Chad, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Unrest is likely to continue if the military does not allow for a civilian-led government.  
     
    On 8 May 2021, security forces used violence against peaceful protesters who denounced a military takeover in Chad following the death of long-term President Idriss Déby Itno on 20 April 2021.  
     
    More than 5 people were killed and several others wounded during similar protests held on 27 April. Led by a coalition of civil society groups and members of the political opposition, the protests condemn the continuation of a Chad dynasty after President Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, succeeded his father and appointed a military transitional government.  
     
    “The Chadian military has once again chosen to ignore an opportunity to put in place democratic reforms, reset Chad’s political trajectory and respect constitutional and international human rights obligations.  The military continues a pattern of violence over dialogue and continues to trample on democratic norms,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS  
     
    Background
     
    Ahead of Chad’s recent elections in April 2021, the authorities imposed a ban on peaceful protests to deter members of civil society and the political opposition from protesting President Idriss Déby Itno’s decision to stand for a sixth term in office.  In February 2021, more than 100 people were arrested for protesting and several were later charged with disturbing public order.  President Idriss Déby was killed fighting rebels in April. Since then, civil society and the political opposition have been protesting the Transitional Military Council and calling for a return to civilian rule. 

    Civic space in Chadis rated asRepressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • CHILE: ‘There has been a citizen awakening of historical proportions’

    soledad munozProtests broke out in Chile in October 2019, initially led by students rejecting an increase in the price of transport and quickly escalating into mass demonstrations urging structural change. Protests were repressed with savagery by security forces. CIVICUS speaks about the protests with Soledad Fátima Muñoz, a Chilean activist and the founder of a mentoring programme and feminist festival,Current Symposium. (Photo by Kati Jenson)

    How did something that started with a small increase in the price of the metro ticket become a mobilisation of unprecedented dimensions?

    The first thing to clarify is that this was not caused just by an increase in the price of the metro ticket, nor is it an isolated protest. Mobilisations against the abuses derived from the neoliberal system have been a constant occurrence in Chile over the years. Among these were mass protests against the privatised pension system, against the Trans-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement and against the Fisheries Law, feminist protests and protests by the movement promoted under the slogan ‘Ni Una Menos’ (not one less), mobilisations about the historic debt owed to teachers, the student protests held in 2006 and 2011, and the more recent mobilisations by students against the so-called Safe Classroom Law. On top of this, there’s the outrage caused by systematic state repression of the Indigenous peoples in Wallmapu, the deaths of Camilo Catrillanca and Macarena Valdés, and the imprisonment of Machi Francisca Linconao and Lonko Alberto Curamil, among other political prisoners. Combined with a generation-long dissatisfaction with the impunity granted to those responsible for the tortures, disappearances and killings of thousands of people under the dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, this produced an environment conducive to a citizen awakening of historical proportions. After years of abuse, the Chilean people woke up and want a new constitution, since the current one was drafted under the dictatorship and was designed to promote social inequality.

    The big difference between the current protests and all the previous ones is the response they triggered from the government of President Sebastián Piñera, who declared a state of emergency and a curfew, unleashing a police and military repression against the Chilean people that is only paralleled by the crimes perpetrated during the dictatorship.

    The protests are not being centrally organised and are not guided by a single political motto; there are many independent initiatives calling for people to gather and demonstrate, through social media or through various independent information channels. Some of the most widespread demands call for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Frequently demanded are the nationalisation of basic services and natural resources, including copper, lithium and water. There are also demands for direct democracy and binding referendums, the prosecution of political and economic corruption, respect for Indigenous peoples and plurinational sovereignty, and for health, education and decent pensions. On top of these there are also more specific demands, such as raising the minimum monthly wage to 500,000 Chilean pesos (approx. US$650), reducing legislators’ salaries and raising taxes on the richest.

    These were the reasons why the movement began, but in the face of excessive state repression, citizens are now also demanding the resignation and prosecution of President Piñera and all the people involved in the systematic violations of human rights that have taken place over the past month.

    Twenty deaths have been reported during the repression of the protests, in addition to large numbers of people injured and under arrest. Could you describe the human rights violations committed against protesters?

    It is difficult to estimate right now the human rights violations that are being committed by the Piñera administration, since – as was also the case under the dictatorship – thousands of detainees are being kept incommunicado. That is why, when people are taken away in the streets, they shout out their name, surname and identity card number. The latest official figures from the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) account for 335 legal actions initiated, 489 victims represented, 6,199 people under arrest – 726 of them minors – and 2,365 injured people registered in hospitals. But it is difficult to confirm the veracity of these figures since the institutions that disseminate them may have been pressured by the government.

    The INDH in particular partly lost its credibility when its director denied the existence of systematic human rights violations in our country on an open-air TV programme. That was simply a lie, since the institution itself had submitted complaints in the face of arbitrary actions by the police and the military. More than 200 cases of eye mutilations have happened as a result of the excessive use of pellets by the police, and there have been numerous cases of mistreatment, sexual violence and torture in detention centres. Additionally, there was an instance of repression at a school, Liceo 7 in Santiago, where a carabinero, a member of the military police, fired against students who were inside the building. There have also been raids on private homes and arrests made out of cars without police identification.

    On top of repression by the security forces, there is a group of citizens who call themselves ‘yellow vests’ and say their mission is to maintain civic order and protect the work of the police, but in reality they are a violent far-right group. Among its members is John Cobin, who fired a firearm at a protester in broad daylight on the busy streets of the Reñaca resort. He belongs to the League of the South, a white supremacist organisation from California.

    What immediate actions should the Chilean government take to safeguard civil rights and democratic freedoms?

    A month into the protests, the government has not yet listened to its citizens, and instead has responded with increasing violence. In the early hours of 15 November, lawmakers reached a political agreement behind closed doors, named the ‘Peace Agreement’ which would lead to a new constitution. The agreement guarantees a ‘blank slate’ for free discussion to take place and establishes that the call for a constitutional convention is going to be done through a public referendum. But part of the mobilised citizenry is not satisfied with either the deadlines or the required quorum of two thirds established for decision-making by the constituent body, since they think it will redirect the current democratic process towards a system designed to protect the political class and prevent minority voices from gaining power.

    I think what’s most important at this moment is the security of the citizenry and, above all, of the communities at greatest social risk, which are not only the most affected by the neoliberal system, but are also at the epicentre of the undiscerning violence applied by carabineros and the armed forces. An example of this happened in the community of Lo Hermida, in Peñalolén. After the authorities announced that they would not build the decent homes they had promised, inhabitants occupied the Cousiño-Macul vineyard. `Police repression was not long in coming, and in just one night 200 people were injured, two of them with severe eye trauma. In addition, carabineros broke in and threw pepper gas into homes with older people and minors inside.

    It is time for the Piñera government to stop the repression, release the more than 6,000 protesters who are currently being held in detention centres, take responsibility for the consequences of its actions, and – for the first time in Chilean history since Pinochet – end impunity for the systematic human rights violations that have been committed. The Piñera government must respond before the law for the more than 20 people who have been killed and the 200 that experienced eye mutilations, plus the torture of minors and sexual abuses against women, men and non-binary people, since all of these were consequences of the lousy decisions made by the government, and would have been at least partly avoided if they had maintained a direct dialogue with the public since the beginning. In this regard, the slogan chanted on the streets is: "There is no peace without justice."

    Do you think that the mobilisations in Chile are part of broader regional trends?

    What is happening in Chile is structurally international, since it derives from the austerity measures perpetrated by neoliberalism. Chile’s current socio-economic system is rooted in European colonialism and was enshrined by Pinochet’s coup d'état in 1973. Specifically, it came from a group of students belonging to Chilean elites who studied in the USA in the mid-1950s, where they absorbed the ideology of extreme monetarism and neoliberalism, under the tutelage of Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger. These students – nicknamed the ‘Chicago Boys’ – served as finance and economics ministers under the dictatorship and introduced extreme privatisation measures. These measures were accepted and naturalised by a citizenry that was in a state of shock and repression.

    The consequences of this privatisation translate into abuses perpetrated by multinational corporations that are enabled by governments around the world. In Chile, a good example of this is the case uncovered by journalist Meera Karunananthan in an article published by The Guardian in 2017. The author explains that the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is the largest investor in Aguas del Valle, Essbio and Esval, which control 41 per cent of the water and sanitation system in Chile. This is possible because the constitution allows for the private ownership of water, which has left entire communities in a drought situation and unprotected by the law. However, in 2010 the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution recognising access to water and sanitation as a human right. This means that in Chile human rights are violated not only through police repression but also through the maintenance of an unfair and abusive economic system.

    The example cited above is just one within the great chain of international abuses perpetrated by corporations, including by the Canadian company Barrick Gold and the Norwegian state company Statkraft, which continue to abuse the policies of the Chilean subsidiary state and threaten our planet. That is why we must raise awareness at an international level so that the decisions of the Chilean people are respected and protection is provided to Indigenous peoples, without blockages or political interventions protecting foreign capital and perpetuating the destruction of our environment.

    What support does Chilean civil society need from international civil society in this process?

    At this time, it is important to recognise and create international awareness about the abuses committed against the working class, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities and sexual minorities. I personally have learned a lot in the course of these mobilisations. One of the most subversive things that citizens are doing is rejecting the right/left binarism that has so severely affected Latin American societies and that has been used by neoliberal governments as an excuse to repress working people. The prevalence of citizen politics that do not identify with any dogmatic position on the right/left spectrum meant that the government could not identify an ideological enemy and ended up declaring war on its own people.

    Mainstream national and international media are misrepresenting the facts and building a narrative against the mobilised population. But unlike what happened in the past, we are now equipped with phone cameras and can report directly. I invite people around the world to get informed through independent media and civil society channels to really know what is happening.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Soledad Muñoz through herwebsite or followmúsica_del_telar on Instagram.

     

  • CHILE: ‘There's radical discontent with how the country's been ruled for decades’

    Nicole Romo

    Protests broke out in Chile in October 2019, initially led by students rejecting an increase in the price of transport and quickly escalating into mass demonstrations urging structural change. Protests were repressed with savagery by security forces. CIVICUS speaks about the protests with Nicole Romo, director of the public policy area of ​​the Community of Solidarity Organisations (Comunidad de Organizaciones Solidarias), a network of more than 200 Chilean civil society organisations that work to combat poverty and exclusion. Together, its member organisations work with more than 900,000 people, mobilising around 11,000 staff members and over 17,000 volunteers.

     

    Why did protests break out in Chile, and what made them escalate as they did?

    The social outbreak in Chile came after decades of the promotion of a development model that focused on creating wealth, which for years was distributed with no fairness or justice. Individualistic, short-term and assistance-based social policies that deeply damaged social cohesion and the community and collective sense of wellbeing were implemented. Alongside this there were housing policies that segregated Chileans into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ territories where access to goods and services was distributed in the same way, a pension system that impoverishes senior citizens, lack of access to healthcare in a timely manner and with adequate quality standards, and an education system that also segregates and grants diametrically opposed opportunities to the rich and the poor.

    In this context, the motto ‘it is not about 30 pesos, it is about 30 years’, which was heard a lot during the protests, expresses quite well the feeling that prevailed among the citizenry. Although this social movement began with students massively evading payment of public transportation fares, after a rise of 30 Chilean pesos in the cost of a metro ticket, deep-seated malaise has been accumulating for over 30 years. There have been several protests to advance various social demands over the years, but this profound discontent had never been heard or even made visible. The social eruption of 18 October 2019 was the result of the accumulation of radical discontent with the government and the way the country has been ruled for several decades.

    How have people and civil society organisations reacted to the protests?

    The national state of mobilisation that we are experiencing has clearly shown that two Chiles coexist within the same territory – two Chiles that do not know each other and do not intersect. This division is the brutal expression of the difference in the quality of life between those who have privileges and those who don’t. Our country spent the past few decades convincing itself that achievements are based on individual merit, that each person’s efforts are the only guarantee of social mobility, which in fact, as shown by a variety of studies, is absolutely untrue.

    In the face of this, data from various surveys show a high rate of approval of social demands among citizens. On the other hand, people are more divided when it comes to violence, and especially the forms of violence that have resulted in damage to public and private infrastructure, such as looting, the destruction of stores and the burning of commercial premises and other types of services, as well as regarding violence by state agents, who have been responsible for numerous human rights violations.

    How has the government reacted to the protests?

    The government has handled this conflict in a quite regrettable way, by mainly emphasising its security agenda, criminalising protests and furthering a legislative agenda focused on punishing protesters, which reveals their lack of understanding of the nature of the protests, their demands and their urgency.

    The social agenda proposed by the government is quite weak. It does not seek to make radical changes to existing structures that deepen inequality and does not guarantee the rights of all people. The changes and the contents of the social agenda led by the government are not up to the protesters’ demands and their urgency. Its numerous initiatives and measures involve limited improvements, which are necessary but will not affect the structures that reproduce unfairness in our country; therefore, they only duplicate the same old short-term public policies that are not based on a rights approach and focus on the individual rather than on the needs of the thousands of families in vulnerable conditions.

    The latest reports speak of dozens of people dead and hundreds injured. Could you describe the extent of the repression and human rights violations committed during the protests?

    Since the protests broke out in Chile, numerous human rights violations have been committed by state security agents. These violations have been denounced by national and international organisations, but the state has tended to downplay them.

    It is essential for us to reiterate that at all times unrestricted respect for human rights must prevail, and that each case of violation must be investigated, resulting in punishment for the perpetrators and reparation for the victims. Civil society is key in monitoring and watching over these processes, to ensure that they remain transparent and foster accountability of the state.

    Data from the National Institute of Human Rights indicate that in 48 per cent of the observed cases of detention, detainees were protesting peacefully, regardless of whether or not they were occupying roads. Likewise, gases were used indiscriminately in 56 per cent of recorded cases, and in 60 per cent of the cases observed, force was not used in a graduated way, and was instead applied without prior notice and in the absence of any kind of dialogue. There were 2,727 documented cases of injured adults who were treated in hospitals, as well as 211 children and adolescents, and 241 people with eye injuries. There was also a series of human rights violations against people detained and held in police stations. The most frequent of these was the excessive use of force during detention, with 751 cases. Overall, 190 cases of sexual harassment or sexual violence were recorded, 171 of them being cases in which detainees were stripped naked.

    How have people and civil society organisations responded to the state repression and rights violations that occurred during the protests?

    We have responded without fear. Entire cities have shouted fearlessly in protest at the human rights violations that occurred during the past months. Many people have compiled testimonial material to make visible the level of exposure and violence they experienced during the protests.

    From civil society organisations the responses have been diverse, but generally speaking all organisations have called for non-violence and the establishment of new spaces for dialogue leading to the strengthening of a society based on social justice and fairness. Without a doubt, civil society organisations have played a prominent role, promoting the establishment of meeting spaces and helping present the demands of the citizenry. This was done through the creation of a large network of networks called the New Social Pact, which brings together more than 600 civil society organisations that have worked tirelessly to search for real solutions to substantial demands.

    The Community of Solidarity Organisations supports the principle of nonviolence and since day one of the protests we voiced the need for unrestricted respect for human rights. Even if it is not our field of work, we believe that this outbreak revealed how urgent it is to restructure the police forces. We faithfully believe in the data published by the National Institute of Human Rights, and we know that their work is conscious and rigorous, as is the report delivered by Amnesty International, so as civil society we will support from our field of work all actions aimed at bringing reparation for the rights violated during the protests.

    What immediate measures should the Chilean government take to overcome this crisis? What are the chances of this happening and a lasting solution being reached?

    A lasting solution would require a long process of construction and change including short-term, medium-term and long-term measures.

    The short-term and medium-term measures are related to the social agenda, which has three dimensions. The first consists in improving the quality of life through measures on issues such as health, education and pensions. The second dimension includes measures to end abuses by economic and political elites and close the gaps in justice administration between cases involving members of the economic elite and ordinary citizens, who face completely different sanctions for committing crimes: ‘ethics classes’ for the former and effective jail terms for the latter. The third dimension involves raising the resources that the state needs to implement a deep and powerful social agenda. Chile requires a tax reform to increase revenue and needs a much more efficient tax management system.

    The long-term axis refers to a constituent process whose main milestones have already been established: an initial referendum, the election of representatives and a ratification referendum. However, conditions guaranteeing participation by a cross section of people, equitable representation, gender parity, minority quotas and independent candidacies have not yet been achieved. Without these conditions in place, the legitimacy of the constitutional process will severely weaken.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Comunidad de Organizaciones Solidarias through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@ComunidadOrgSol and@nromo_flores on Twitter.

     

  • Citizens’ Freedoms in Chains in Zambia?

    Guest article by McDonald Chipenzi

     

  • Civic Space and the World Cup

    Football is the world’s most popular sport, played on all continents, by girls and boys and women and men of all ages. For many, it is an invaluable outlet for expression, for joining together with others and for collectively enjoying the outdoors. Even in the world’s most repressive countries, football is a thriving sport. However, for people who also want to express themselves, assemble and associate in other ways, or promote causes or ideas with which the authorities in their country disagree, the world is not such a welcoming place. These graphics show how teams competing at the FIFA World Cup in Russia fare when assessed on their respect for the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. On this evidence, minnows Iceland come out on top, while favorites Brazil languish near the bottom. The graph below also shows that there are several countries - including Russia, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabi - which implement widespread or systematic repression of their citizens are taking part in this year's tournament.

    See how the 32 competing countries compare by visiting the World Cup section of the CIVICUS Monitor, which is an online research tool that tracks and rates civic space scores across all countries.

    Loading...

    Loading...

     

  • Civic space in Tunisia: international dynamics don’t always help

    Guest article by Amine Ghali

     

  • Civic space is shrinking, yet civil society is not the enemy

    By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN member states in 2015, represent an ambitious, but achievable, agenda to make the world better. Importantly, they are a reminder that world leaders have agreed on common goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. In a remarkable shift in international public policy, they have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ in this effort, thereby committing themselves not just to work together, but also to work for the benefit of all people irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

    The values that underpin our ability to generate an internationally co-ordinated response to the sustainable development challenge are, however, increasingly being questioned, undermined and even overruled by leaders who promote narrow, self-serving interpretations of national interest. Report after report from civil society organisations across the globe highlight what we have called in our State of Civil Society report this year a trend towards “presidential sovereignty” that aims to undermine or override the mandate of constitutions, national rights preserving institutions and international agreements.

    Read on: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

     

  • CIVICUS at the 2019 High Level Political Forum 

    Without civil society, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would not be possible. Civil society not only actively contributes to achieving each of the goals, they are also actively monitoring and reviewing governments commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That’s why every July thousands of civil society representatives from around the world attend the High Level Political Forum in New York. 

    When: Tuesday 9 July to Thursday 18 July 2019 
    Where: New York 
    What: The theme of the 2019 High Level Political Forum is "Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality" 
     
    Six of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will be under review in 2019. 
    They are:  
    • Goal 4: Inclusive and equitable education 
    • Goal 8: Decent work for all 
    • Goal 10: Reduce inequality 
    • Goal 13: Urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
    • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies
    • Goal 17: Global Partnerships

    47 countries will present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) in 2019. CIVICUS members and other civil society will also contribute to review the Sustainable Development Goals by sharing their own findings, and by monitoring and reviewing governments commitments. CIVICUS also continues to actively advocate for increased formal recognition of the vital role of civil society in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, including through compelling civil society reports. 

    Read the joint civil society statement endorsed by over 250 organisations from 27 countries calling for governments to make civil society equitable partners in the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

    CIVICUS EVENTS 

    CIVICUS is co-organising the following events during HLPF 2019: 

    When: Thursday 11 July, 10 AM to 1 PM EST 
    Where: UNHQ Conference room 5 
    Co-sponsors: Amnesty International, Action for Sustainable Development, CBM International, CIVICUS, Gallaudet University, International Civil Society Centre, Institute for Development Studies, International Movement ATD Fourth World, Oxford University, Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities 
    What: A practical workshop featuring national examples of creating a more inclusive approach to reviewing the Sustainable Development Goals.
    A UN pass is required to attend this event. 
     
    When: Friday 12 July, 1:00 to 3:00 PM EST 
    Where: Ford Foundation 
    Co-sponsors: CIVICUS, Article 19, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD), Oxfam, Action Aid, Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), Government of Finland, UN OHCHR. 
    What:Who are the people who are making our world more sustainable, just and inclusive and how can we ensure that they are protected and empowered by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? 
    This event will be livestreamed on the CIVICUS Facebook page
    Please RSVP here by 11 July: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NNBX2SB. No UN pass necessary.
     
    When: Monday 15 July, 1:15 to 2:30 PM EST 
    Where: Conference Room B, UNHQ 
    Co-sponsors: World Resources Institute, UN ECLAC, Government of Costa Rica, The Access Initiative, Namati, DAR, CIVICUS 
    What? Escazu Agreement Side Event 
    This event will be livestreamed on the CIVICUS Facebook page
    A UN pass is required to attend this event. For more information please contact: Natalia Gomez Pena
     

    ACTION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

    CIVICUS also supports civil society participation in the Sustainable Development Goals through our membership of the global network, Action for Sustainable Development. Overview of these additional events:

    When: Thursday11 July, 1:15 to 2:45 PM EST 
    Where: UN Conference Room 1 --- requires UN ground pass
    Co-sponsors: Action for Sustainable Development, TAP Network, Forus 
    A UN pass is required to attend this event. 
     
    When: Saturday 13 July, 9:00 to 3:00 PM EST 
    Where: UN Church Center
    Co-sponsors: Action for Sustainable Development
     
    When: Wednesday 17 July, 2:00 to 4:00 PM EST 
    Where: Ford Foundation
    Co-sponsors: Action for Sustainable Development, Forus, TAP Network, the Asia CSO Partnership for Sustainable Development and others
     

    SOCIAL MEDIA

    You can follow the developments at the HLPF by following #SDGs #HLPF #HLPF2019 and @Action4SD on Twitter. 

    SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 16 AND 17

    CIVICUS members and civil society contribute to all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals but we carefully follow Goals 16 and 17 in particular because these specifically relate to civil society’s important role in sustainable development. 

    The below infographic provides a helpful snapshot of how the 47 countries under review at this year’s High Level Political Forum are doing on SDG 16.10 according to data from the CIVICUS Monitor. 

    CIVICUS is also closely monitoring: 

    SDG Target 16.7. Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels 

    SDG Target 16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms 

    SDG Target 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships 

    CIVICUS is also a signatory to the May 2019 Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG16+

    READ MORE

    Why civic action and participation is vital for achieving the sustainable development goals, by Lysa John. https://oecd-development-matters.org/2019/06/18/civic-space-is-shrinking-yet-civil-society-is-not-the-enemy/ 

    Report: The linkages between the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UN Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx  

    How Civil Society’s Contributions to Sustainable Development are Undermined at the HLPF, by Lyndal Rowlands https://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/unanswered-questions-how-civil-societys-contributions-to-sustainable-development-are-undermined-at-the-hlpf/ 

     

  • CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will be dominated by the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
     
    To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
     
    On the agenda this session of Interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

    Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and
    Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

    Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
    • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
    • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

    Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders,Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

    The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
    • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
    • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

    Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

    The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
    • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
    • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
    • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

     

  • CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will commence with the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
     
    To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
     
    Of interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

    Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

    Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
    • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
    • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

    Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders,Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

    The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
    • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
    • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

    Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

    The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
    • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
    • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
    • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

    Thursday, 15 March 15:00-16:00 (Room XXII) | The Link Between the Deterioration of Human Rights in Egypt and the Massive Violations in the Gulf States | Gulf Center for Human Rights | International Federation for Human Rights | OMCT | International Service for Human Rights | CPJ | ALQST | CIVICUS | CPJ

    A look at the middle east governments' coordinated efforts to target human rights defenders and journalists across the region. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS:

    • Yahya Al-Assiri, Director of ALQST for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
    • Justin Shilad, Committee to Protect Journalists
    • Nardine Al-Nemr, Academic & Activists from Egypt
    • Sara Brandt, Advocacy & Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS

     

  • CIVICUS concerned about repressive wave in Cuba

    Spanish

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is deeply worried about rising repression in Cuba. Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the expectations generated by the possibility of an imminent lifting of sanctions, Cuban journalists and civil society activists and their organisations are facing a serious clampdown for exercising their rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly.

    “As activists attempt to reclaim public space following recent political developments, short-term detentions have been on the rise as a way to discourage acts of democratic dissent,” said Inés Pousadela, policy and research officer with CIVICUS. “In addition to high-profile activists and protest-oriented organisations who have been traditionally targeted, groups engaged in research, monitoring and providing information to citizens have also faced increased government repression.”
     
    In October, several journalists were victims of raids on their homes and subjected to verbal threats, physical violence and the confiscation of equipment in clear acts of intimidation intended to stop them from doing their work. The Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) denounced a wave of repression directed against nine independent journalists for cooperating with the organisation. A group of journalists of the new independent media project Periodismo de Barriowere detained for reporting on the effects of Hurricane Matthew without a permit.
     
    In September, the offices of the Center of Legal Information (Cubalex), which provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and reports on human rights issues, were raided. Police sought to justify breaking into Cubalex’s offices, intimidating its staff and confiscating paperwork and equipment on the grounds that its lawyers were carrying out “illicit economic activity” even though Cubalex does not charge for its services. The organisation’s application for legal status has been rejected by the Cuban Justice Ministry and its Director, Laritza Diversent has repeatedly faced harassment for engaging with regional and international human rights bodies.
     
    CIVICUS calls on the Cuban government to enable the exercise of civic freedoms to speak up, organise and petition the authorities. Accordingly, we urge Cuban authorities to (i) cease the harassment of activists and journalists carrying out their regular legitimate activities, (ii) begin a process of dialogue to create a more enabling environment for civil society and the independent media, and (iii) initiate reforms to give legal recognition to a wider plurality of civil society endeavours.
     
    Cuba is listed in the ‘closed’ category of the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • CIVICUS Joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    Submissions on civil society space– Afghanistan, Chile, Eritrea, Macedonia, Vietnam & Yemen

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on six countries in advance of the 32nd UPR session in January 2019. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

    Afghanistan: CIVICUS, Afghanistan Human Rights Organization (AHRO), Civil Society and Human Rights Network and People’s Action for Change Organization explore the continued insecurity in Afghanistan, which has resulted in the closure of space for civil society, including through targeted attacks on humanitarian workers, protesters and journalists. We further discuss violence against women and the desperate situation faced by women HRDs in Afghanistan who are subjected to a heightened level of persecution because of their gender and their human rights activism.

    Chile: CIVICUS and Pro Acceso Foundation (Fundación Pro Acceso) highlight serious concerns regarding the persistent misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law to silence members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land rights. We are also concerned by the lack of government commitment to amend legislation regulating the right to peaceful assembly and by the violent suppression of social protests, especially those led by the student movement and indigenous communities. 

    Eritrea: CIVICUS, EMDHR and Eritrea Focus highlight the complete closure of the space for civil society in Eritrea to assemble, associate and express themselves. We note that there are no independent civil society organisations and private media in the country. We further discuss how the government selectively engages with international human rights mechanisms including UN Special Procedures. 

    Macedonia: CIVICUS, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network and the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation outline serious concerns over the institutional harassment of NGOs in receipt of foreign funding since 2016. Despite a recent improvement in respect for civic freedoms, the submission discusses several restrictions on investigative journalists and media outlets. We also remain alarmed over smear campaigns against human rights defenders and critics of the government orchestrated by nationalist groups. 

    Vietnam: CIVICUS, Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), VOICE and VOICE Vietnam examine systematic attempts in Vietnam to silence HRDs and bloggers, including through vague national security laws, physical attacks, restrictions on their freedom of movement and torture and ill-treatment in detention. The submission also explores strict controls on the media in law and in practice, online censorship and the brutal suppression of peaceful protests by the authorities.

    Yemen: CIVICUS, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Front Line Defenders discuss the ongoing extreme violence against and HRDs and journalists including regular abductions, kidnappings and detention in undisclosed location. We further examine restrictions on freedom of association including raids on CSOs causing many to reduce their activities drastically and even closed entirely. 

    See full library of previous UPR country submissions from CIVICUS and partners. For the latest news on civic space in all UN Member States, see country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor