• Alarming trends facing protest movements


    40th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Statement delivered during General Debate (Monday 11 March)

    CIVICUS is deeply alarmed that protest movements find themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights. Across the world, protest movements are being met by campaigns of violence and aggression from states that are increasingly brazen about defying global human rights commitments.

    At a time when many hard-won gains are being directly threatened by state and non-state actors, we urge the states present here today to recall that it was people organising in protest and civil disobedience who rolled back slavery, overturned colonial and racist systems of governance, and fought for women’s rights.

    Today, these struggles persist. Yet governments are increasingly responding to legitimate demands of protesters and their movements with absolute intolerance, including extra-judicial killings and torture. 

    CIVICUS echoes the concerns raised by the High Commissioner regarding the brutal crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe, where scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and children as young as 12 arrested, as well as the systemic campaign of brutality deployed against peaceful protesters in Sudan. 

    We ask all states present here today: what measures will you take to ensure that emerging protest movements from Serbia to Algeria to Malawi are nurtured rather than repressed?


  • Attacks on Media in the Balkans Sound Alarm Bells for Democracy

    By Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva, CIVICUS 

    This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)
    Anti-government protesters invading Serbia’s state-owned television station, demanding that their voices be heard. Journalism bodies writing to the Albanian prime minister over plans to censor online media outlets. A Belgrade corruption-busting reporter forced to flee his house that had been torched; a Montenegrin investigative journalist shot in the leg outside her home.


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  • CIVICUS Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Submissions on Civil Society Space

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 5 countries in advance of the 29th UPR session in January 2018. 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.  

    Countries Examined: Burundi, France, Israel, Serbia, and the UAE 

    Burundi: CIVICUS, APRODH, LigueITEKA, DefendDefenders and FIDH examine the failure of the Government of Burundi to implement the vast majority of recommendations it accepted and noted during Burundi’s previous UPR cycle. In the submission, we highlight the restrictions on fundamental freedoms, the targeting of human rights defenders and Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with international human rights institutions and mechanisms. We further examine the high levels of impunity enjoyed by government officials, members of the security forces and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure. 

    France: While France has faced serious terrorist threats since its last UPR review, measures taken to protect the public from attacks have had negative consequences for the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. In its submission to Frances third UPR review, CIVICUS outlines a series of concerns related to France’s decision to repeatedly extend its state of emergency, which has expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance of security forces without adequate judicial oversight and without due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms. 

    Israel: CIVICUS, PNGO and ANND raise concern over ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since Israel’s previous UPR examination. Worryingly, the authorities continue to subvert the right to freedom of expression through the criminalization of dissent online. Human rights defenders and peaceful protesters also routinely face arbitrary arrest and are held in administrative detention to suppress their legitimate work.

    Serbia: CIVICUS, the Human Rights House Belgrade (Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and Human Rights House Foundation document the continued intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. Additionally, we assess how vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets is undermining the work of civil society.

    United Arab Emirates: In its joint UPR submission, CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the International Service for Human Rights examine the continued suppression of fundamental democratic freedoms in the United Arab Emirates. This report explores the ongoing systematic campaign to persecute human rights defenders through arbitrary arrests, torture, deportation and the continued use of draconian legislation to restrict freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.


  • El poder de la unión durante la ICSW 2019

    Para aquellos de nosotros que estuvimos en Belgrado hace unas semanas es difícil pensar en el mes de abril y no recordarlo como la culminación de meses de preparación para la Semana Internacional de la Sociedad Civil. Bajo el lema El poder de la unión, la ICSW reunió a más de 700 delegados internacionales de 92 países del 8 al 12 de abril para que participaran en coloquios y acciones organizadas por los 42 socios del evento. Las actividades sobre el terreno se vieron acompañados por un torrente de comentarios en los medios de comunicación y en Internet, para así promover ciertos temas fuera del evento y en todo el mundo.


  • Five countries added to watchlist of countries where civic freedoms are under serious threat


    • Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela join global watchlist
    • Escalating rights violations include killings, attacks on protesters, media restrictions and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders
    • International community must pressure governments to end repression

    Five countries from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela.

    Activists and civil society organisations in these countries are experiencing an infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law. These violations include the use of excessive force by security forces during peaceful protests and journalists being arbitrarily detained and harrassed in both Sudan and Venezuela. In Serbia, space for independent media is under concerted attack while massive anti-government demonstrations are taking place. In Saudi Arabia, authorities continue the crackdown on women human rights defenders, who are being subject to arbitrary detentions and ill treatment for their activism on gender issues. While, in Afghanistan, there has been a record high number of civilian casualties (3,800 in 2018). The upcoming July presidential elections pose additional security risks and a threat to shrinking civic space, as over 400 civilians and voters were killed or injured (including eight candidates), during last October’s parliamentary elections.

    “It is deeply concerning to see escalated threats to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “It is critical that these five governments wake up to their failure to respect international law and take swift action to respect their citizens’ most basic freedoms in a democratic society and create an enabling environment for civil society organisations” Belalba said. “We also call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression and ensure positive steps are taken to guarantee the safe space for civil society to continue their legitimate work”

    Large-scale anti-government demonstrations have been ongoing across Sudan since 19th December 2018 calling for President Omar Al-Bashir to step down in the context of a growing frustration over the harsh economic and social situation. In response, the authorities have launched a violent campaign targeting protesters, including doctors, teachers, journalists, women activists and opposition political leaders. With the declaration of a state of emergency, civic space restrictions continue to increase with hundreds of protesters on trial and dozens sentenced in summary trials on charges of participating in demonstrations.

    Serbia has witnessed sustained protest since December 2018. Protests started after an opposition politician was assaulted by unknown assailants wielding metal rods. For the most part, authorities in Serbia have largely ignored or attempted to downplay the scale of the protests. However on 17th March 2019 after 14 consecutive weeks of demonstrations, police in Belgrade used excessive force to disperse protesters that were calling for greater press freedom and fair elections. After encircling the Presidential building, clashes between protesters and police broke out, leading to the use of tear gas by Serbian authorities. Ten people were arrested in the confrontation. The government has also orchestrated a smear campaign against protesters  labelling opponents of the government as “paid” activists working against Serbian interests.

    Despite claims that the Saudi Arabian government is leading reforms to improve the situation of women in the country, Saudi authorities continue to persecute women activists. Since the crackdown began in May 2018, at least 22 women human rights defenders have been arrested and subjected to human rights violations because of their activism on gender issues. Reports indicate that several detained rights defenders have been subjected to torture including sexual assault and harassment.

    In Venezuela, since January 2019, massive anti-government protests have continued to take place in the country. The government has responded by using excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily detaining protestors, including teenagers, as well as detaining and harassing human rights defenders and journalists. Just between 21 and 25 January, at least 41 people died in circumstances linked to the protests,and more than 900 people were arbitrarily detained. For years, protesters in Venezuela have been met with excessive force by authorities, as people take to the streets to demand a change in government, the pattern of repression will likely intensify. Human rights organisations working to deliver humanitarian aid are especially targeted with harassment, and in some cases, their offices have been raided. It is estimated that more than three million venezuelans have fled the country due to the humanitarian crisis and denial of basic rights such as health and food.

    Since the beginning of 2019, at least three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. The country was the world's deadliest for journalists in 2018 with 13 reporters and 2 other media professionals killed. Citizens risk being killed and attacked for participating in government elections and civil society is currently excluded from peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States (U.S.), and parallel peace talks in Moscow. Women’s groups and persecuted communities are campaigning to have their voices heard in the peace process, and to ensure that any agreement guarantees human rights and democratic freedoms.

    In the coming weeks, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

    See full CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist Summary

    For more information and to speak with regional and country specific contacts, please message:

    Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead


  • ICSW 2019, New Board, Opportunities: Updates from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG



    For those of us who were in Belgrade a few weeks ago, it is hard to think of April as anything but the culmination of months of preparation towards the International Civil Society Week (ICSW). Themed around the ‘Power of Togetherness’, the ICSW brought together over 700 international delegates from 92 countries to engage with dialogues and actions organised by 42 event partners across 8-12 April. Events on the ground were accompanied a stream of media and online commentary aimed at profiling relevant issues beyond the event.


  • International Civil Society Week closes with #FreedomRunner launch


    Belgrade, Serbia –More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries were seen running through the streets of Serbia today – literally.

    The #FreedomRunner event, held at the close of International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019, a week-long global civil society gathering, kicked off a global campaign calling on people around the world to run in the name of human rights defenders who are currently jailed, being persecuted, or at risk for their work.

    Throughout the ICSW 2019forum, it was evident that individuals and organisations are increasingly under attack in many countries. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are often persecuted, and a historic, unprecedented rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms and sow division in many countries.

    But brave women and men across the globe are refusing to be silenced.

    “In every country, and often in the face of serious risks, people are standing up for their rights. Those of us with the freedom to do so need to stand - or even run - alongside them,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

    The Freedom Runner campaign will be launched together with the Belgrade Marathon, a major annual event on the city’s calendar, on Sunday, April, 14.

    “We are dedicating the first run within this global movement to the Marija Lukic, a Serbian survivor of sexual violence, who is still fighting her struggle for her rights on behalf of all of us,” said Maja Stojanovic, Executive Director of ICSW co-host Civic Initiatives, an association of Serbian civil society organisations.

    “The connections that will be made among freedom runners all around the world is a powerful tool for creating more just, inclusive societies,” said Stojanovic.

    Over the coming year, runners will sign up to an online platform to track their collective runs, until they have run around the world – with some 40,075 km of running logged in the name of freedom - to arrive “back” in Belgrade.

    “Running today is our way of showing how powerful we can be when we work together,” said John.

    “We hope that people around the world will join us by running in their own cities and countries, so that we keep the spotlight shining on those whose basic freedoms are at risk.”

    Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW brought together more than 900 delegates. This was the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, that CIVICUS hosted its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people.

    This year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, set out to explore how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.

    Sign up here to become a #FreedomRunner.



    Based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor - a global research collaboration - just 4% of the world’s population live in countries where governments are properly respecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    Find an album of photographs of the #FreedomRunner event here. They are free to publish. However please credit CIVICUS.


    For more information, or to arrange interviews, please email: or contact:

    Grant Clark, Senior Media Advisor, CIVICUS


    Mobile/Whatsapp: +27 63 567 9719


    Teodora Zahirovic, PR Manager, Civic Initiatives


    Mobile/Whatsapp: +381 60 3624 001


  • La sociedad civil internacional se reunirá en los Balcanes con el objetivo de fortalecer «el poder de la unión».

    • La Semana Internacional de la Sociedad Civil 2019 –ICSW, por sus siglas en inglés– reunirá en Belgrado, Serbia, a más de setecientos líderes de la sociedad civil, activistas y ciudadanos interesados de diferentes sectores y regiones en torno a varios temas con el fin abordar los desafíos mundiales más acuciantes en el ámbito de los derechos humanos, la democracia y el desarrollo internacional.
    • Por primera vez en casi un cuarto de siglo de ediciones internacionales, este evento se realizará en los Balcanes, una región idónea para explorar la necesidad de unidad y el poder de la acción colectiva.
    • La ICSW contará con al menos treinta sesiones clave y eventos asociados que abordarán una serie de cuestiones decisivas: desde la ayuda de emergencia a las ONG objeto de ataques, pasando por la reducción de las libertades de los medios de comunicación, hasta una mayor rendición de cuentas en el seno de la sociedad civil.

    Belgrado, Serbia — En todo el mundo las organizaciones de derechos humanos sufren cada vez más los ataques de los gobiernos. Los activistas, periodistas y demás personas que se pronuncian contra las crecientes restricciones son perseguidos. Un auge histórico de líderes populistas continúa erosionando las libertades fundamentales, intensificando la polarización política y sembrando la división.

    Estamos inmersos en un mar de amenazas internacionales sin precedentes a las cuales la sociedad civil y los ciudadanos de todo el mundo ya han empezado a responder con una renovada determinación.

    En este contexto se han abierto las inscripciones para la Semana Internacional de la Sociedad Civil 2019 –ICSW, por sus siglas en inglés–, un evento internacional que se desarrollará del 8 al 12 de abril en Belgrado, Serbia, en el que participarán más de setecientos líderes de la sociedad civil de diferentes sectores y regiones, y que abordará distintos temas. Los delegados compartirán ideas y propondrán soluciones comunes para algunos de los desafíos más acuciantes en el ámbito de los derechos humanos, la democracia y el desarrollo internacional, y explorarán cómo liberar el poder de la acción colectiva para defender las libertades democráticas en todo el mundo.

    La organización de este evento es fruto de trabajo conjunto de la alianza mundial de la sociedad civil, CIVICUS, y de la asociación serbia de la sociedad civil, Civic Initiatives, y cuenta con el apoyo de la Balkans Civil Society Development Network. El programa de la ICSW cuenta con al menos treinta sesiones que abordarán temas que van desde la represión de la libertad de los medios de comunicación y las ayudas de emergencia a las ONG objeto de ataques, hasta la rendición de cuentas dentro de la sociedad civil. Esta sesiones estarán acompañadas por una gran variedad de actividades organizadas por nuestros socios y de discursos clave a cargo de oradores de alto nivel. Gracias a la fuerza de su alianza compuesta por más de 7 000 miembros de 175 países y a su presencia regional, CIVICUS y Civic Initiatives han logrado la implicación de más de treinta socios para la organización del evento, así como la participación una serie de oradores inspiradores de alto nivel que compartirán sus experiencias y conocimientos con los delegados.

    En un país tras otro, la democracia está siendo objeto de ataques y los movimientos populistas y de derecha siguen ganando terreno; incluso en países considerados históricamente como bastiones de la democracia se observa una regresión democrática.

    Según CIVICUS Monitor, una plataforma en línea que rastrea las amenazas que pesan sobre la sociedad civil en todos los países, solo el 4 % de la población mundial vive en lugares donde se respetan y protegen adecuadamente sus derechos a la libertad de expresión, asociación y reunión.

    «Pese a esto, la sociedad civil está luchando y buscando formas nuevas e innovadoras para organizarse y actuar. Vemos como se forjan nuevas alianzas, así como una creciente apertura a la construcción de coaliciones: activistas que trabajan por diferentes causas y en distintas comunidades se unen para luchar por cuestiones comunes», afirmó Lysa John, secretaria general de CIVICUS.

    «El evento de este año en Serbia se produce en un momento crucial y oportuno para que la sociedad civil y los ciudadanos del mundo se den cuenta del poder de las acciones conjuntas y colectivas para desafiar una tendencia mundial que amenaza nuestras libertades fundamentales», declaró John.

    El tema de este año, El poder de la unión, explora cómo las personas y las organizaciones de todo el mundo pueden trabajar juntas y cómo están ya haciéndolo con el fin de favorecer y defender espacios para la acción cívica en un mundo en el que las transformaciones globales están reconfigurando el funcionamiento de la sociedad civil.

    Por primera vez en casi un cuarto de siglo de ediciones internacionales, el evento estrella de CIVICUS se desarrollará en los Balcanes, una región compuesta por once países y hogar de 55 millones de personas. La ciudad anfitriona será Belgrado, una de las más antiguas de Europa con sus 7 000 años historia. En ella se refleja su complejo pasado nacional y regional haciendo de esta urbe un lugar idóneo para explorar la necesidad de unidad y el poder de la acción colectiva.

    «A lo largo de su historia, Serbia ha alternado entre regímenes autoritarios y democracios», indicó Maja Stojanovic de Civic Initiatives.

    «Durante los años noventa se produjeron conflictos, graves violaciones de los derechos humanos y el genocidio. Hoy, a medida que nos acercamos a la adhesión a la Unión Europea, los mecanismos de supervisión independientes nacionales e internacionales muestran una reducción de las libertades de los medios de comunicación, una falta de separación de poderes, el menoscabo del estado de derecho y un deterioro de la libertad de voto», expresó Stojanovic.

    «Esta región, y Serbia en particular, demuestra que el cambio de leyes, estrategias o gobiernos no ofrece garantías: la democracia no existe sin un trabajo de construcción constante. El evento de este año lo celebraremos en Belgrado con el objetivo de reunirnos, de enviar mensajes arraigados en el contexto local y de reflejar plenamente los desafíos mundiales».

    El evento comenzará con una Asamblea de la Juventud de dos días en la ciudad serbia de Novi Sad, Capital Europea de la Juventud 2019 y acogerá a más de cien jóvenes activistas de todo el mundo. Esta asamblea ofrecerá a los delegados la oportunidad de relacionarse con sus pares internacionales, examinar y tomar medidas respecto a algunos de los principales desafíos a los que enfrentan los jóvenes de la sociedad civil en la actualidad.

    Entre los oradores de ediciones pasadas de la ICSW se hallan reconocidos e influyentes pensadores, como los ganadores del Premio Nobel de la Paz Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu y Ali Zeddini; así como los ex primeros ministros de Nueva Zelanda y Grecia, Helen Clark y George Papandreou.



    Para más información, escríbanos a .


    Los organizadores de la ICSW 2019 son CIVICUS y Civic Initiatives (CI).

    CIVICUS es una alianza mundial de organizaciones de la sociedad civil y de activistas dedicados a fortalecer la acción ciudadana y la sociedad civil en todo el mundo. Desde su fundación en 1993, CIVICUS se esfuerza por hacer oír la voz de grupos marginados, en especial la de aquellos pertenecientes al hemisferio sur, y hoy cuenta con miembros en más de 145 países de todo el mundo.

    Civic Initiatives fue fundada en mayo de 1996 por un grupo de destacados activistas pertenecientes a ONG que habían participado en el movimiento contra la guerra y en la oposición democrática no nacionalista desde 1990. Desde entonces, Civic Initiatives ha respondido a la necesidad de crear una base cívica que sostenga los valores democráticos apoyando el activismo ciudadano y abogando por un mejor marco jurídico para la participación cívica.

    Preguntas frecuentes sobre la ICSW 2019

    ¿Qué es la Semana Internacional de la Sociedad Civil 2019?

    La Semana Internacional de la Sociedad Civil (ICSW), que se celebrará del 8 al 12 de abril de 2019, es una reunión mundial clave para que la sociedad civil y otras partes interesadas participen de manera constructiva en la búsqueda de soluciones comunes para los desafíos globales. Por primera vez en más de veinte años de ediciones internacionales, CIVICUS, en asociación con Civic Initiatives (CI), celebrará su evento estrella en la región de los Balcanes.

    ¿Cuáles son los temas clave para 2019?

    El programa de la ICSW 2019 se centrará en tres temas interrelacionados con el fin de que los delegados puedan trabajar juntos para:

    • entender y conectar con los ciudadanos y los movimientos populares que se están produciendo en las calles y en todo el mundo (tema STREETS);
    • construir puentes que fortalezcan alianzas, creen solidaridad y faciliten la acción colectiva en todas las cuestiones (tema BRIDGES);
    • e identificar los pasos necesarios para construir y mantener el impacto colectivo, y conectar los esfuerzos locales a los internacionales (tema STAIRS).

    ¿Quién asistirá?

    Más de setecientos delegados de todo el mundo participarán en la ICSW 2019. Entre ellos figurarán dirigentes de la sociedad civil, activistas, representantes de órganos intergubernamentales, de gobiernos y de los medios de comunicación.

    ¿Por qué se celebra en Serbia?

    Serbia y los Balcanes Occidentales tienen marcos jurídicos sólidos que han de garantizar los derechos básicos de sus ciudadanos. Sin embargo, desde los años noventa los regímenes dictatoriales y la reducción de los derechos básicos han hecho que estas garantías solo lo sean en el papel. De hecho, esa misma década fue testigo de conflictos, de graves violaciones de los derechos humanos y del genocidio. Hoy los mecanismos de supervisión independientes nacionales e internacionales muestran una reducción de las libertades de los medios de comunicación, una falta de separación de poderes, el menoscabo del estado de derecho y un deterioro de la libertad de voto. Decidimos organizar la ICSW 2019 en Serbia con el objetivo de poner en relieve el trabajo de la comunidad de la sociedad civil de los Balcanes para abordar los desafíos actuales a los que se enfrenta la región y para encontrar formas de colaborar y apoyar su trabajo mediante la construcción de alianzas entre la sociedad civil local y la sociedad civil internacional.


  • Resilience in times of shrinking civic space: How Resilient Roots organisations are attempting to strengthen their roots through primary constituent accountability

    Soulayma Mardam Bey (CIVICUS) and Isabelle Büchner (Accountable Now)

    The systematic crackdown on peaceful protests and demonstrations across the world has shaped our understanding of repression against civil society organisations (CSOs). Yet, less-spectacular restrictions such as increased bureaucratic requirements imposed by governments are not necessarily less threatening to CSO resilience.

    While those tactics significantly hamper CSOs’ ability to operate and can reduce primary constituents' trust in CSOs' ability to represent them legitimately, we also need to acknowledge that these symptoms can stem from our own inappropriate approaches to accountability. When CSOs are not accountable to their roots, this can serve as a breeding ground for governments’ and other non-state actors’ anti-CSOs strategies and rhetoric.  

    The Resilient Roots initiative is aiming to test whether CSOs who are more accountable and responsive to their primary constituents are more resilient against threats to their civic space. 15 organisations from diverse countries and contexts have partnered with us to design and rollout innovative accountability experiments over a 12 month period. These experiments will explore how public support and trust in CSOs can be improved through practising what we call primary constituent accountability, which aims to establish a meaningful dialogue with those groups that organisations exist to support, and increase their engagement in CSO decision-making.

    Accountability and resilience are both highly context-specific and vary not just from country to country but also along an organisation’s thematic focus, size and approach. This means that we need to explore the relationship between accountability and resilience on a case by case basis and across a variety of very different contexts. Keeping this in mind - and without further adieu - read on to meet the some of Resilient Roots Accountability Pilot Project organisations:

    One of these organisations is the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) from Zimbabwe. In the rural area of Dora, in the district of Mutare, they aim to systematically validate actions and strategies through constituent-led monitoring of programme progress. As a platform for civil society that aims to address the root-causes and diverse manifestations of poverty in Zimbabwe, they may face very different challenges from an organisation that works on more politically polarising topics.

    For example, Russian CSO OVD-Info is an independent human rights media project that monitors detentions and other cases of politically motivated harassment, informs media and human rights organisations on the state of political repression in Russia, and provides legal assistance to activists. For the Resilient Roots initiative, OVD-Info seeks to set up a dashboard to serve as a data visualisation tool, which will help evaluate the efficiency of its projects and motivate their constituents to play a stronger role in the organisation’s decision-making.

    In contrast to the technology and data-driven approach of OVD-Info, FemPLatz is a women’s rights organisation from Serbia that seeks a more direct and personal approach. They plan to gather feedback from their constituents through focus group discussions, interviews and workshops while also improving their communication with their constituents through the publication of a regular newsletter. This will allow their constituents to monitor their work and get in contact with them to provide feedback.

    A newsletter can also contribute to closing the feedback loop. Projet Jeune Leader (PJL) from Madagascar, for example, will engage young adolescents, their parents and school administrations to establish a coordinated and systematic means to collect feedback. They will collect feedback through participatory scorecards, stories from primary constituents around the changes triggered by the project, and an updated youth magazine to get closer to their constituents. PJL works on a comprehensive sexual-reproductive health education and leadership development program integrated into public middle schools.

    A particularly creative approach comes from Solidarity Now. Through multimedia productions, their primary constituents will express their daily perceptions, challenges, and dreams through the making and sharing of interactive material like video clips. Solidarity Now consists of a network of organisations and people whose goal is to assist and support the populations affected by the economic and humanitarian crises in Greece. Through the provision of services to both local Greeks and migrant populations, it seeks to restore the vision of a strong Europe based on solidarity and open values.

    In Asia, Climate Watch Thailand (CWT) is an organisation working to drive changes in attitudes towards climate change, and trigger action on the topic. As part of the initiative, CWT is going to strengthen how they formulate policy asks, by continuously testing their relevance to their constituents and this gaining wider support.

    Unfortunately, not all the organisations we work with in this initiative feel comfortable enough to publicly associate themselves to Resilient Roots, without the fear of inciting further anti-CSO responses in their local context. Such is the case of our Ugandan partner, a reminder of how delicate civic spaces are and how important it is for our sector to better understand how to strengthen CSO resilience in recent times.

    These diverse organisations are using a variety of approaches to work on CSO accountability, and we are incredibly excited to be exploring with them how different accountability practices fare in different regional and thematic contexts. What factors will make them successful and where will they need to adjust? In what circumstances does increased accountability actually lead to increased resilience? We are looking forward to sharing this journey with you: how they progress with their projects, the things they are learning, and what you can draw from their experiences to inform the work of your own organisation.


    Resilient Roots blog


  • Serbia at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

    38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
    Adoption of the UPR report of the Republic of Serbia

    The Human Rights House Belgrade (Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, Belgrade Center for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Policy Center), the Human Rights House Foundation and CIVICUS welcome the Government of Serbia's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the agreement signed between the Prosecutor’s office, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and journalists’ and media associations in December 2016 on cooperation and measures to improve the security of journalists. 

    However, in our joint UPR Submission, we also documented that since its last review, the Republic of Serbia has only fully implemented one recommendation of a total of 18 recommendations relating to civic space. 

    We are particularly alarmed by the intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. According to a national media watchdog group, there were at least 231 assaults (physical attacks, attacks on property, threats, pressure and verbal attacks) on journalists since 2013, with at least 42 recorded physical attacks. 

    We are furthermore concerned about the vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets, which has undermined their work. 

    Mr President, the Human Rights House, the Human Rights House Foundation and CIVICUS call on the Government of Serbia to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


  • SERBIA: ‘The political crisis will deepen as a large number of people lack representation’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ivana Teofilović about the causes of recent protests and the government’s reaction to them, as well as about the elections held in Serbia under the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivana is public policy programme coordinator at Civic Initiatives, a Serbian citizens’ association aimed at strengthening civil society through civic education, the promotion of democractic values and practices and the creation of opportunities for people’s participation.

    Ivana Teofilovic

    Why did protests erupt in Serbia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how did the government react?

    The immediate reason for the mass and spontaneous gathering of citizens in July 2020 was the announcement of the introduction of a new curfew, that is, another 72-hour ban on movement. After the president’s press conference ended, dissatisfied people began to gather in front of the National Assembly in the capital, Belgrade. Although the immediate reason was dissatisfaction with the management of the COVID-19 crisis, people also wanted to express their unhappiness about numerous other government measures and their impacts, and particularly with the conditions in which the recent parliamentary elections were held.

    In response, the security forces used unjustified force in dozens of cases and exceeded the powers entrusted to them by law. Their violent response to spontaneous peaceful assemblies was a gross violation of the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and an unwarranted threat to the physical integrity of a large number of protesters. The protests were marked by the use of a huge amount of teargas, which was indiscriminately thrown into the masses of peaceful demonstrators. As a result, many protesters had health issues for days afterwards. Apart from the fact that unjustifiably large quantities of teargas were used, the public's attention was captured by the fact that the teargas fired was past its expiry date.

    The media and citizens also reported and documented many cases of police brutality, including that of three young men who were sitting quietly on a bench and were repeatedly beaten by a gendarmerie officer with a baton. In another incident, a young man was knocked to the ground and hit with batons by 19 officers, even though two members of the Ombudsman’s Office were on duty near the scene, precisely to control the conduct of the police. Additional disturbances and acts of violence were perpetrated by a large number of individuals in civilian clothes. At the time it could not be determined whether they were police in civilian clothes, or members of parapolice forces or criminal groups, but many clues point to them being members of hooligan groups connected with the authorities and working on their orders.

    Media representatives also played a very important role in the protests. In this context, many media workers behaved professionally and reported objectively on the protests, often becoming victims of police brutality or attacks by members of hooligan groups infiltrated among protesters to incite rioting. According to the Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), as many as 28 journalists were attacked while covering protests, and 14 suffered bodily injuries, which in six cases required urgent medical attention. According to a statement issued by NUNS, the most seriously injured was Zikica Stevanovic, a reporter of the Beta news agency.

    However, media outlets that are close to the government either ignored or distorted the real picture of the protests by disseminating lies about who organised, funded and participated in them and by ignoring or denying cases of obvious police brutality. Journalists, analysts and civil society activists who publicly supported the protests and spoke critically about the government and the president were often the target of tabloid campaigns, and were smeared by the holders of high political office in an attempt to discredit their work.

    Bureaucratic measures were also used against them, for example through their inclusion on a list compiled by the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate for Prevention of Money Laundering, which required banks to look into all the financial transactions they made over the past year. The associations and individuals who were targeted published a joint statement with over 270 signatures to call on the authorities to urgently make public the reasons for any suspicion that these organisations and individuals were involved in money laundering or terrorist financing. They also made clear that these pressures would not deter them from fighting for a democratic and free Serbia.

    Violent police reaction, indiscriminate brutality, non-objective reporting and government retaliation further motivated people to protest. As a result, people took to the streets in even greater numbers in the following days. Protests also began to take place in several other Serbian cities besides Belgrade, including Kragujevac, Nis, Novi Sad and Smederevo.

    Has civil society experienced additional challenges to continue doing its work under the pandemic?

    Under the state of emergency imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also after the state of emergency was lifted, civil society organisations (CSOs) faced numerous difficulties that greatly hindered their work. During the first weeks of the state of emergency, some CSOs that provide services to vulnerable people were unable to perform their activities due to the ban on movement, a difficulty that was only gradually and partly overcome over time as special permits were issued to certain categories of people.

    Another challenge was posed by the Regulation on Fiscal Benefits and Direct Benefits, adopted in response to the economic impacts of the pandemic. This regulation did not extend exemption from value-added tax (VAT) to food, consumer goods and services donated to the non-profit and humanitarian sector to support socially vulnerable groups. For this reason, a group of CSOs sent the Ministry of Finance a proposal to extend the VAT exemption.

    The biggest challenge for CSOs was financial sustainability, which was especially endangered by the suspension of the competition for co-financing projects of public importance, both at the national and local levels. In addition, while the provisions of the Regulation on Fiscal Benefits and Direct Benefits were insufficiently clear when it came to CSOs, they unequivocally excluded informal citizens’ initiatives, and thus jeopardised their survival.

    In addition, the right to the freedom of expression was especially endangered during the pandemic. Challenges included restrictions faced by the press to attend and ask questions at Crisis Staff press conferences, the disregard of media representatives by officials in government bodies and institutions, and the persecution of media outlets that pointed to negative consequences during the pandemic. These restrictions opened up opportunities for the dissemination of unverified information. The lack of timely and factual information led to the further spread of panic and it became clear that in addition to the pandemic, Serbia also faced an ‘infodemic’.

    What are the views of civil society about the government response to the pandemic, including the conditions under whichthe recent elections were held?

    Despite the very unfavourable position they found themselves in, CSOs played a significant role during the COVID-19 crisis. CSOs had a significant role to play in correcting government failings, as they put forward numerous quality proposals for overcoming the crisis. In many situations it was CSOs, due to better training, that took over the roles of certain civil services. The general impression is that the state was not ready for the crisis, and therefore did not have enough capacity to provide a better response. 

    Due to its closed nature, the government used the need of urgency and efficiency as a pretext to bypass dialogue. In adopting some measures, there were frequent violations of laws and the constitution, and of people’s rights, particularly the right of journalists to do their work. Economic measures were not adopted in a timely and effective manner, which endangered many CSOs and their activists, ultimately having their greatest impact on people as users of CSO services.

    Regarding the parliamentary elections, which were held on 21 June after being postponed from their original date of 26 April, there is still an unanswered question regarding the government’s responsibility for conducting an election process under the pandemic. There is suspicion that the decision to hold the election was politically motivated and irresponsible. This was reinforced by the fact that in the weeks following the election, the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths drastically increased. It seems that the efforts made by some CSOs to create conditions for free and democratic elections have not yielded the desired results.

    What were the main issues that got in the way of a free and fair election?

    Beyond the pandemic, the major concern about the elections was that they were dominated by the ruling party, including through pressure on critical journalists and media outlets and control of mainstream media, which lack a diversity of opinions and balanced coverage and are used for campaign purposes.

    Media coverage during the election campaign was slightly more balanced than in previous elections, because the government wanted to prove that complaints from the public and the political opposition regarding poor election conditions and the captivity of the media were baseless. In principle, candidates were treated equally by public media, although public officials campaigning on a daily basis also received a lot of additional coverage. On top of this, members of the opposition who had decided to boycott the elections and therefore did not present candidates did not have room to present their arguments on national television.

    The unequal treatment of candidates was especially visible in national commercial television channels, which provided logistical support to the ruling party and its coalition partners. This problem was exacerbated by the passive stance adopted by the Electronic Media Regulatory Body (REM), which played an almost imperceptible role during the election campaign. In May 2020, REM changed its methodology of monitoring the media representation of political actors, counting every mention of a political option as proof of media representation. This led to the conclusion that the opposition Alliance for Serbia was the most represented party. But in reality, the Alliance for Serbia, which boycotted the elections, did not receive any media coverage on national television; rather it was the most frequent target of attacks by the ruling party and its allied media. In this area, another problem is the uneven normative framework: REM’s regulations relating to public media services are legally binding, but those relating to commercial broadcasters are drafted in the form of recommendations and have no binding effect, and there are no effective safeguards against violations.

    What are the implications of the election results for human rights and democracy in Serbia?

    The ruling Serbian Progressive Party, truly a right-wing party, won over 60 per cent of the vote, claiming approximately 190 seats in the 250-seat parliament. Their coalition partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia, came second with about 10 per cent of the vote, adding approximately 30 seats to the coalition. As a result, the National Assembly was left without opposition representatives, opening additional space for unlimited and legally unhindered exercise of power by the ruling party. The past four years are proof that the mere presence of the opposition in parliament is not a sufficient barrier to arbitrariness, as the government has perfected mechanisms to make parliamentary procedures meaningless and restrict the freedom of speech of opposition representatives. But some opposition legislators, through their initiatives, public appearances and proposals, managed to draw attention to numerous scandals and violations of the law by state officials.

    The protests that came after the elections seem to point towards further political polarisation and a deepening of the political crisis, as a large number of people lack representation and feel deprived of the right to elect their representatives without fear through free and democratic elections. The latest attempts to deal with civil society, journalists and prominent critical individuals by promoting investigations of money laundering or terrorist financing speak about deepening polarisation. The development of human rights requires coordination and cooperation of CSOs and state bodies as well as social consensus and political will, so this is certainly not contributing to an improvement of the human rights situation in Serbia. On the contrary, it is leading to an increasingly serious crisis, the aggravation of inequalities and injustices and more frequent protests.

    Civic space in Serbia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Civic Initiatives through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@gradjanske on Twitter.


  • SERBIA: “La crisis política se profundizará porque una gran porción de la ciudadanía carece de representación”

    CIVICUS conversa con Ivana Teofilović acerca de las causas de las recientes protestas y la reacción del gobierno frente a ellas, así como sobre las elecciones celebradas en Serbia durante la pandemia de COVID-19. Ivana es coordinadora de programas de políticas públicas en Civic Initiatives, una asociación ciudadana serbia que persigue el objetivo de fortalecer la sociedad civil a través de la educación cívica, la promoción de valores y prácticas democráticos y la creación de oportunidades para la participación ciudadana.

    Ivana Teofilovic

    ¿Por qué estallaron en Serbia protestas durante la pandemia de COVID-19, y cómo reaccionó el gobierno?

    La causa inmediata de la reunión masiva y espontánea de ciudadanos en julio de 2020 fue el anuncio de la introducción de un nuevo toque de queda, es decir, una nueva prohibición de todo movimiento durante 72 horas. En cuanto terminó la conferencia de prensa del presidente, la gente descontenta comenzó a reunirse frente a la Asamblea Nacional en la capital, Belgrado. Si bien el motivo inmediato fue el descontento ante el manejo de la crisis del COVID-19, la ciudadanía también quiso manifestar su insatisfacción con muchas otras medidas gubernamentales y sus impactos, y en particular con las condiciones en que se habían desarrollado las recientes elecciones parlamentarias.

    En respuesta, las fuerzas de seguridad utilizaron la violencia de forma injustificada en decenas de casos y se extralimitaron en el uso de sus facultades legales. Su respuesta violenta frente a reuniones pacíficas espontáneas fue una grave violación del derecho a la libertad de reunión pacífica y una amenaza injustificada para la integridad física de un gran número de manifestantes. Las protestas estuvieron marcadas por el empleo de una gran cantidad de gas lacrimógeno, que fue arrojado indiscriminadamente contra las masas de manifestantes pacíficos. En consecuencia, en los días posteriores muchos manifestantes experimentaron problemas de salud. Aparte del hecho de que se utilizaron cantidades injustificadamente grandes, la atención pública se centró en el hecho de que el gas lacrimógeno utilizado estaba vencido.

    Los medios de comunicación y la propia ciudadanía también informaron y documentaron muchos casos de abuso policial, incluido el de tres jóvenes que estaban tranquilamente sentados en un banco y fueron golpeados repetidamente con una porra por un agente de gendarmería. En otro incidente, un joven fue derribado al suelo y golpeado con porras por 19 agentes, pese a que había dos miembros de la Defensoría del Pueblo de guardia en la cercanías, precisamente para monitorear la conducta de la policía. Un gran número de individuos de civil provocaron más disturbios y actos de violencia. En su momento no se pudo determinar si se trataba de policías de civil o de miembros de fuerzas parapoliciales o de bandas criminales, pero luego numerosas pistas parecieron indicar que eran bandas delictivas vinculadas con las autoridades y que operaban bajo sus órdenes.

    Los medios también desempeñaron un rol muy importante en las protestas. En este contexto, muchos trabajadores de los medios de comunicación se comportaron profesionalmente e informaron objetivamente sobre las protestas, convirtiéndose a menudo en víctimas de la brutalidad policial o de ataques de personas infiltradas entre los manifestantes para incitar disturbios. Según la Asociación de Periodistas de Serbia (NUNS), por lo menos 28 periodistas fueron agredidos mientras cubrían las protestas y 14 sufrieron lesiones físicas, que en seis casos requirieron atención médica urgente. Según un comunicado de NUNS, el herido más grave fue Zikica Stevanovic, periodista de la agencia de noticias Beta.

    Sin embargo, los medios de comunicación cercanos al gobierno ignoraron o distorsionaron la imagen real de la protesta, difundiendo mentiras sobre quién la había organizado o financiado y quiénes habían participado en ella e ignorando o negando casos evidentes de abuso policial. Los periodistas, analistas y activistas de la sociedad civil que apoyaron públicamente las protestas y hablaron críticamente sobre el gobierno y el presidente fueron a menudo el blanco de campañas sensacionalistas y fueron difamados por los ocupantes de altos cargos políticos en un intento de desacreditar su trabajo.

    También se utilizaron en su contra medidas burocráticas, por ejemplo mediante su inclusión en una lista compilada por la Dirección de Prevención del Blanqueo de Capitales del Ministerio de Finanzas para exigir a los bancos que examinen todas las transacciones financieras realizadas por ellos durante el año pasado. Las asociaciones e individuos afectados publicaron un comunicado conjunto con más de 270 firmas para pedir a las autoridades que hicieran públicas urgentemente las razones de la sospecha de que estas organizaciones e individuos podían estar involucrados en acciones de lavado de activos o financiamiento del terrorismo. También dejaron claro que estas presiones no los disuadirían de seguir luchando por una Serbia libre y democrática.

    La reacción violenta de la policía, el uso indiscriminado de la fuerza, la cobertura sesgada y las represalias gubernamentales motivaron aún más a la ciudadanía a protestar. En consecuencia, la gente salió a las calles en cantidades aún mayores en los días siguientes. Las protestas también comenzaron a tener lugar en otras ciudades serbias además de Belgrado, tales como Kragujevac, Nis, Novi Sad y Smederevo.

    ¿Ha experimentado la sociedad civil desafíos adicionales para continuar haciendo su trabajo bajo la pandemia?

    Bajo el estado de emergencia impuesto en respuesta a la pandemia de COVID-19, pero también después de levantado el estado de emergencia, las organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) enfrentaron numerosas dificultades que obstaculizaron enormemente su trabajo. Durante las primeras semanas del estado de emergencia, algunas OSC que brindan servicios a grupos vulnerables no pudieron realizar sus actividades debido a la prohibición de circular, dificultad que solo se superó de manera gradual y parcial a medida que se fueron otorgando permisos especiales a ciertas categorías de personas.

    Otro desafío fue el planteado por el Reglamento sobre Beneficios Fiscales y Beneficios Directos, adoptado en respuesta a los impactos económicos de la pandemia. Este reglamento no extendía la exención del impuesto al valor agregado (IVA) a los alimentos, bienes de consumo y servicios donados al sector humanitario y sin fines de lucro para apoyar a grupos socialmente vulnerables. Por este motivo, un grupo de OSC envió al Ministerio de Hacienda una propuesta para ampliar la exención del IVA.

    El mayor desafío para las OSC fue la sostenibilidad financiera, que se vio especialmente amenazada por la suspensión del concurso para proyectos co-financiados de importancia pública, a nivel tanto nacional como local. Además, si bien no eran suficientemente claras en lo que respecta a las OSC, las disposiciones del Reglamento sobre Beneficios Fiscales y Beneficios Directos excluían inequívocamente las iniciativas ciudadanas informales y, por lo tanto, ponían en peligro su supervivencia.

    Además, el derecho a la libertad de expresión estuvo especialmente en peligro durante la pandemia. Los desafíos incluyeron restricciones enfrentadas por la prensa para asistir a las conferencias de prensa del Gabinete de Crisis y hacer preguntas, el desprecio expesado por funcionarios de órganos e instituciones gubernamentales hacia los representantes de los medios y la persecución de los medios de comunicación que expresaron críticas durante la pandemia. Estas restricciones abrieron las puertas a la difusión de información no verificada. La falta de información oportuna y objetiva resultó en una mayor propagación del pánico y dejó en evidencia que, además de una pandemia, Serbia enfrentaba una “infodemia”.

    ¿Qué opina la sociedad civil de la respuesta del gobierno a la pandemia y las condiciones en que se celebraron las últimas elecciones?

    A pesar de la posición muy desfavorable en que se encontraron, las OSC desempeñaron un rol significativo durante la crisis del COVID-19. Las OSC también jugaron un importante rol correctivo de las acciones de gobierno, ya que presentaron numerosas propuestas de calidad para superar la crisis. En muchas situaciones fueron las OSC, debido a su mejor capacitación, las que asumieron las funciones de determinados servicios gubernamentales. La impresión predominante es que el Estado no estaba preparado para la crisis y, por lo tanto, no tenía capacidad suficiente para responder adecuadamente.

    Por su carácter cerrado, el gobierno esgrimió la necesidad de actuar con velocidad y eficiencia como pretexto para eludir el diálogo. En la adopción de determinadas medidas se produjeron frecuentes violaciones de las leyes, la constitución y los derechos de la ciudadanía, y en particular del derecho de los periodistas a hacer su trabajo. Las medidas económicas no fueron adoptadas de manera oportuna y efectiva, lo cual puso en peligro a muchas OSC y a sus activistas, y en última instancia tuvo su mayor impacto sobre la ciudadanía en tanto que usuaria de los servicios de las OSC.

    En cuanto a las elecciones parlamentarias, que se celebraron el 21 de junio tras ser aplazadas de su fecha original del 26 de abril, aún queda sin respuesta la pregunta acerca de la responsabilidad del gobierno para conducir un proceso electoral bajo la pandemia. Se sospecha que la decisión de realizar las elecciones fue motivada políticamente e irresponsable. Esta impresión se vio reforzada por el hecho de que, en las semanas posteriores a las elecciones, el número de infecciones y muertes por COVID-19 aumentó drásticamente. Daría la impresión de que los esfuerzos realizados por algunas OSC para crear las condiciones para el desarrollo de elecciones libres y democráticas no dieron los resultados deseados.

    ¿Cuáles fueron los principales obtáculos que impidieron que las elecciones fueran libres y justas?

    Más allá de la pandemia, la principal preocupación respecto de las elecciones fue que estuvieron dominadas por el partido gobernante, a través de la presión sobre el periodismo y los medios de comunicación críticos y el control de los principales medios de comunicación, que carecen de diversidad de opiniones y cobertura equilibrada y son utilizados con fines de campaña.

    La cobertura de los medios durante la campaña electoral fue un poco más equilibrada que en las elecciones anteriores, ya que el gobierno quería demostrar el carácter infundado de los reclamos de la ciudadanía y la oposición política respecto de las malas condiciones para la competencia electoral y la captura de los medios de comunicación. En principio, los candidatos recibieron igual trato por parte de los medios públicos, aunque los funcionarios públicos que hacían campaña a diario recibieron mucha cobertura adicional. Además, los miembros de la oposición que habían decidido boicotear las elecciones, y por lo tanto no presentaron candidatos, carecieron de espacio para presentar sus argumentos en la televisión nacional.

    El trato desigual hacia los candidatos fue especialmente visible en los canales de televisión comerciales de alcance nacional, que brindaron apoyo logístico al partido gobernante y a sus socios de coalición. Este problema se vio agravado por la actitud pasiva del Organismo Regulador de Medios Electrónicos (REM), que jugó un papel casi imperceptible durante la campaña electoral. En mayo de 2020, el REM cambió su metodología de seguimiento de la representación mediática de los actores políticos, contando cada mención de una opción política como prueba de representación mediática. De ahí la conclusión de que la opositora Alianza por Serbia era el partido más representado. Pero en verdad la Alianza por Serbia, que boicoteó las elecciones, no recibió ninguna cobertura en la televisión nacional; en realidad, fue el blanco más frecuente de los ataques del partido gobernante y sus medios aliados. En ese sentido, otro problema de fondo es el marco normativo desigual: las regulaciones del REM relativas a los servicios de medios públicos son legalmente vinculantes, pero las relativas a las emisoras comerciales están redactadas bajo la forma de recomendaciones y no tienen efectos vinculantes, y no existen salvaguardas efectivas contra las violaciones.

    ¿Qué implicancias tienen los resultados de las elecciones para el futuro de la democracia y los derechos humanos en Serbia?

    El gobernante Partido Progresista Serbio, que en verdad es un partido de derechas, obtuvo más del 60% de los votos y se quedó con unos 190 escaños parlamentarios, sobre un total de 250. Su socio de coalición, el Partido Socialista de Serbia, quedó en segundo lugar, con aproximadamente 10% de los votos, sumando unos 30 escaños a la coalición. En consecuencia, la Asamblea Nacional se quedó sin representantes de la oposición, abriendo un espacio adicional para el ejercicio de un poder ilimitado y sin obstáculos legales por parte del partido gobernante. Los últimos cuatro años son prueba de que la mera presencia de la oposición en el parlamento no es una barrera suficiente contra la arbitrariedad, ya que el gobierno ha perfeccionado mecanismos que le permiten vaciar de sentido a los procedimientos parlamentarios y restringir la libertad de expresión de los representantes de la oposición. Sin embargo, algunos legisladores de la oposición, a través de sus iniciativas, apariciones públicas y propuestas, habían logrado llamar la atención sobre los numerosos escándalos y las violaciones de la ley cometidas por los funcionarios.

    Las protestas que siguieron a las elecciones parecen señalar en dirección de una mayor polarización y una profundización de la crisis política, ya que una gran porción de la ciudadanía carece de representación y se siente privada del derecho a elegir a sus representantes sin temor mediante elecciones libres y democráticas. Los más recientes intentos de lidiar con la sociedad civil, el periodismo y destacadas personalidades críticas mediante la promoción de investigaciones sobre lavado de dinero o financiamiento del terrorismo hablan de una polarización cada vez más profunda. El desarrollo de los derechos humanos requiere de coordinación y cooperación entre las OSC y los órganos gubernamentales, así como de consenso social y voluntad política, por lo que ciertamente esto no está contribuyendo a mejorar la situación de los derechos humanos en Serbia. Por el contrario, está provocando una crisis cada vez más grave, el agravamiento de las desigualdades e injusticias y protestas más frecuentes.

    El espacio cívico en Serbia es clasificado como “obstruido” por elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contáctese con Civic Initiatives a través de susitio web o su página deFacebook, y siga a@gradjanske en Twitter.


  • Serbia: CIVICUS calls on Serbian authorities to stop attacks against peaceful protesters

    CIVICUS urges Serbian authorities to stop using force to disperse protesters demonstrating against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. CIVICUS calls for an independent investigation into violent attacks on protesters by police and condemns police violence against journalists covering the protests.


  • Serbia’s Civic Space Downgraded

    The downgrade is based on an assessment of conditions for the exercise of the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    CIVICUS has today downgraded Serbia’s civic space rating from Narrowed to Obstructed. The decision was taken following a thorough assessment of the state of civic freedoms in the country as protected by international law. The downgrade follows CIVICUS’ regular monitoring of the situation with our members and partners, after the government has taken a number of steps to restrict the work of independent journalists and civil society groups. The decision comes after over two years of rule by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), during which the space for civil society has come under concerted attack. The cumulative impact of threats, smears and the threat of physical attacks against civil society have led to the Serbia’s downgrade in the CIVICUS Monitor. An Obstructed rating indicates a situation where the state imposes a variety of legal and extra-legal restrictions on civil society through demeaning statements and bureaucratic restrictions.

    “The Serbian government appears intent on turning its back on civic freedoms, by allowing and enabling numerous abuses against civil society to go unpunished,” said Dominic Perera, Civic Space Research Advisor at CIVICUS. “Serbia has witnessed a steady decline in civic space through smear campaigns and threats directed at critics of the government coupled with a worryingly sharp increase in attacks against journalists.”

    The downgrade takes place against the backdrop of widespread protests which took place across Serbia for much of 2019. In this environment, the government has ramped up tactics designed to intimidate those who question power holders, especially on contentious issues such as corruption. Instead of conducting thorough and impartial investigations into abuses of power, public officials have doubled down on their efforts to publicly discredit journalists and organisations working to promote social justice. This includes several prominent members of the SNS party openly accusing anti-corruption activists of working to promote foreign interests for acting as government watchdogs.

    Freedom of expression has also experienced a rapid decline, with the number of attacks against journalists doubling since 2016, rising to 77 separate incidents in 2018 alone. This is further compounded by the government’s appropriation of media outlets, which has led to a situation where investigative journalists and news programmes have been mysteriously taken off air or fired. This alarming combination of tactics signals a closure of spaces for independent dissent.

    Meanwhile, the number of government-affiliated NGOs has soared. These state sponsored organisations often orchestrate smear campaigns against independent organisations and activists which criticise the government.

    “CIVICUS calls on the Serbian authorities to halt the erosion of spaces for dissent”, said Perera. “We call on the government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society and to heed the calls of civil society and the EU to promote an enabling environment for civil society.”

    Serbia is now rated Obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Serbia’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. In December 2019, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2019 - a global analysis on the threats and trends facing civil society in 196 countries.


  • Shining a Spotlight on the Strengths & Challenges of Civil Society in the Balkans

    By Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General 

    This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

    It is an incredible privilege to welcome you all to the ‘International Civil Society Week’. I am going to remind us of the reasons that make it so important for us to be here in Belgrade this week.

    This is our 16th global convening of civil leaders and 4th edition of the International Civil Society Week in particular – following on from events held in South Africa, Colombia and Fiji.

    Read on: Inter Press Service 


  • The Belgrade Call to Action


    A Civil Society Call to Stand Together to

    DefendPeoples’ Voices for a Just and Sustainable World

    Reverse the Closing and Shrinking Space for Civil Society

    Stop the Increasing Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and the Undermining of Democratic Participation

    Renew the Prospects for an Inclusive Agenda 2030 and the Full Realization of the SDGs

    Launched in Belgrade, April 8, 2019

    We, leaders from Global Civil Society, coming from civil society organizations, activists and campaigners from all parts of the World, on this day in Belgrade call on international and national civil society to stand together and declare aloud: Enough is enough! Stop the relentless attacks on civil society, social leaders and human rights defenders!

    The global community is currently moving down a path that will leave hundreds of millions of people behind; real and transformative progress towards achieving the systemic changes for people and planet promised by Agenda 2030 will not be possiblewithout a fully engaged civil society and people’s genuine participation through their organizations and communities.

    It is deeply troubling that more than eighty percent (80%) of the world’s population - 6 billion people living in 111 countries - face a situation where either the conditions are closed for civil society (23 countries), or where civil society is highly repressed (35 countries), or where civil society faces substantial legal and political obstacles (53 countries). [CIVICUS Civil Society Monitor] In these countries there is little chance for a fully engaged and mobilized civil society, which is an essential foundation for democracy, human rights safeguards, and progress on the SDGs and for a transformative Agenda 2030.

    We urge all Member States of the United Nations to take concrete urgent action to reverse these trends.

    Despite rhetorical promises of action by many Member States to “reverse the trend of shrinking civic space wherever it is taking place,” attacks on CSOs, social leaders and human rights defenders continue unabated. [Nairobi Outcome Document, Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation]

    Civic actors across many sectors are being threatened, persecuted and killed – including those supporting and representing rural communities, Indigenous peoples, journalists, trade unions, women’s rights activists, LGBTQ* activists, youth, people living with disabilities and environmentalists. They are being harassed through arbitrary arrest, detention, the targeted use of legal and regulatory measures and restrictions on CSO finances. Others are deliberately discredited as criminals or “foreign agents.” Civic leaders are being physically harmed, with women’s human rights defenders facing sexual harassment and abuse. All because they seek to protect peoples’ human rights, while promoting democratic participation on issues that affect their lives.

    Real and transformative progress, leaving no one behind, in achieving core SDGs – including eradicating poverty (SDG1), eliminating hunger (SDG2), addressing gender and all forms of inequality (SDG5), reducing inequalities (SDG10), promoting decent work and sustainable livelihoods for all (SDG8), and taking action for climate justice and a just transition (SDG13) – will not be possible without a fully engaged civil society and population. The strengths of civil society are its diversity, its rootedness in communities and territories, its direct development experience, and its capacities for public engagement.

    SDG 16, for peace, justice and effective institutions, is well beyond reach, in places where civic space is closed and repressed, where civil society cannot freely act with poor and marginalized populations to contribute to and safeguard accountable and inclusive institutions.

    The time for rhetoric and noble international statements and declarations is over. The agenda is urgent, and the time to act is now. Practical action is possible. We cannot wait until there is little space for CSOs and their leaders, for human rights activists and for peoples’ voices and actions!

    This Belgrade Call to Action is calling for specific commitments and actions, appropriate to each country, with an overarching reference in the Political Declaration of the 2019 High Level Political Forum, and with a timetable by which Member States can be held accountable.

    We call on all Member States, meeting in September 2019:

    1. To take concrete steps to protect and enable space for civil society, including enabling laws and regulations, democratic accountability based on human rights norms and human rights standards, and the full protection of civil society under attack – such as social leaders, human rights defenders and gender equality activists.
    2. To embed inclusion and meaningful accountability to people in development practices.
    3. To implement and respect democratic country ownership of national development plans and implement transparency and accountability for inclusive SDG delivery.
    4. To lead by example with concerted action to challenge major human rights violations, including deteriorating conditions facing peoples’ organizations, trade unions, women’s rights organizations, indigenous peoples, and community-based environmentalists, among many others.
    5. To recognise the importance of the inter-connected themes in achieving Agenda 2030 -- civil society voice, eradicating poverty, women’s empowerment, fighting inequality, decent work, climate action and environmental justice. 

    Implementing an Action Agendabased on these commitments will require robust, pro-active and collaborative political leadership on the part of all Member States, Development Stakeholders and Civil Society Organizations.  

    Civil Society is fully committed to the achievement of the SDGs. But our efforts will be in vain, if we cannot count on new measures and actions at the local, national, regional and global level to reverse the debilitating trends that are shrinking and closing civic space.

    We commit to raise these urgent concerns and demand action at all inter-governmental and preparatory meetings as the international community reviews progress in Agenda 2030 in the coming months and years.

    This Call to Action, with an accompanying Action Agenda, is being launched simultaneously in countries around the world to draw attention to its urgency.


    April 8, 2019


    [1] Nairobi Outcome Document, Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.



  • World’s civil society to gather in Balkans to strengthen the “Power of Togetherness”

    • International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019 brings together over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens across sectors, themes, regions in Belgrade, Serbia (8-12 April) to tackle the world's most pressing challenges in the fields of human rights, democracy and international development.
    • For the  first time in almost a quarter century of convening, the event will be held in the Balkans, a region that provides an opportune place to explore the need for  togetherness and the power of collective action.
    • ICSW presents at least 30 key sessions and partner events tackling a range of critical issues from emergency support for NGOs under attack to shrinking media freedoms to greater civil society accountability

    Belgrade, Serbia –Across the globe, human rights organisations are increasingly being attacked by governments. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are persecuted. A historic rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms, heightening political polarisation and sowing division.

    We are in the midst of unprecedented global challenges – challenges that civil society and citizens worldwide have begun responding to with renewed determination.

    It is within this context that International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW) kicks off next week - a global gathering of over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens across sectors, regions and themes taking place April 8-12 in Belgrade, Serbia.  Delegates will share ideas and propose common solutions around some of the most pressing challenges in the fields of human rights, democracy and international development, and explore ways to unlock the power of collective action to stand up for democratic freedoms across the world.

    Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW will present a programme that includes over 30 sessions on topics ranging from the crackdown on media freedom to emergency assistance for NGOs under attack to greater civil society accountability, with a variety of partner events as well as key addresses by high-profile speakers. From their alliance of more than 7,000 members in 175 countries and regional presence, CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives have engaged more than 30 organisational partners and a number of high-profile, inspirational speakers to share their experiences and learnings with delegates.

    In country after country, democracy is under attack, with populist and right-wing movements gaining ground and democratic regression being witnessed even in countries historically considered bastions of democracy.

    According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, only 4% of the world’s population live in places where their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are properly respected and protected.

    “Yet, civil society is fighting back, finding new and innovative way of organising and taking action. We are seeing new alliances being forged and an increasing openness to coalition building - with activists from different causes and communities coming together to fight for common issues,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

    “This year’s event in Serbia comes at a critical and opportune time for civil society and the world’s citizens to realise the power of unified, collective action to challenge a global trend that threatens our fundamental freedoms,” said John.

    This year’s theme – ‘The Power of Togetherness’ –  explores how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.

    For the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, CIVICUS will host its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people. The host city, Belgrade, is one of Europe’s oldest, with a 7,000-year history representing a complex Serbian history and regional experience that provides an opportune place to explore the need for togetherness and the power of collective action.

    “Throughout its history, Serbia has shifted back and forth between authoritarian regimes  and democracy,” said Civic Initiatives’ Maja Stojanovic.

    “During the 1990s, authoritarian regimes produced conflicts, severe human rights violations and genocide. Today, as we approach European Union membership, internal and international independent monitoring mechanisms show shrinking media freedoms, a lack of separation of power and rule of law, and deterioration of freedom of elections,” said Stojanovic.

    “This region, and particularly Serbia, demonstrates that changing laws, strategies or governments offers no guarantees – democracy does not exist if it is not built constantly. By hosting this year’s event in Belgrade, we will convene and send messages rooted in local circumstances and, in the same time, fully reflecting global challenges.”

    The event will begin with a two-day Youth Assembly in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, which has been  selected as the European Youth Capital for 2019. Bringing together more than 100 young activists
    from across the globe, the Assembly will offer delegates the opportunity to engage with international peers, examining and taking action on some of the critical challenges facing youth in civil society today.



    For more information, please contact:


    The conveners of ICSW 2019 are CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives (CI).

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.  Founded in 1993, CIVICUS strives to promote marginalised voices, especially from the Global South, and has members in more than 145 countries throughout the world.

    Civic Initiatives (CI) was founded in May 1996 by a group of prominent NGO activists that were involved in the anti-war movement and non-nationalist democratic opposition since 1990. Since then, Civic Initiatives respond to the need to create a civic base that sustains democratic values by supporting citizens' activism and advocating for better legal framework for civic participation.


    More information is available on the  virtual press centre. Find out what’s happening in real-time on the ICSW Live platform, a hub that links delegates with global civil society, with  audio/ video interviews, and interactive features. You can also join the conversation on social media #ICSW2019, and get daily updates/ live streams of various sessions on CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives social media channels: CIVICUS Facebook and Civic Initiatives Facebook.

    FAQs ABOUT ICSW 2019

    What is International Civil Society Week 2019?

    International Civil Society Week (ICSW), being hosted from April 8-12, 2019, is a key global gathering for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges. For the first time in more than 20 years of international convening, CIVICUS in partnership with Civic Initiatives (CI), will hold its flagship event in the Balkans region.

    What are our key themes for 2019?

    The ICSW 2019 programme will be centred along three interrelated tracks, to enable delegates to work together to:

    • Understand and connect with citizens and people’s movements taking place on the STREETSand around the world
    • Build BRIDGES that strengthen alliances, create solidarity and facilitate collective action across issues
    • Identify the STAIRS needed to build and sustain collective impact, and connect local and global efforts

    Who will be attending?

    Over 850 delegates from across the world will be part of ICSW 2019. These will include civil society leaders, activists, representatives from intergovernmental bodies,, governments, and the media.

    Why Serbia?

    Serbia and the Western Balkans have strong legal frameworks which are supposed to guarantee the basic rights of citizens. Yet, since the nineties, dictatorial regimes and shrinking basic rights have made these so called guarantees largely paper based, with conflicts, severe human rights violations and genocide  happening in practice. Today, internal and international independent monitoring mechanisms show shrinking media freedoms, lack of separation of power and rule of law, and deterioration of freedom of elections. By hosting ICSW 2019 in Serbia, we aim to shine a spotlight on the work of the Balkan civil society community to address the ongoing challenges in the region and find ways to collaborate and support their work by building alliances between local and international civil society.