• ARMENIA: ‘As people leave their homes in search of safety, humanitarian organisations must support their basic needs’

    ShushanikNersesyanCIVICUS speaks about the civil society humanitarian response to the Azerbaijani blockade and military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh – the disputed territory within Azerbaijan that until recently was governed by ethnic Armenians – withShushanik Nersesyan,Media and Communication Manager at People in Need (PIN) Armenia.

    Founded in 1992 bya group of journalists involved in the 1989 Czechoslovak ‘Velvet Revolution’, PIN is a civil society organisation (CSO) working in the fields of humanitarian aid, human rights, education and social work. Since it was established in 2003, its permanent office in Armenia has worked to strengthen Armenian people’s abilities to improve their lives and the communities they live in.

    How did the Azerbaijani blockade affect people in Nagorno-Karabakh?

    It all started in December 2022, when Azerbaijani civilians identifying themselves as environmental activists began obstructing the Lachin corridor, which links Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In April 2023 Azerbaijan set up an official checkpoint that largely cut off the passage of people and goods between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Once it was under Azeri control, it was possible to use the corridor only in exceptionally urgent cases, through the intermediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or Russian peacekeepers.

    On 29 July Azerbaijani authorities abducted V Khachatryan, a 68-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh resident who was being evacuated by the ICRC for urgent medical treatment through the Lachin corridor. Khachatryan remains in captivity. Another incident occurred in late August when three Nagorno-Karabakh students were captured by Azerbaijani border guards while travelling to Armenia via the corridor. They were only released 10 days later. Free movement of people to Armenia became impossible.

    The prolonged blockade led to a humanitarian crisis due to shortages of essential goods – including electricity, fuel and water – and the closure of basic services. People in Need, along with Action Against Hunger and Médecins du Monde France, condemned it but, regrettably, our efforts to open to road for the trucks with food to Nagorno-Karabakh were thwarted.

    The situation changed with the shelling that caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent people on 19 and 20 September. Since 24 September, over 100,000 people have fled Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenian regions, where they are also facing an emergency situation due to food and hygiene needs, plus longer-term issues of housing, education and jobs.

    How has Armenian civil society responded to the humanitarian crisis?

    CSOs including PIN deployed humanitarian projects to help blockade-affected people. CSOs conducted visits and issued statements. In Kornidzor, on the border, representatives from dozens of Armenian CSOs gathered during the blockade, urging the international community to uphold human rights and ensure the passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The unimpeded delivery of essential goods, including food, hygiene items, medicine and fuel, as well as the unrestricted movement of people, including critically ill patients, are fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law.

    What work is PIN doing in this context?

    Since 1992, as a newly established organisation, PIN has been there to help people affected by the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which lasted from February 1988 to May 1994. We have actively contributed to the growth of Armenian civil society, which has remained resilient throughout this crisis. We coordinate our efforts with the government and local authorities to closely monitor the situation on the ground and carry out numerous humanitarian projects.

    We continue assisting the most vulnerable populations. Since September 2020, we have provided essential humanitarian aid and long-term efforts for the social and economic integration of thousands of people.

    As a humanitarian organisation, we advocate for rights and a peaceful resolution of conflicts in adherence with international law. Along with our partners, we have expressed our concerns, called for measures to prevent the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe and continuously raised internal and donor funds to help people in need.

    When people started fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, we immediately mobilised PIN funds to support the first recipient centre in the Syunik border region to deliver aid such as food, clothes and blankets to forcibly displaced people and create a special space for children’s activities while their parents dealt with registration and searching for accommodation. Additionally, we launched the SOS Armenia appeal and new humanitarian assistance projects funded by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union, the Netherlands Refugee Foundation, Start Network and USAID.

    As people continue to leave their homes in search of safety without being able to take their belongings, humanitarian organisations must continue providing assistance to support their basic needs.

    Civic space in Armenia is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with People in Need Armenia through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@PIN_Armenia on Twitter.

  • ARMENIA: ‘Lack of compelling international action allowed the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh to occur’

    LidaMinasyanCIVICUS speaks about the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh– the disputed territory within Azerbaijan that until recently was governed by ethnic Armenians –withLida Minasyan, a feminist peace activist and Resource Mobilisation Consultant at theCentral Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central and North Asia (CEECCNA) Collaborative Fund.

    Founded in 2022, the CEECCNA Collaborative Fund is a feminist fund that mobilises sustainable resources for social justice movements across the CEECCNA region.

    What is the current security and human rights situation in Nagorno-Karabakh?

    The ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was forcibly displaced within days of the Azerbaijani government launching a full-scale attack on 19 September. A week later, 100,632 people had arrived in Armenia, having left behind their homes, their belongings and the lives they had built.

    Several actions deliberately targeted against civilians occurred before the start of the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population from Nagorno-Karabakh. In December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, leaving the 120,000 Armenians who lived there completely isolated. People endured nine months of severe food insecurity, fuel shortages, electricity outages, communications breakdowns and medical supply shortages. This resulted in a humanitarian crisis that put people, particularly those with vulnerabilities, at risk. Many pregnant women had miscarriages and stillbirths, people with chronic illnesses couldn’t receive their medication and treatment, and risk of infection increased due to the lack of hygiene products. These were just a few of the severe challenges people faced during the blockade.

    The Lachin road was reopened several days after the Azerbaijani offensive, when people, already traumatised and starving, experienced a direct threat to their lives. They had no choice but to leave their homes in search of safety in Armenia.

    Why did Azerbaijan initiate the blockade and military offensive?

    The nine-month blockade and the offensive were meant to achieve the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The intentional deprivation of essential resources for survival followed by the direct attack to take over Nagorno-Karabakh, along with the creation of conditions for the Armenian population to leave, indicate that Azerbaijan is not contemplating any peaceful end to the conflict or human rights guarantees for Armenian people to feel safe in their homes and continue living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

    By leveraging additional threats against Armenians and Armenian sovereign territories, demonstrating its military power, and consistently introducing new conditions in the negotiation process with Armenia, Azerbaijan intends to assert its dominance. This approach reinforces a policy of hatred towards Armenians spanning decades and undermines the peacebuilding process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    How has Armenian civil society responded to the humanitarian crisis?

    Displaced people endured a journey of over 20 hours to reach Armenia, during which they had no access to food, water or sanitation facilities. As a result, most of them arrived thirsty, hungry and in need of medical attention. When they began arriving, local organisations, activists and volunteers were among the first to give them food, hygiene products and assistance to register for the state support system.

    Local civil society organisations engage in continuous needs assessments of displaced people, using dynamic data collection approaches, as the situation is changing rapidly. In addition to the immediate provision of goods, there are medium and long-term needs to address. Displaced people need psychological assistance to overcome trauma, sustainable medical support, permanent housing, access to education and employment and services to prevent and address gender-based violence.

    As part of the CEECCNA Collaborative Fund, we provide timely updates about the situation to our international partners and mobilise and direct resources to local organisations. Due to limited resources, Armenian civil society activists worked under a lot of pressure because they had to initiate fundraising efforts while simultaneously providing emergency response.

    The Armenian government has provided displaced people with one-time financial support, essential products and access to temporary accommodation. For all its good intentions, however, the government also lacks resources and capacity to provide adequate long-term assistance to displaced people.

    Has the international community’s response been adequate?

    The response has been slow and inadequate. A few months into the blockade, the international community refused to call the situation a humanitarian crisis and many turned a blind eye to the deteriorating conditions of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population.

    After numerous appeals and demands from civil society, some international agencies began releasing statements urging the Azerbaijani government to open the Lachin corridor. They mainly referred to the International Court of Justice’s orders of 22 February and 6 July 2023, which unequivocally mandated Azerbaijan to ensure unrestricted movement of people, vehicles and cargo along the corridor in both directions.

    Despite these decisions, the road remained blocked. A group of four United Nations experts also expressed their concern about the continued closure of the Lachin corridor and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to promptly reinstate unimpeded and safe movement along the road, as stipulated by the November 2020 ceasefire agreement.

    The lack of more compelling action by the international community created an unhindered environment for the attack to occur. Many organisations are currently responding by issuing new alerts and appeals, along with providing much-needed humanitarian support. However, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia require sustainable peace and human security, which will only be achievable through a negotiation that is inclusive of the voices of those most profoundly affected by the conflict. We advocate specifically for the inclusion of women in formal negotiations, in order to pave the way to sustainable peace.

    The international community’s crisis-response support is highly appreciated, but it should be complemented by long-term funding for dialogue, peacebuilding and the reestablishment of human security. Armenian civil society working to alert about potential risks of conflict escalation on the borders of Armenia could also benefit from their support.

    Civic space in Armenia is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Learn more aboutCEECCNA Collaborative Fund in thisblog.

  • AZERBAIJAN: ‘Operating on the ground has become increasingly difficult due to security concerns’

    KateWattersCIVICUS speaks about the links between the exploitation of fossil fuels and human rights violations in Azerbaijan with Kate Watters, Executive Director of Crude Accountability.

    Founded in 2003, Crude Accountability is a civil society organisation that works to protect the environmental and human rights of people in the Caspian and Black Sea regions and in areas of Eurasia affected by oil and gas development.

    How do extractive industries fuel human rights violations in Azerbaijan?

    The key problem is corruption, which results from the close relationship between the executive branch of government and the oil industry. The use of the state oil company by the regime led by president Ilham Aliyev is a key feature of Azerbaijan’s kleptocracy.

    Corporations operating in Azerbaijan handle vast sums of money and oversee massive projects. For example, British Petroleum (BP), the largest foreign investor, is involved in many of the key fossil fuel projects and is the majority shareholder and operator of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, through which around 80 per cent of Azerbaijan’s oil is exported. BP has a monopoly in the industry that dominates the national economy, with oil and gas accounting for 95 per cent of all exports, 75 per cent of government revenue and 42 per cent of national GDP.

    Those in charge of the oil and gas sector control the financial and economic dynamics of the whole country. The vast revenues generated by the hydrocarbon industry make it difficult for smaller environmentally sustainable alternatives to gain traction and create fertile ground for corruption and secrecy. International mechanisms that promote transparency in the industry rely on a level of adherence to the rule of law that Azerbaijan lacks.

    That’s why Crude Accountability’s advocacy efforts focus on advancing transparency and accountability. We aim for the adoption of cleaner technologies that ensure the wellbeing of local communities and call for international financial institutions to cease financing fossil fuels and redirect their investments toward sustainable green energy projects. We urge companies to be transparent about the social and environmental impacts of their operations and strive for continuous improvement.

    What work do you do in Azerbaijan?

    Crude Accountability’s involvement in Azerbaijan dates back to the early 2000s. We work with communities, organisations and people affected by oil and gas developments. Our efforts encompass extensive research, educational and advocacy activities that address the specific impacts of the hydrocarbon industry, such as gas flaring from the BP’s Sangachal Terminal, which is causing villagers health problems and sleep disruption, along with  the broader impacts of onshore and offshore oil and gas development in Azerbaijan.

    As an organisation, we’ve shed light on previously undisclosed areas. One of our achievements is the collaborative report ‘Flames of Toxicity‘, produced in partnership with Omanos Analytics. Using satellite imagery and other technologies, we proved that oil spills and flaring were happening during extraction and refining processes in several locations. By doing this we reminded industry stakeholders that, even when it’s unsafe for activists to conduct extensive on-site verification, there are technologies we can use to gain insight into environmental and human rights violations.

    For the past few years, operating on the ground in Azerbaijan has become increasingly difficult due to security concerns for our partners. Since mid-2023, our primary focus in Azerbaijan has shifted to advocating for the release of Gubad Ibadoghlu, a prominent economist and anti-corruption activist. He was arbitrarily detained in July 2023 and is currently held in miserable conditions in a pretrial detention centre outside the capital, Baku, facing mistreatment and denial of medical attention. During his arrest, both he and his wife were severely beaten after the car they were driving was surrounded and forced to stop. The physical violence perpetrated against Ibadoghlu and his wife during arrest is extremely concerning.

    We are part of an international coalition of activists, academics, policymakers and journalists that works for the release of Gubad Ibadoghlu and other Azerbaijani political prisoners, including independent journalists affected by the recent crackdown on civil society.

    Is the level of repression in Azerbaijan increasing?

    Repression has intensified over the last five years, and particularly in the past couple of years, as President Ilham Aliyev and the presidential apparatus have sought to solidify their position and power. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, authoritarianism and the repression of civil society have escalated across Eurasia. This is certainly the case in Azerbaijan.

    Azerbaijani people are afraid to speak out about the Azerbaijani offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh. Even those who refrain from criticising the offensive and work to address other related issues risk being labelled as ‘pro-Armenian’, a smear used by authorities against activists and dissenters.

    The snap presidential election scheduled for 7 February will serve to further consolidate Aliyev’s rule amidst regional turmoil. In this context, independent journalists face a heightened risk of repression. In June 2023, protests erupted in the village of Soyudlu, already threatened by environmental degradation, against the construction of an artificial lake to contain waste from the nearby Gadabay goldmine. Police severely beat community activists and journalists who came to cover the story. The village remains under lockdown, and although it appears that the goldmine’s activity has been limited or halted, it remains a challenge to obtain verified information. The community has been under stress since the incident.

    Environmental activists are also at risk. People with information about issues such as flaring or emissions are often afraid to speak out. Sometimes they have family members employed by the oil company or refinery and fear that they may lose their jobs, jeopardising the family’s livelihood. Fear of repercussions silences environmental activists and others who are aware of environmental violations. Still, some environmental and human rights defenders continue to operate discreetly in Azerbaijan.

    What forms of international support does Azerbaijani civil society currently need?

    Azerbaijan’s selection as the host for this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP29, poses significant challenges from both a human rights and an environmental perspective. Azerbaijan has fallen short of its climate commitments. It hasn’t signed the Global Methane Pledge, a step taken even by countries like Turkmenistan. There are also serious concerns about civil society’s ability to participate in COP29 due to ongoing repression and severe human rights violations taking place in the host country. The imprisonment of a prominent Azerbaijani economist investigating corruption in the oil and gas sector raises further concerns.

    The international community should demand transparency and accountability from the Azerbaijani authorities in the run-up to COP29 and throughout the conference. A legitimate discussion on climate change in the framework of sustainability and human rights can only occur with the active participation of civil society.

    It is also very important to building international coalitions to confront authoritarianism, repression and closed civic space. Autocratic governance seeks to make people feel isolated and disunited, so collaborative efforts are vital. By working together, sharing resources and leveraging each organisation’s expertise for knowledge exchange, we can enhance our impact.

    Azerbaijani civil society requires financial resources, solidarity and support from the international community. The more we can offer to activists on the ground, the more successful our collective efforts will be.

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

    Get in touch with Crude Accountability through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow it onLinkedIn andTwitter.

  • BURKINA FASO : ‘Pour une grande partie de la société civile, la sécurité est une préoccupation plus urgente que la démocratie’

    Kopep DabugatCIVICUS échange sur lecoup d’État militaire récent au Burkina Faso avec Kop’ep Dabugat, coordinateur du Réseau de Solidarité pour la Démocratie en Afrique de l’Ouest (WADEMOS).

    WADEMOS est une coalition d’organisations de la société civile (OSC) d’Afrique de l’Ouest qui mobilise la société civile afin de défendre la démocratie et de promouvoir des normes démocratiques dans la région.

    Qu’est-ce qui a conduit aucoup d’État récent au Burkina Faso, et que faut-il faire pour que la démocratie soit restaurée ?

    Le capitaine Ibrahim Traoré,actuel chef de la junte militaire au pouvoir au Burkina Faso, a invoqué la dégradation continue de la situation sécuritaire pour justifier la prise de pouvoir par les militaires, tout comme l'avait fait son prédécesseur, le lieutenant-colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. Or il semblerait que les attaques de groupes armés ont fortement augmenté dans les mois qui ont suivile premier coup d’État mené par Damiba, en janvier 2022. Les analystes affirment que le Burkina Faso constitue le nouvel épicentre du conflit au Sahel. Depuis 2015, les violences perpétrées par des insurgés djihadistes liés à Al-Qaïda et à l’État islamique ont entraîné la mort de milliers de personnes et déplacé deux millions d’autres.

    Le coup d’État a également révélé la présence d’un schisme au sein de la junte dirigée par Damiba. Le nouveau coup a été orchestré en partie par les mêmes officiers militaires qui avaient participé au coup d’État pour porter Damiba à la tête de l’État. Désormais, ces officiers affirment queDamiba n’a pas cherché à réorganiser l’armée pour mieux faire face aux menaces sécuritaires comme ils s’y attendaient. Au lieu de cela, il est resté fidèle à la structure militaire qui a conduit à la chute du gouvernement du président Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, et a commencé à révéler des ambitions politiques.

    La question de la sécurité reste le premier défi à relever pour faire du Burkina Faso un État démocratique. La fonction principale d’un Etat, et plus encore d’un Etat démocratique, est de garantir la sécurité de ses citoyens. Une armée burkinabè unie sera nécessaire pour atteindre cet objectif.

    Il reste aussi à mener à bien l’actuel programme de transition accepté par la nouvelle junte, qui vise à mettre en place un régime civil d’ici juillet 2024.

    Au-delà de la transition, la nécessité de construire un État et des institutions politiques solides doit être soulignée. Il convient de s’attaquer sérieusement aux problèmes de corruption et de marginalisation économique. La nécessité de renforcer les institutions n’est pas propre au Burkina Faso : elle est essentielle pour toute la région, et en particulier pour les pays qui ont récemment été soumis à un régime militaire, notammentla Guinée etle Mali.

    Quelle a été la réaction de la société civile face à ce dernier coup d’État militaire ?

    À l’image de la désunion qui caractérise la société civile au Burkina Faso, la réaction de la société civile au coup d’État a été mitigée. Mais une partie notable de la société civile a semblé accueillir favorablement le dernier coup d’État parce qu’elle considérait la junte dirigée parDamiba non seulement comme autoritaire mais aussi comme s'alignant avec les politiciens du régime du président au pouvoir de 1987 à 2014, Blaise Compaoré. Ils craignaient ainsi que ces politiciens reprennent le pouvoir et ferment toutes les portes à la justice pour les victimes du régime Compaoré, ce qui constituait bien entendu un scénario plausible.

    Par conséquent, ce dernier coup d'État n'est en aucun cas perçu unanimement par la société civile comme constituant un pas en arrière pour l’agenda de la transition démocratique. De plus, pour une grande partie de la société civile, la sécurité semble être une préoccupation plus urgente et prioritaire que la démocratie, de sorte que l’élément qui a prévalu est l’incapacité apparente de la junte dirigée par Damiba à faire face à la situation sécuritaire.

    L’effort des groupes traditionnels et religieux qui ont négocié un accord à sept conditions entre les factions militaires de Damiba et de Traoré, mettant fin à la violence et prévenant le carnage, mérite toutefois d’être salué. Cet effort semble avoir créé une base pour l'engagement constructif entre la junte dirigée par Traoré et la société civile, qui s'est poursuivi avec la participation notable de la société civile à la Conférence nationale du 14 octobre 2022. Celle-ci a approuvé une nouvelle Charte de transition pour le Burkina Faso et a officiellement nommé Traoré comme président de transition.

    Quelle est la situation des OSC de défense des droits humains ?

    Les OSC burkinabè actives dans le domaine des droits humains et civils sont de plus en plus préoccupées par les représailles contre les politiciens et les civils perçus comme étant pro-français, ainsi que par la recrudescence marquée des groupes pro-russes qui demandent que la France et tous ses intérêts soient chassés du pays.

    De plus, les OSC de défense des droits humains et des droits civils s'inquiètent de la stigmatisation et des représailles contre la communité peule, ce qui vient s'ajouter aux préoccupations concernant l’insurrection djihadiste qui sévit dans le pays. Cette stigmatisation découle du fait que de nombreux groupes terroristes recrutent des combattants burkinabés d’origine peule. Des arrestations arbitraires et des exécutions extrajudiciaires de Peuls en raison de présomptions sur leur complicité dans des actes de violence terroriste ont été signalées. En dehors de ceux-là, aucun autre cas notable de violation des droits humains menaçant les civils n’a été identifié. Par conséquent, même si on n'est qu'au début du mandat de Traoré, on peut du moins déjà affirmer qu'il ne s'agit pas d'une situation d’augmentation des violations systématiques des droits humains.

    Comment la Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CEDEAO) a-t-elle réagi au coup d’État militaire ?

    Conformément à son Protocole additionnel de 2001 sur la démocratie et la bonne gouvernance, la réponse initiale de la CEDEAO a été de condamner fermement et sans réserve le coup d’État, le trouvant inopportun à un moment où des progrès avaient été réalisés par la junte dirigée par Damiba pour préparer le terrain aux élections et à la démocratie. La CEDEAO a également demandé à la junte de garantir les droits humains et d’assurer la stabilité.

    Malgré les sanctions en cours contre le pays, à la suite de sa rencontre avec M. Traoré, Mahamadou Issoufou, ancien président du Niger et médiateur envoyé au Burkina Faso par la CEDEAO, s’est déclaré satisfait et a déclaré que la CEDEAO resterait aux côtés du peuple burkinabé. La CEDEAO, comme elle a tendance à le faire, travaillera en étroite collaboration avec la junte militaire pour rétablir l’ordre démocratique. Le calendrier est maintenu et l’échéance reste juillet 2024.

    Comment les autres institutions internationales ont-elles réagi, et que devraient-elles faire pour soutenir la société civile au Burkina Faso ?

    Les autres institutions internationales ont réagi de la même manière que la CEDEAO. L’Union africaine a condamné le coup d’Etat, le considérant un pas en arrière suite aux progrès déjà réalisés vers la restauration de la démocratie. Le coup d’Etat a également été condamné par les Nations Unies et le Parlement européen.

    Si la communauté internationale veut aider les OSC au Burkina Faso, elle doit avant tout soutenir les efforts de la junte pour éradiquer l’insurrection djihadiste qui continue de sévir dans le pays. Elle doit également aider les autorités à faire face non seulement à la crise actuelle des réfugiés, accentuée par les défis liés au changement climatique, mais aussi justement à la crise climatique qui contribue à la propagation de la violence terroriste.

    La communauté internationale doit également continuer à faire pression sur la junte pour qu’elle tienne son engagement et qu'elle adhère aux accords conclus par l’ancienne junte avec la CEDEAO, afin de mettre fin à la répression des personnes en raison de leur appartenance politique et ethnique et de libérer toute personne emprisonnée pour des motifs politiques.

     L’espace civique au Burkina Faso est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Entrez en contact avec WADEMOS via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@WADEMOSnetwork sur Twitter.

  • BURKINA FASO: ‘For a major segment of civil society security is a more urgent concern than democracy’

    KopepDabugatCIVICUS speaks about therecent military coup in Burkina Faso with Kop'ep Dabugat, Network Coordinator of the West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS).

    WADEMOS is a coalition of West African civil society organisations (CSOs) that mobilises civil society around the defence of democracy and the promotion of democratic norms in the region.

    What led to the recent coup in Burkina Faso, and what needs to be done for democracy to be restored?

    The current head of Burkina Faso’s ruling junta, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, cited persistent insecurity as a reason for the military takeover – as did his predecessor, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. Attacks by armed groups are said to have greatly increased in the months following the first coup led by Damiba, in January 2022. According to analysts, Burkina Faso is the new epicentre of conflict in the Sahel. Since 2015, jihadist violence by insurgents with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State has resulted in the death of thousands of people and displaced a further two million.

    The coup also revealed the presence of a schism in the Damiba-led junta. It was orchestrated by military officers who were part of the coup that installed Damiba as head of state, but who now claimed that Damiba did not focus on reorganising the army to better face security threats, as they had expected. Instead, he stuck with the military structure that led to the fall of the government under President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, and began to display political ambitions.

    The security question remains the first challenge that needs to be addressed to make Burkina Faso a democratic state. The foremost role of a state, and more so of a democratic one, is to guarantee the safety of its citizens. A united Burkina Faso army will be necessary to achieve this.

    The other thing that must be done is to see through the existing transition programme for the country to return to civilian rule by July 2024, to which the new junta has agreed.

    Beyond the transition, the need to build a strong state and political institutions cannot be overemphasised. The challenges of corruption and economic marginalisation should be tackled in earnest. The need for stronger institutions is not peculiar to Burkina Faso: it is familiar to all the region, and particularly to those countries that have recently come under military rule, notably Guinea and Mali.

    What was civil society’s reaction to the recent military coup?

    In line with the disunity that characterises civil society in Burkina Faso, the civil society response to the coup has been mixed. But a notable section of civil society seemed to welcome the most recent coup because they saw the Damiba-led junta not only as authoritarian but also as aligned with politicians from the regime of President Blaise Compaoré, in power from 1987 to 2014. They saw the real possibility that those politicians could regain power and shut all doors on victims of the Compaoré regime ever seeing justice.

    As a result, the view of the recent coup as a significant setback for the democratic transition agenda is not unanimously held among civil society. Additionally, for a major segment of civil society security appears to be a more urgent and priority concern than democracy, so the element that prevailed was the seeming incapacity of the Damiba-led junta to address the security situation.

    The effort of the traditional and religious groups that negotiated a seven-point agreement between the Damiba and Traoré factions of the military, ending violence and forestalling further bloodshed, however, deserves commendation. That effort seems to have established a baseline of engagement between the Traoré-led junta and civil society. Such constructive engagement with the new government seems to have continued, with the notable participation of civil society in the 14 October 2022 National Conference that approved a new Transitional Charter for Burkina Faso and officially appointed Traoré as transitional president.

    What is the situation of human right CSOs?

    Burkinabe CSOs in the human and civil rights space have grown increasingly concerned about the victimisation of politicians and members of the public perceived to be pro-France as well as by the marked upsurge of pro-Russian groups demanding that France and all its interests be kicked out of the country.

    On top of their concern about the raging jihadist insurgency, human and civil rights CSOs are also concerned about the stigmatisation and victimisation of citizens of Fulani ethnicity. This victimisation stems from the fact that many terrorist cells recruit Burkinabe people of Fulani extraction. There have been reports of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings of Fulani people due to their alleged complicity in terrorist violence. Besides these two, no other notable cases of human rights abuses threatening civilians have been identified besides the ones already mentioned. Hence, even though it is still early in the Traoré-led government, it may be safe to rule out any consistent pattern of heightened human rights abuses under its watch.

    How has the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded to the military coup?

    In accordance with the letter of its 2001 Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, the initial response of ECOWAS was to condemn the coup strongly and unequivocally, calling it an unfortunate and retrogressive development, especially in light of the progress made with the Damiba-led junta in preparing the ground for elections and democracy. ECOWAS also called for the junta to guarantee human rights and ensure stability.

    Despite the ongoing sanctions against the country, following his meeting with Traoré, Mahamadou Issoufou, the former president of Niger and mediator sent to Burkina Faso by ECOWAS, said he was satisfied and that ECOWAS would remain by the side of the people of Burkina Faso. In what is the ECOWAS way to respond to military governments, ECOWAS will work closely with the junta to restore democratic order. The timeline stands and the deadline remains July 2024.

    How have other international institutions reacted, and what should they do to support civil society in Burkina Faso?

    Other international institutions have reacted similarly to ECOWAS. The African Union condemned the coup and said it was unfortunate in light of the progress already made towards the restoration of democracy. The coup was similarly condemned by the United Nations and the European Parliament.

    If the international community wants to assist CSOs in Burkina Faso, what it first and foremost needs to do is support the junta’s efforts to stamp out the jihadist insurgency that continues to hold the country hostage. It should also assist the authorities in tackling not only the current refugee crisis but also the challenge of climate change, which is a contributing factor not just to the refugee crisis but also to the spread of terrorist violence.

    The international community must also continue to mount pressure on the junta to deliver on its promise to adhere to the agreements the former junta reached with ECOWAS, to put an end to the victimisation of people on account of their political affiliations and ethnicity, and to set free anyone who has been imprisoned for political reasons.

    Civic space inBurkina Faso is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch withWADEMOS through itswebsite or its Facebook page, and follow @WADEMOSnetwork on Twitter.

  • 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.

  • CAMEROUN : « La communauté internationale n’a pas contribué au traitement des causes profondes de la crise anglophone »

     moniqCIVICUS échange avec la chercheuse et écrivaine féministe camerounaise Monique Kwachou au sujet de la crise actuelle dans les régions anglophones du Cameroun. Le conflit a émergé en 2016 à travers une série de griefs juridiques et éducatifs exprimés par la population anglophone du pays, minoritaire au niveau national mais majoritaire dans les régions du Nord-Ouest et du Sud-Ouest du Cameroun.

    Monique est la fondatrice de Better Breed Cameroon, une organisation de la société civile (OSC) travaillant sur le développement et l'émancipation des jeunes, et coordinatrice nationale de la section camerounaise du Forum des éducatrices africaines.

    Quelles ont été les conséquences humanitaires de l’escalade du conflit dans les régions anglophones du Cameroun ?

    La crise dans les régions anglophones du Cameroun a entraîné le déplacement interne de près de 800 000 personnes anglophones, selon lesuivi des organisations humanitaires. De nombreuses personnes émigrent également vers d’autres pays en quête de sécurité. Malheureusement, les civils ont été instrumentalisés et utilisés comme une arme. En conséquence la seule manière pour eux de se protéger est de fuir vers des régions plus sûres, à l'intérieur comme en dehors du pays.

    De même, de nombreuses personnes sont de plus en plus désespérées et n’investissent plus dans les régions anglophones comme elles le faisaient auparavant. Pour vous donner une idée claire de l’insécurité qui règne actuellement dans les régions anglophones, avant de sortir de chez moi, je dois évaluer les risques et décider si ce que je dois faire en vaut la peine.

    Les exécutions illégales et les enlèvements sont désormais monnaie courante et quelque peu normalisés : ils ne nous choquent pas autant qu’autrefois, et il existe une lassitude générale liée au traumatisme qui peut engendrer une apathie dangereuse.

    Actuellement, certaines personnes essaient de faire circuler un hashtag à propos d’un enlèvement récent de membres du clergé et de fidèles catholiques dans la région du Nord-Ouest. Les ravisseurs exigent une rançon de 30 millions de francs CFA (environ 45 000 dollars), mais l’Église hésite d’accepter ces demandes, craignant que si les kidnappeurs sont payés une fois, d’autres personnes seront enlevées dans le futur. Pourtant, la plupart des commentaires sur les réseaux sociaux à propos de cette nouvelle soutiennent le paiement de la rançon puisqu’il n’y a rien d’autre à faire. C'est la récurrence de telles histoires qui provoque cette apathie.

    Étant donné que les forces de sécuritéont une réputation de violence et qu’elles ont contribué au développement de la crise en brûlant des villages entiers, les gens ne leur font pas confiance non plus.

    En tant qu’enseignante, je pense que l’un des impacts les plus tristes de cette crise est au niveau de l’éducation. Pour l’instant, je pense que personne ne bénéficie d’une éducation de qualité. De nombreuses personnes ont émigré vers d’autres régions, notamment vers Douala, la plus grande ville du Cameroun, et Yaoundé, la capitale. En conséquence, les écoles y sont surpeuplées. Le ratio élèves- enseignants a augmenté et la qualité de l’enseignement a baissé. Dans les régions en crise, chaque grève et chaque couvre-feu met en suspens l’avenir des élèves et affecte potentiellement leur bien-être psychologique.

    Que faudra-t-il faire pour désescalader la situation ?

    Je pense que le gouvernement sait déjà ce qu’il faut faire pour que la situation s’apaise. Edith Kahbang Walla, du parti de l’opposition Parti du Peuple Camerounais, a présenté un processus de désescalade et de transition politique pacifique, étape par étape. Mais le problème est que le parti au pouvoir ne veut pas de transition. Or, vu qu'il semblerait qu'ils prévoient de rester perpétuellement au pouvoir, ils feraient mieux d’apporter des changements qui conviennent à toutes les régions du Cameroun.

    Des mesures extrêmes ont été adoptées pour attirer l’attention sur les problèmes rencontrés par les Camerounais anglophones. Les régions anglophones maintiennent les journées de « ville morte » tous les lundis, arrêtant les activités pendant un jour pour protester contre les autorités. Ces jours-là, les écoles ne fonctionnent pas et les entreprises restent fermées. L’objectif initial était de montrer du soutien aux enseignants et aux avocats en grève, mais cette pratique commence à avoir un impact négatif sur la vie des habitants des régions anglophones.

    Si le gouvernement envisageait une meilleure stratégie pour négocier avec les sécessionnistes, la situation pourrait être traitée efficacement. Malheureusement, le gouvernement a rendu la négociation impossible depuis le début de la crise en arrêtant les manifestants. Avec qui le gouvernement va-t-il alors dialoguer ? Ils soutiennent qu’ils ne négocieront pas avec les terroristes, tout en oubliant que c'est eux qui ont créé le monstre. Ils doivent reconnaître les causes profondes du problème, sinon ils ne pourront pas le résoudre.

    À quels défis la société civile doit-elle faire face en plaidant pour la paix ?

    La société civile est doublement victime du conflit en cours. Étant donné que les OSC se concentrent en ce moment sur l'action humanitaire, leurs activités axées sur le développement ont été grandement affectées par la crise et laissées de côté.

    D’une part, le gouvernement est en train de saper l’activisme des populations anglophones par le biais d'arrestations et de restrictions de la liberté d’expression, tant sur Internet comme hors Internet. Il est dangereux de dénoncer le gouvernement et l'action des militaires dans les régions anglophones. Par exemple, la journaliste Mimi Mefo a été arrêtée pour avoir fait un reportage sur l’activité militaire et a dû quitter le Cameroun parce que sa vie était menacée.

    D’autre part, les militants pacifistes qui préconisent le retour des enfants à l’école sont attaqués par des groupes sécessionnistes qui pensent que ces demandes seront instrumentalisées par le gouvernement. Des hôpitaux ont été attaqués à la fois par les militaires et par les groupes armés sécessionnistes parce qu’ils ont aidé l’un ou l’autre.

    Outre le défi du danger auquel les membres des OSC sont confrontés dans le cadre de leur travail, un autre défi est celui de l'articulation de messages pour la paix et la résolution de la crise sans être identifié comme pro-gouvernemental ou pro-sécessionniste. Cela s'accentue par le fait que les médias tentent de dépeindre le conflit comme si c'était tout noir ou blanc. Cela n’a pas été une tâche facile. Les ressources limitées rendent également difficile le travail tendant à la consolidation de la paix.

    Comment la communauté internationale peut-elle soutenir la société civile camerounaise ?

    Pendant la crise, les organisations humanitaires ont commencé à se rendre visibles dans les régions anglophones. Cependant, l’aide des organisations humanitaires ne répond qu'aux symptômes du problème, et non à sa cause profonde : ce n'est pas une façon de résoudre la crise. Je n’ai pas vu la communauté internationale aider le Cameroun à s’attaquer aux causes profondes du conflit. Ce serait constructif, par exemple, d’aider à tracer la vente d'armes aux deux camps. Nos principaux partenaires internationaux pourraient également utiliser leur influence pour faire pression sur le gouvernement afin qu’il s’oriente vers un véritable dialogue inclusif et garantisse l’adoption de solutions efficaces à la crise.

     L’espace civique au Cameroun est classé comme « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez Monique Kwachou sur sonsite internet et suivez@montrelz sur Twitter.

  • CAMEROUN : « Le mécontentement de la communauté anglophone doit être abordé à travers des discussions sérieuses avec toutes les parties »

    DibussiTandeCIVICUS échange avec l’écrivain et activiste numérique camerounais Dibussi Tande au sujet de la crise actuelle dans les régions anglophones du Cameroun. Le conflit a commencé en 2016 dû à une série de griefs juridiques et éducatifs exprimés par la population anglophone du pays, minoritaire au niveau national mais majoritaire dans les régions du Nord-Ouest et du Sud-Ouest du Cameroun.

    Dibussi est l’auteur deScribbles from the Den. Essays on Politics and Collective Memory in Cameroon. Il tient également un blog où il partage des nouvelles et des analyses de la situation au Cameroun. 

    Quelles ont été les conséquences humanitaires de l’escalade du conflit au Cameroun ?

    Le principal problème humanitaire concerne le déplacement de centaines de milliers de personnes fuyant le conflit. Selon l’Agence des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés (HCR), en août 2021 on comptait 712 800 personnes déplacées internes (PDI), à savoir déplacées à l’intérieur du pays. Bien que depuis certaines soient retournées, il reste encore plus d’un demi-million de PDI à travers le Cameroun.

    Aujourd’hui, les besoins prioritaires des personnes déplacées et des rapatriés sont le logement ainsi que l’accès aux soins de santé, à l’alimentation, à l’eau et à l’éducation. Cependant, l’aide n’a pas été facilement accessible, ce qui explique pourquoi ce conflit a été classé à plusieurs reprises comme l’une des crises de déplacement les plus négligées depuis 2019.

    N’oublions pas que l’Agence des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés compte 82 000 réfugiés camerounais supplémentaires enregistrés au Nigeria. De plus, il y a des millions de personnes piégées dans des zones de conflit et prises entre deux feux, ce qui pourrait conduire vers une crise humanitaire catastrophique.

    Que faut-il faire pour désescalader le conflit ?

    C’est très simple. Tout d’abord, les parties impliquées dans le conflit doivent être prêtes à oublier l’option militaire, qui n’a jusqu’à présent rien résolu, et à rechercher plutôt une solution pacifique. Il ne peut y avoir de véritable désescalade tant qu’elles n’auront pas donné un sens aux demandes aujourd’hui ridiculisées tendant à un « dialogue national inclusif ». Or celles-ci, sont devenues banales et constituent désormais une excuse pour l’inaction. Cela dit, je pense que la responsabilité incombe en premier lieu au gouvernement camerounais, qui dispose des ressources nécessaires pour au moins entamer un véritable dialogue.

    Deuxièmement, la communauté internationale doit revoir son approche au conflit. Jusqu’à présent, toutes les tentatives de médiation internationale, telles que le processusde facilitationsuisse dans le cadre duquel le gouvernement suisse a organisé des pourparlers, ont stagné pendant des années ou ont tout simplement échoué. La communauté internationale doit intensifier la pression sur toutes les parties, y compris en menaçant tant avec des sanctions individuelles comme collectives si l’obstination persiste. Sans cette double approche, il n’y aura pas de désescalade à portée du regard.

    A quels types de défis la société civile s’affronte-t-elle dans le cadre du plaidoyer pour la paix ?

    La société civile est confrontée à de nombreux défis. Tout d’abord, les organisations de la société civile (OSC) ont un accès limité aux zones de conflit. Elles doivent également faire face à une situation délicate entre le gouvernement et les groupes ambazoniens qui luttent pour l’indépendance de l’Ambazonie, un État autoproclamé dans les régions anglophones, dans laquelle chacun des deux camps les accuse régulièrement de soutenir l’autre. Ainsi, même quand la société civile accède aux zones de conflit, elle opère avec des ressources (financières et autres) très limitées.

    Cela dit, l’hostilité du gouvernement constitue le principal obstacle à leurs activités. Les OSC locales se plaignent régulièrement d’intimidation et de harcèlement de la part des autorités camerounaises lorsqu’elles tentent de travailler dans les zones de conflit. En 2020, par exemple, le ministre de l’Administration Territoriale a accusé les OSC locales de coopérer avec les OSC internationales pour alimenter le terrorisme au Cameroun. Il a affirmé que ces « ONG téléguidées » avaient reçu 5 milliards de francs CFA (environ 7,4 millions de dollars) pour minimiser les atrocités commises par les groupes séparatistes tout en publiant des informations fabriquées sur l’armée camerounaise.

    Les groupes humanitaires internationaux tels que Médecins sans frontières (MSF) ont également subi la colère du gouvernement. En 2020, le Cameroun a suspendu MSF de ses activités dans la région du Nord-Ouest après l’avoir accusé d’entretenir des relations de complicité avec les séparatistes. En mars 2022, MSF a suspendu ses activités dans la région du Sud-Ouest suite à l’arrestation de quatre de ses employés pour avoir prétendument collaboré avec des séparatistes. MSF s’est plaint de la confusion du gouvernement entre l’aide humanitaire neutre, indépendante et impartiale, et la collusion avec les groupes séparatistes.

    Quelles étaient les attentes des Camerounais anglophones pour le 1er octobre, proclamé « Jour de l’indépendance » dans les régions anglophones ?

    Les Camerounais anglophones avaient différentes attentes en fonction de leur idéologie politique. Pour les indépendantistes, l’objectif est tout simplement l’indépendance de l’ancien territoire sous mandat britannique, le Southern Cameroons. De leur point de vue toute négociation avec le gouvernement doit donc porter sur les modalités pour mettre fin à l’union et non sur la question de savoir si l’union doit continuer.

    Mais d’autres segments de la population croient toujours en une république camerounaise bilingue, bien que sous d’autres accords et agencements politiques. Les fédéralistes pensent que les attentes des anglophones seront satisfaites si le pays revient au système fédéral qui existait entre 1961 et 1972. Ce système offrait à l’ancien Southern Cameroons britannique des protections constitutionnelles au sein d’une république fédérale, notamment le droit d’avoir son propre gouvernement, un corps législatif élu, un système judiciaire indépendant, un système de gouvernement local dynamique et le contrôle étatique du système éducatif.

    Le gouvernement camerounais n’a accédé ni aux demandes radicales des indépendantistes ni aux demandes comparativement modérées des fédéralistes. Au lieu de cela, il va de l’avant avec une politique de « décentralisation » qui, en accordant un pouvoir symbolique aux régions, finit par ne même pas aborder le soi-disant « problème anglophone ».

    Que devrait faire le gouvernement camerounais pour assurer la reconnaissance des droits des Camerounais anglophones ?

    Dans un premier temps, le gouvernement devrait abandonner ses politiques palliatives et largement cosmétiques pour résoudre le conflit, car celles-ci ne font qu’ajouter au ressentiment dans la région. Tel est le cas, par exemple, du « statut spécial » accordé aux régions du Nord-Ouest et du Sud-Ouest, qui était censé reconnaître leur « particularité linguistique et leur patrimoine historique ». Cependant, cette approche hautement critiquée n’accorde pas le pouvoir d’influencer ou de déterminer les politiques dans des domaines clés tels que l’éducation, la justice et le gouvernement local, où cette « particularité » a le plus besoin d’être protégée.

    Les origines historiques et constitutionnelles du mécontentement des communautés anglophones au sein de la république bilingue du Cameroun sont bien documentées. Ce mécontentement doit être abordé par le biais d’une approche holistique qui inclut des discussions sérieuses avec toutes les parties, allant des fédéralistes aux indépendantistes. Le dialogue est un voyage, pas une destination. Il est maintenant temps de commencer ce voyage, même s’il est tortueux, frustrant et difficile, et malgré la méfiance, le ressentiment et l’animosité qui sont profondément ancrés entre les parties.

    Comment la communauté internationale peut-elle soutenir la société civile camerounaise et aider à trouver une solution ?

    La société civile camerounaise a besoin, entre autres, de ressources financières et matérielles pour fournir adéquatement l’assistance humanitaire aux personnes déplacées ainsi qu’aux personnes vivant dans les zones de conflit. C’est dans ce cadre que la communauté internationale peut participer. Cependant, l’aide internationale est une arme à double tranchant étant donné que le gouvernement camerounais est suspicieux et hostile envers les OSC locales qui ont des partenaires internationaux, et en particulier celles qui critiquent la façon dont le gouvernement a géré le conflit jusqu’à présent. La société civile a également besoin de ressources pour documenter de manière précise et adéquate ce qui se passe sur le terrain, y compris les crimes de guerre et les violations des lois internationales relatives aux droits humains.

    Les OSC devront trouver un moyen de convaincre tant le gouvernement comme les groupes ambazoniens, qui se méfient également de leurs activités, qu’elles sont des intermédiaires honnêtes. Si elles parviennent à prouver qu’elles ne sont pas des acteurs partiaux, cela leur permettrait de jouer un rôle central dans la recherche d’une solution au conflit. À ce stade cela représente toutefois une tâche herculéenne, voire impossible. Pour l’instant, la société civile demeurera sur la corde raide entre le gouvernement et les indépendantistes, tout en faisant des promesses qu’elle ne peut pas tenir aux personnes touchées par le conflit.

    En ce qui concerne la recherche internationale d’une solution, il y a eu beaucoup plus de tergiversations, tant de la part de l’Union Africaine comme de l’ONU, que de véritables actions. Jusqu’à présent, la communauté internationale a adopté une attitude essentiellement réactive face au conflit. Des déclarations de détresse suivies d’appels creux à un dialogue inclusif ont été publiées après chaque atrocité. Cela s’ensuit par du silence jusqu’à la prochaine tragédie. Les parties sont donc peu incitées au dialogue, surtout lorsque chacune d’entre elles croit, à tort ou à raison, qu’elle prend le dessus sur le plan militaire.

    L’espace civique au Cameroun est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Prenez contact avec Dibussi Tande sur sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@dibussi sur Twitter.

  • DRC: ‘The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission has failed’

    CIVICUS speaks about the ongoing protests against the United Nations (UN) Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), MONUSCO, with social activists Espoir Ngalukiye and Sankara Bin Kartumwa.

    Espoir and Sankara are members of LUCHA (Lutte Pour Le Changement), a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for human dignity and social justice in the DRC. It has played a role in peaceful protests against MONUSCO.

    LUCHA Lutte Pour Le Changement

    What triggered the anti-MONUSCO protests?

    The eastern region of the DRC has faced security issues for over three decades. People are protesting for MONUSCO to leave because its strategy to maintain peace has failed.

    MONUSCO was deployed to restore peace in the DRC by protecting civilians, facilitating safe electoral processes and fighting rebel groups. But it has been in the country for close to 20 years and the opposite has happened: the number of armed groups has risen, people continue to live in unsafe conditions and innocent lives are being lost despite the presence of MONUSCO.

    It was the peacekeeping mission’s job to prevent that happening, but it has not served us diligently and has proven to be useless. Right now, extremely high levels of violence are causing many people to migrate in search of safety. This alone is evidence enough that the peacekeeping mission has failed.

    Many people in local communities do not have a good relationship with MONUSCO because they believe the mission has not taken up its role to protect them. Civilians’ lack of trust, in turn, makes it challenging for MONUSCO to carry out its mandate. But if it was effective, people would not be protesting against it.

    How have the authorities responded to protesters’ demands?

    The immediate response has been violence by both MONUSCO and the Congolese authorities. We have seen people injured and killed just because they were part of the protests. People are angry because security issues have been ongoing for years, and MONUSCO should have seen this coming: it was only a matter of time before people started acting on their anger towards the mission. MONUSCO should have come up with ways to deal with the situation without people having to lose their lives. 

    As for the Congolese authorities, they have arrested people unlawfully. Most people who have been detained are facing terrible conditions in prison and our concern is that they all get justice. We do not want them to be tortured for fighting for their rights.

    The UN Secretary-General has condemned the violence and called for the Congolese government to investigate it. But the demand for MONUSCO’s departure has not been addressed, and protesters say they will not stop demonstrating until MONUSCO leaves.

    Unfortunately, the Congolese authorities have not addressed our concerns either. From our standpoint, they will be the next to be targeted because they have been elected and are paid to protect us. If they cannot live up to their responsibilities, we will hold them accountable. They must join their voice to ours and ask MONUSCO to leave.

    What is civil society in general, and LUCHA in particular, doing to help improve the situation?

    LUCHA is a CSO that advocates for change in a non-violent manner. We have tried to show people it is possible to advocate for change without using violence. Our members have participated in protests against MONUSCO, which we believe are legitimate and constitutional, so we also demand non-violence and respect for the law on the government’s part. Our country has a violent history, and we would like to change that narrative.

    We are an organisation led by young people who have experienced war and conflict and want to see a better society emerge, and a better future for all. We struggle for Congolese people and their right to have access to basic needs, starting with living in a safe environment. We have members on the ground in the areas where the protests are happening, and their role is to monitor the situation and report on the events taking place.

    LUCHA is using our social media accounts to inform people in and outside the DRC about the situation and how it is impacting on so many innocent lives. We hope this will create awareness and push the authorities to address our demands.

    Our monitors on the ground also work to ensure protesters do not employ violence, but this has proven to be a challenge because most people are tired and at this point they are willing to do whatever it takes to get MONUSCO to leave, even if it means using violence.

    What should the international community do to help?

    The international community has been hypocritical and has always prioritised their own needs. It is unfortunate that the recent events are happening in a mineral-rich area of our country. Many powerful people have interests there and are willing to do anything to ensure they are protected. That is why so few countries are speaking up against what is happening.

    Geography also puts us at a disadvantage. Maybe if we were Ukraine our voices would have mattered but we are the DRC, and international players only care about our resources and not our people. But the people who are getting killed in the DRC are human beings who have families and lives and dreams just like the ones being killed in Ukraine.

    The international community must understand that we need peace and security, and that MONUSCO has failed to deliver and needs to leave our country. It must listen to the voice of the people who are sovereign. Listening to the people will be the only way to stop the protests. Trying to stop them any other way will lead to more violence and more deaths.

    Civic space in the DRC is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with LUCHA through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@luchaRDC on Twitter. 

  • ECUADOR: ‘The election provided a temporary escape valve, but instability is not over’

    HumbertoSalazarCIVICUS discusses the results of the 15 October runoff vote in Ecuador’s presidential election with Humberto Salazar, executive director of Fundación Esquel.

    Esquel is a civil society organisation that seeks to contribute to sustainable human development, the improvement of the quality of life of the most excluded parts of the population and the construction of a democratic, responsible and supportive society in Ecuador.

    How did violence as a result of organised crime affect the election?

    The electoral process was deeply affected by violence. This was not limited to the death of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. In the context of these and the previous local elections, elected representatives to local governments were also assassinated. The most notorious case was that of Agustín Intriago, mayor of the city of Manta. A candidate for the National Assembly was also assassinated, and many other candidates for different positions received threats. The list of fatal victims of violence expands if we include the seven suspects captured for the Villavicencio assassination who were killed in the prisons where they were being held.

    In this context, voting preferences were surely affected. From the shadows, groups representing local and transnational mafias sent intimidating messages through violent acts that influenced people’s votes. This was very evident in the first round, when following Villavicencio’s assassination, most voters opted for candidates who until then had had no chance of reaching the runoff. This was the case with Jan Topic and Daniel Noboa, the president-elect. Both saw their numbers rebound after the assassination.

    Was violence a campaign issue in the runoff?

    The influence of violence on the elections went beyond being a campaign issue strategically chosen by the candidates. For voters, security became a central issue on the agenda, even surpassing in priority other key issues such as unemployment and poverty.

    It is not that unemployment and poverty lost relevance, but rather that the three issues became an integrated trio of aspirations that is at the basis of current demands. The electorate is looking for quick and effective, but not isolated, answers. Security, unemployment and poverty are all elements of the same equation that citizens demand from the political system.

    Although the candidates’ proposals on the issue were very general, there is a consensus in political circles that security is a key issue in Ecuador’s current situation. Consequently, in the coming days the president-elect will have to develop his security proposals in greater detail. At the polls, voters didn’t evaluate whether the proposals of either candidate on the issue were the best, nor did they have the tools to do so, but now they hope that, regardless of the policies chosen, the result of their implementation will be greater peace.

    Do you see the result as indicating a rightward turn by the electorate, or do you think the vote wasn’t ideologically motivated?

    The analysis of electoral preferences is not a game of addition and subtraction in which one side, in this case the right, wins, while the other side loses. Nor are we dealing with a naïve or uninformed electorate that has been tricked by a renewed right-wing alternative and has leaned towards right-wing values, principles and narratives as a result.

    In the current circumstances, the vote is far from ideological. Other considerations weigh in the assessment of available options. In this case, the search for novelty prevailed, allowing for the victory of an ‘outsider’. In Ecuador, outsiders have a long track record of success.

    While the winning candidate represents the right in terms of his values and models, discursively he presents himself as a renovator, much more pragmatic than ideological. This blurring of ideological content is not a unique feature of this particular candidate, but expresses a deeper process of transformation of representation in a context in which rhetoric has been emptied of content as a result of practices blatantly contradicting discourse.

    People voted overwhelmingly for a candidate who managed to inspire their trust, whose traits set him apart from the polarised competition proposed by more ideological candidates. They looked for someone who offered alternatives not only to address security issues but also to tackle issues of economic recovery and welfare.

    The result was also influenced by the expectations of specific audiences such as young people, who make up a major part of the electoral roll. This part of the electorate sought options for the future detached from the conflicts between those who are ultimately responsible for the crisis in which we are now immersed. In this sense, right-wing and left-wing ideological narratives were equally punished, as evidenced by the fact that all traditional parties lagged behind in the election results.

    Why did defeated candidate Luisa González lose, despite having a stronger party structure?

    A key factor in Luisa González’s defeat in the runoff was the weight of the figure of former president Rafael Correa as the symbol and leader of the Citizen Revolution movement. This leadership, which offers the movement a captive electorate of around 25 per cent, also creates a ceiling that, in a polarised competition between Correism and anti-Correism, does not allow the candidate to surpass the 50 per cent required to win in the runoff. The same polarisation strategy that gave Correa’s government the strength to push its agendas has reduced her chances of attracting an electorate that is not part of the party’s hardcore vote.

    The revanchist narratives of Correism, expressed in the motto ‘neither forgive nor forget’, also undermined González’s support. The appeal to a return to the past reaffirmed the party’s base, but prevented it winning the votes of a broader electorate that distrusts the authoritarian tendencies of Correism and feared that the triumph of his candidate would translate into restrictions on civic space, particularly on freedom of association.

    What are civil society’s expectations of the new administration?

    While the president-elect does not have a history of resistance to civil society participation, during the campaign he was not particularly open to receiving proposals from and meeting with civil society groups. This creates uncertainty about how broad and effective spaces for civil society participation in public policy design and implementation will be. In principle, there are no clear threats to civic space, but there is uncertainty regarding the new government’s position on the promotion and strengthening of civil society.

    It is worth noting that the two second-round competitors had a conservative bias beyond their ideological leanings to the right or left. Hence the uncertainty as to how the new president will respond to social demands from the gender equality agendas of feminist groups and the LGBTQI+ community, the demands of the Indigenous movement regarding plurinationality and interculturality, and the concerns of the human rights movement regarding the search for policies to tackle crime that do not sacrifice rights.

    What is certain is that there is a huge number of problems that the new government will have to address. To sustain its initiatives beyond the one and a half years of his term in office, the new president will need to make a broad call for action and produce a basic agenda endorsed by national multi-stakeholder agreements. Policies on security, labour – with an emphasis on youth employment under a model of intergenerational inclusion – and combating chronic child malnutrition will be indispensable. The so-called Democracy Code, the 2009 law that establishes the electoral system, the management of elections and the requirements for the functioning and financing of political parties and movements, must also be reformed.

    Do you think this election put an end to political instability?

    The instability is not over, but the election provided a temporary and short-lived escape valve for the tensions of the multi-dimensional crisis affecting Ecuador. The government’s grace period, however, will be very limited: it will have to produce measures in the short term that show it’s on the way to resolving major problems.

    Two things could work against it: the slowness of the bureaucratic apparatus to develop transformative projects and the power struggle that could block its initiatives in the National Assembly. The relationship between the executive and legislative branches will be key. If the executive once again finds itself blocked by a multitude of special interests demanding perks to enable the approval of its initiatives, the crisis will again deepen.

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

    Get in touch with Fundación Esquel through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow @FundacionEsquel onInstagram andTwitter.

  • ECUADOR: ‘The new government must dialogue and seek political agreements that are public, not under the table’

    RuthHidalgoCIVICUS discusses the results of the 15 October runoff vote in Ecuador’s presidential election with Ruth Hidalgo, executive director of Participación Ciudadana (Citizen Participation).

    Participación Ciudadana is a non-partisan and pluralist civil society organisation (CSO) that works to strengthen democracy in Ecuador.

    How did organised crime violence affect the electoral process?

    The electoral process that just ended has been marked by political violence: a presidential candidate, a mayor and a prefect were assassinated. There has also been a climate of violence on the streets due to the actions of drug gangs, who extort protection money known as ‘vaccines’ from the public and uses it to finance organised crime groups.

    This made the issue of security one of the central topics in the debate between the second round candidates, and one that has generated the highest expectations.

    The two candidates’ proposals, however, were broadly similar, although with some differences in tone and characteristics of their own. Both aimed to strengthen the presence of the armed forces as co-executors alongside the police of anti-crime policies.

    How do you interpret the triumph of a centre-right alternative?

    This was not necessarily an ideological vote. The weakness of political parties in Ecuador means that ideology is losing strength. For some time now, the country has been debating not between right and left but between Correism and anti-Correism: it is the controversial legacy of former president Rafael Correa, in power for a decade between 2007 and 2017, which continues to polarise Ecuadorian society.

    The winning candidate, business leader Daniel Noboa, represents at least by his origins a centre-right option. But if he has won, it is because he has managed to capture the votes of a young electorate that is not on either side of the polarisation and has rather opted for a new vision, a young candidate with no political baggage who offers a form of politics that, unlike that of his predecessors, is not confrontational.

    What factors worked against the candidacy of Luisa González?

    Correa’s candidate, Luisa González, was hurt by the constant presence of Correa during most of the campaign, which ended up overshadowing her candidacy. Although in the end she tried to distance herself from that influence, she did not manage to position herself as a renewed Correist option, which is what she should have conveyed in order to have a chance of winning. She remained stuck to the worn-out and questioned political image of the former president.

    I believe that the element of Correa’s legacy that leads to the greatest rejection is his confrontational and threatening way of dealing with those he views as political enemies. This seems to be eliciting more and more discontent and disapproval. While the amount of support González received was not small, this set a ceiling for her that she was unable to break through. This was precisely the reason her opponent was able to prevail.

    How has the space for civil society evolved in recent years, and what can be expected under the new government?

    Civil society, in my opinion, has recovered its presence and freedom of action after Correa’s time in power, during which it was restricted and in some cases persecuted. Let’s not forget that an important environmental CSO, which confronted the government because of its extractivist policies, was arbitrarily shut down and then legislation was passed to regulate the registration, operations and closure of CSOs at the government’s discretion, with the aim of removing those that bothered the government. Many civil society activists and journalists were criminalised for their work.

    The expectation of civil society under the new government is the same as always: to have an enabling environment that allows it to carry out its activities freely. We expect a government that protects and promotes freedom of association.

    What should be the priorities of the new president?

    It’s worth remembering that these were early elections called to elect President Guillermo Lasso’s successor after he used the ‘cross-death’ mechanism, dissolving congress to prevent it impeaching him, but simultaneously cutting his mandate short. This means Noboa will only serve as president for the rest of Lasso’s term: a mere 18 months, too little time for the many challenges he will face.

    The new president takes over a country plagued by insecurity and violence, with a high fiscal deficit, almost zero growth, very high unemployment rates and on top of that, one that is once again experiencing the El Niño climate phenomenon, with warming water currents that produce extreme weather events and record temperatures. These are all issues he will have to prioritise, with public policies aimed at mitigating the most important problems in the areas of the economy, climate change and public security. To do so, he will need to build a strong team and create spaces for dialogue and reconciliation. He will need to demonstrate openness to civil society and seek political agreements that are public, not under the table.

    Every election presents an opportunity. As always in a country with so many needs, expectations are high. The main task ahead for the new government is to strengthen Ecuador’s democracy, which will demand an enormous amount of work.

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

    Get in touch with Participación Ciudadana through itswebsite orFacebook account, subscribe to itsYouTube channel and follow@participacionpc on Instagram and@ParticipacionPC and@RhidalgoPC on Twitter.

  • EL SALVADOR: ‘Rather than a real security policy, what the government has is an electoral strategy’

    CesarArtigaCIVICUS speaks about the one-year state of emergency in El Salvador with César Artiga, founder and coordinator of the National Promoting Team of the Escazú Agreement and of the National Promoting Group for Resolution 2250 on the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda.

    These citizen groups have supported processes of social awareness-raising, legal empowerment and political advocacy since 2017. They promote and defend human rights, peace building, justice and sustainability by working with groups and communities living in conditions of exclusion and vulnerability, particularly in relation to their environmental rights.

  • GUINEA: ‘The democratic future of the region is at stake in our country’

    CIVICUS speaks about the lack of progress in the transition to democracy in Guinea since its 2021 military coup with Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, head of communications for the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC).

    The FNDC is a coalition of Guinean civil society organisations and opposition parties founded in April 2019 to protest against former President Alpha Condé’s proposed constitutional change to seek a third term. The coalition continued to fight for a return to constitutional rule after the September 2021 military coup. On 8 August 2022, the transitional governmentdecreed its dissolution, accusing it of organising armed public demonstrations, using violence and inciting hatred.

    Abdoulaye Oumou Sow

    Why is there a delay in calling elections to restore constitutional order?

    The National Committee of Reconciliation and Development (CNRD), the junta in power since September 2021, is more interested in seizing power than organising elections. It is doing everything possible to restrict civic space and silence any dissenting voices that try to protest and remind them that the priority of a transition must be the return to constitutional order. It is imprisoning leaders and members of civil society and the political opposition for mobilising to demand elections, and has just ordered the dissolution of the FNDC under false accusations of organising armed demonstrations on the streets and acting as a combat group or private militia.

    What are the conditions set by the military and how has the democratic opposition reacted?

    In violation of Article 77 of the Transitional Charter, which provides for the duration of the transition to be determined by agreement between the CNRD and the country’s main social and political actors, the military junta has unilaterally set a duration of 36 months without listening to the opinion of social and political forces. The junta is currently set on not listening to anyone.

    The military are savagely repressing citizens who are mobilising for democracy and demanding the opening of a frank dialogue between the country’s social and political forces and the CNRD to agree on a reasonable timeframe for the return to constitutional order. Lacking the will to let go of power, the head of the junta is wallowing in arrogance and contempt. His attitude is reminiscent of the heyday of the dictatorship of the deposed regime of Alpha Condé.

    What has been the public reaction?

    Most socio-political forces currently feel excluded from the transition process and there have been demonstrations for the restoration of democracy.

    But the junta runs the country like a military camp. Starting on 13 May 2002, a CNRD communiqué has banned all demonstrations on public spaces. This decision is contrary to Article 8 of the Transitional Charter, which protects fundamental freedoms. Human rights violations have subsequently multiplied. Civic space is completely under lock and key. Activists are persecuted, some have been arrested and others are living in hiding. Despite the many appeals of human rights organisations, the junta multiplies its abuses against pro-democracy citizens.

    On 28 July 2022, at the call of the FNDC, pro-democracy citizens mobilised to protest against the junta’s seizure of power. But unfortunately, this mobilisation was prevented and repressed with bloody force. At least five people were shot dead, dozens were injured and hundreds were arrested. Others were deported to the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp, where they have been tortured by the military.

    Among those arrested and currently held in Conakry prison are the National Coordinator of the FNDC, Oumar Sylla Foniké Manguè, the FNDC’s head of operations, Ibrahima Diallo and the Secretary General of the Union of Republican Forces, Saikou Yaya Barry. They are accused of illegal assembly, destruction of public buildings and disturbances of public order.

    How can the international community, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in particular, give the pro-democracy movement the support it needs?

    Today it is more necessary than ever for the international community to accompany the people of Guinea who are under the thumb of a new military dictatorship.

    The democratic future of the region is at stake in our country. If the international community, and ECOWAS in particular, remains silent, it will set a dangerous precedent for the region. Because of its management of the previous crisis generated by the third mandate of Alpha Condé, Guinean citizens do not have much faith in the sub-regional institution. From now on, the force of change must come from within, through the determination of the people of Guinea to take their destiny in hand.

    Civic space in Guinea is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the FNDC through itswebsite or itsFacebook page and follow@FNDC_Gn on Twitter.

  • GUINÉE : « L’avenir démocratique de la région se joue dans notre pays »

    CIVICUS échange sur l’absence de progrès dans la transition vers la démocratie en Guinée après le coup d’État militaire de 2021 avec Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, responsable de la communication du Front National pour la Défense de la Constitution (FNDC).

    Le FNDC est une coalition d’organisations de la société civile et de partis d’opposition guinéens fondée en avril 2019 pour protester contre le projet de révision constitutionnelle de l’ancien Président Alpha Condé pour briguer un troisième mandat. La coalition a continué à lutter pour le retour à un gouvernement constitutionnel après le coup d’État militaire de septembre 2021. Le 8 août 2022, le gouvernement de transition a en l’accusant d’organiser des manifestations publiques armées, de recourir à la violence et d’inciter à la haine.

    Abdoulaye Oumou Sow

    Pourquoi tant de retard dans la convocation des élections pour rétablir l’ordre constitutionnel ?

    Le Comité national du rassemblement et du développement (CNRD), la junte au pouvoir depuis septembre 2021, est plutôt sur la voix de la confiscation du pouvoir que de l’organisation des élections. Il met tout en œuvre pour restreindre l’espace civique et faire taire toutes les voix dissonantes qui essayent de protester et rappeler que la priorité d’une transition doit être le retour à l’ordre constitutionnel. Il emprisonne des dirigeants et des membres de la société civile et de l’opposition politique pour s’être mobilisés en vue des élections, et vient d’ordonner la dissolution du FNDC sous l’accusation fausse d’avoir organisé des manifestations armées sur la voie publique et d’agir comme un groupe de combat ou une milice privée.

    Quelles sont les conditions fixées par les militaires et comment l’opposition démocratique a-t-elle réagi ?

    En violation de l’article 77 de la charte de la transition, qui prévoit la fixation de la durée de la transition par accord entre le CNRD et les forces vives de la nation, la junte militaire a de façon unilatérale fixée une durée de 36 mois sans l’avis des forces sociales et politiques du pays. Aujourd’hui, elle s’obstine à n’écouter personne.

    Les militaires répriment sauvagement les citoyen.nes qui se mobilisent pour la démocratie et exigent l’ouverture d’un dialogue franc entre les forces vives de la nation et le CNRD pour convenir d’un délai raisonnable pour le retour à l’ordre constitutionnel. N’ayant pas la volonté de quitter le pouvoir, le chef de la junte se mure dans l’arrogance et le mépris. Son attitude rappelle les temps forts de la dictature du régime déchu d’Alpha Condé.

    Quelle a été la réaction du public ?

    Aujourd’hui la plupart des acteurs socio-politiques se sentent exclus du processus de transition et il y a eu des manifestations pour le rétablissement de la démocratie.

    Mais la junte gère le pays comme un camp militaire. Depuis le 13 mai 2002, un communiqué du CNRD a interdit toutes manifestations sur la voie publique. Cette décision est contraire à l’article 8 de la charte de transition, qui protège les libertés fondamentales. Les violations des droits humains se sont ensuite multipliées. L’espace civique est complètement sous verrous. Les activistes sont persécutés, certains arrêtés, d’autres vivants dans la clandestinité. Malgré les multiples appels des organisations des droits humains, la junte multiplie les exactions contre les citoyen.nes pro démocratie.

    Le 28 juillet 2022, à l’appel du FNDC les citoyen.nes prodémocratie ce sont mobilisés pour protester contre la confiscation du pouvoir par la junte. Mais malheureusement cette mobilisation a été empêchée et réprimée dans le sang. Au moins cinq personnes ont été tuées par balles, des dizaines ont été blessées et des centaines ont été arrêtées. D’autres ont été déportées au camp militaire Alpha Yaya Diallo, où elles ont été torturées par des militaires.

    Parmi les arrêtés aujourd’hui détenus à la maison d’arrêt de Conakry se trouvent le Coordinateur National du FNDC, Oumar Sylla Foniké Manguè, le responsable des opérations du FNDC, Ibrahima Diallo, et le secrétaire Général de l’Union des Forces Républicaines, Saikou Yaya Barry. Ils sont accusés d’attroupement illégal, destruction d’édifices publics et trouble à l’ordre public.

    Comment la communauté internationale, et la Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CEDEAO) en particulier, pourrait-elle apporter au mouvement démocratique le soutien dont il a besoin ?

    Aujourd’hui, il est plus que jamais nécessaire pour la communauté internationale d’accompagner le peuple de Guinée qui est sous le prisme d’une nouvelle dictature militaire.

    L’avenir démocratique de la région se joue dans notre pays. Si la communauté internationale, et notamment la CEDEAO, se mure dans le silence, elle favorisera un précédent dangereux dans la région. A cause de sa gestion de la précédente crise générée pour le troisième mandat d’Alpha Condé, les citoyen.nes Guinéens ne croient pas trop à l’institution sous-régionale. Désormais, la force du changement doit venir de l’interne, par la détermination du peuple de Guinée que compte prendre son destin en main.

    L’espace civique en Guinée est considéré comme « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Prenez contact avec le FNDC via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@FNDC_Gn sur Twitter.


  • HAÏTI : « Il est possible de passer de l’ingérence étrangère à un véritable leadership du peuple haïtien »

    Ellie Happel

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Ellie Happel, professeur de la Global Justice Clinic et directrice du Haiti Project à la New York University School of Law. Ellie a vécu et travaillé en Haïti pendant plusieurs années, et son travail se concentre sur la solidarité avec les mouvements sociaux en Haïti et la justice raciale et environnementale

    Quels ont été les principaux développements politiques depuis l’assassinat du président Jovenel Moïse en juillet 2021 ?

    En tant qu’Américaine, je voudrais commencer par souligner le rôle que le gouvernement américain a joué dans la création de la situation actuelle. L’histoire des interventions étrangères improductives et oppressives est longue.

    Pour comprendre le contexte de la présidence de Moïse, il faut toutefois remonter au moins à 2010. Après le tremblement de terre qui a dévasté Haïti en janvier 2010, les États-Unis et d’autres acteurs extérieurs ont appelé à la tenue d’élections. Les gens n’avaient pas leur carte de vote ; plus de deux millions de personnes avaient perdu leur maison. Mais les élections ont eu lieu. Le gouvernement américain est intervenu au second tour des élections présidentielles haïtiennes, en appelant le candidat et fondateur du parti PHTK, Michel Martelly, à se présenter au second tour. Martelly a été élu par la suite.

    Pendant la présidence de Martelly, nous avons assisté à un déclin des conditions politiques, économiques et sociales. La corruption était bien documentée et endémique. Martelly n’a pas organisé d’élections et a fini par gouverner par décret. Il a choisi lui-même Moïse pour successeur. Le gouvernement américain a fortement soutenu les administrations de Martelly et de Moïse malgré l’augmentation de la violence, la destruction des institutions gouvernementales haïtiennes, la corruption et l’impunité qui ont eu lieu sous leur règne.

    La mort de Moïse n’est pas le plus gros problème auquel Haïti est confronté. Pendant son mandat, Moïse a effectivement détruit les institutions haïtiennes. Le peuple haïtien s’est soulevé contre le régime du PHTK en signe de protestation, et il a été accueilli par la violence et la répression. Il existe des preuves de l’implication du gouvernement dans des massacres de masse de personnes dans des régions connues pour leur opposition au PHTK.

    Deux semaines avant l’assassinat de Moïse, un militant de premier plan et une journaliste très connue ont été assassinés en Haïti. Diego Charles et Antoinette Duclair demandaient des comptes. Ils étaient actifs dans le mouvement visant à construire un Haïti meilleur. Ils ont été tués en toute impunité.

    Il est clair que la crise actuelle n’a pas pour origine l’assassinat de Moïse. Elle est le résultat de l’échec des politiques étrangères et de la façon dont le gouvernement haïtien a réprimé et stoppé les manifestations de l’opposition qui demandait des comptes pour la corruption et la violence, et qui exigeait le changement.

    Ce qui me donne actuellement de l’espoir, c’est le travail de la Commission pour une solution haïtienne à la crise, qui a été créée avant l’assassinat de Moïse. La Commission est un large groupe de partis politiques et d’organisations de la société civile (OSC) qui se sont réunis pour travailler collectivement à la reconstruction du gouvernement. C’est l’occasion de passer de l’ingérence étrangère à un véritable leadership du peuple haïtien.

    Quel est votre point de vue sur le report des élections et du référendum constitutionnel, et quelles sont les chances que des votes démocratiques aient lieu ?

    Dans le climat actuel, les élections ne sont pas la prochaine étape pour résoudre la crise politique d’Haïti. Les élections ne devraient pas avoir lieu tant que les conditions d’un vote équitable, libre et légitime ne sont pas réunies. Les élections de ces 11 dernières années démontrent qu’elles ne sont pas un moyen automatique de parvenir à une démocratie représentative.

    Aujourd’hui, la tenue d’élections se heurte à de nombreux obstacles. Le premier est celui de la gouvernance : les élections doivent être supervisées par un organe de gouvernance légitime et respecté par le peuple haïtien. Il serait impossible pour le gouvernement de facto d’organiser des élections. Le deuxième problème est la violence des gangs. On estime que plus de la moitié de Port-au-Prince est sous le contrôle des gangs. Lorsque le conseil électoral provisoire a préparé les élections il y a quelques mois, son personnel n’a pas pu accéder à un certain nombre de centres de vote en raison du contrôle exercé par les gangs. Troisièmement, les électeurs haïtiens éligibles devraient avoir des cartes d’identité d’électeur.

    Le gouvernement américain et d’autres acteurs doivent affirmer le droit du peuple haïtien à l’autodétermination. Les États-Unis ne devraient ni insister ni soutenir des élections sans preuve de mesures concrètes pour garantir qu’elles soient libres, équitables, inclusives et perçues comme légitimes. Les OSC haïtiennes et la Commission indiqueront quand les conditions sont réunies pour des élections libres, équitables et légitimes.

    Y a-t-il une crise migratoire causée par la situation en Haïti ? Comment peut-on relever les défis auxquels sont confrontés les migrants haïtiens ?

    Ce que nous appelons la « crise migratoire » est un exemple frappant de la manière dont la politique étrangère et la politique d’immigration des États-Unis à l’égard d’Haïti ont longtemps été affectées par le racisme anti-Noir.

    De nombreux Haïtiens qui ont quitté le pays après le tremblement de terre de 2010 se sont d’abord installés en Amérique du Sud. Beaucoup sont repartis par la suite. Les économies du Brésil et du Chili se sont détériorées, et les migrants haïtiens se sont heurtés au racisme et au manque d’opportunités économiques. Des familles et des individus ont voyagé vers le nord, à pied, en bateau et en bus, en direction de la frontière entre le Mexique et les États-Unis.

    Depuis de nombreuses années, le gouvernement américain ne permet pas aux migrants haïtiens et aux autres migrants d’entrer aux États-Unis. Il expulse des personnes sans entretien de demande d’asile - un entretien de « crainte fondée », qui est requis par le droit international - vers Haïti.

    Le gouvernement américain doit cesser d’utiliser le titre 42, une disposition de santé publique, comme prétexte pour expulser des migrants. Le gouvernement américain doit au contraire offrir une aide humanitaire et soutenir le regroupement familial et la relocalisation des Haïtiens aux États-Unis.

    Il est impossible de justifier une expulsion vers Haïti à l’heure actuelle, pour les mêmes raisons que le gouvernement américain a déconseillé aux citoyens américains de s’y rendre. On estime à près de 1 000 le nombre de cas documentés d’enlèvement en 2021. Des amis expliquent que tout le monde est en danger. Les enlèvements ne sont plus ciblés, mais des écoliers, des marchands de rue et des piétons sont pris en otage pour exiger de l’argent. Le gouvernement américain a non seulement déclaré qu’Haïti n’était pas un pays sûr pour les voyages, mais en mai 2021, le ministère américain de la sécurité intérieure a désigné Haïti comme bénéficiaire du statut de protection temporaire, permettant aux ressortissants haïtiens admissibles résidant aux États-Unis de demander à y rester parce qu’Haïti ne peut pas rapatrier ses ressortissants en toute sécurité.

    Les États-Unis doivent mettre fin aux déportations vers Haïti. Les États-Unis et d’autres pays d’Amérique doivent commencer à reconnaître, traiter et réparer la discrimination anti-Noir qui caractérise leurs politiques d’immigration.

    Que devrait faire la communauté internationale, et en particulier les États-Unis, pour améliorer la situation ?

    Premièrement, la communauté internationale devrait suivre l’exemple des OSC haïtiennes et s’engager de manière sérieuse et solidaire avec la Commission pour une solution haïtienne à la crise. Daniel Foote, l’envoyé spécial des États-Unis pour Haïti, a démissionné en signe de protestation huit semaines après son entrée en fonction ; il a déclaré que ses collègues du département d’État n’étaient pas intéressés par le soutien de solutions dirigées par les Haïtiens. Les États-Unis devraient jouer le rôle d’encourager la recherche d’un consensus et de faciliter les conversations pour faire avancer les choses sans interférer.

    Deuxièmement, toutes les déportations vers Haïti doivent cesser. Elles ne sont pas seulement des violations du droit international. Elles sont aussi hautement immorales et injustes.

    Les étrangers, y compris moi-même, ne sont pas les mieux placés pour prescrire des solutions en Haïti : nous devons plutôt soutenir celles créées par le peuple haïtien et les organisations haïtiennes. Il est temps pour le peuple haïtien de décider de la voie à suivre, et nous devons le soutenir activement, et le suivre.

    L’espace civique en Haïti est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Suivez@elliehappelsur Twitter.

  • HAITI: ‘There is opportunity for a meaningful shift from foreign interference to true leadership of Haitian people’

    Ellie HappelCIVICUS speaks with Ellie Happel, professor of the Global Justice Clinic and Director of the Haiti Project at New York University School of Law. Ellie lived and worked in Haiti for several years, and her work continues to focus on solidarity with social movements in Haiti and racial and environmental justice.

    What have been the key political developments since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021?

    As an American, I want to begin by emphasising the role the US government has played in creating the present situation. The history of unproductive and oppressive foreign intervention is long.

    To understand the context of the Moïse presidency, however, we have to at least go back to 2010. Following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, the USA and other external actors called for elections. People did not have their voting cards; more than two million people had lost their homes. But elections went ahead. The US government intervened in the second round of Haiti’s presidential elections, calling for candidate and founder of the PHTK party, Michel Martelly, to be put into the second round. Martelly was subsequently elected.

    During the Martelly presidency we saw a decline in political, economic and social conditions. Corruption was well documented and rampant. Martelly failed to hold elections and ended up ruling by decree. He hand-selected Moïse as his successor. The US government strongly supported both the Martelly and Moïse administrations despite the increasing violence, the destruction of Haitian government institutions, the corruption and the impunity that occurred under their rule.

    Moïse’s death is not the biggest problem that Haiti faces. During his tenure, Moïse effectively destroyed Haitian institutions. Haitian people rose up against the PHTK regime in protest, and they were met with violence and repression. There is evidence of government implication in mass killings – massacres – of people in areas that were known to oppose PHTK.

    Two weeks prior to Moïse’s assassination, a prominent activist and a widely known journalist were murdered in Haiti. Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair were calling for accountability. They were active in the movement to build a better Haiti. They were killed with impunity.

    It is clear that the present crisis did not originate in Moïse’s assassination. It is the result of failed foreign policies and of the way the Haitian government repressed and halted opposition protests demanding accountability for corruption and violence, and demanding change.

    What currently gives me hope is the work of the Commission for Haitian Solution to the Crisis, which was created prior to Moïse’s assassination. The Commission is a broad group of political parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) that came together to work collectively to rebuild the government. This presents an opportunity for a meaningful shift from foreign interference to true leadership of Haitian people.

    What is your view on the postponement of elections and the constitutional referendum, and what are the prospects of democratic votes taking place?

    In the current climate, elections are not the next step in addressing Haiti’s political crisis. Elections should not occur until the conditions for a fair, free and legitimate vote are met. The elections of the past 11 years demonstrate that they are not an automatic means of achieving representative democracy.

    Today, there are many hurdles to holding elections. The first is one of governance: elections must be overseen by a governing body that has legitimacy, and that is respected by the Haitian people. It would be impossible for the de facto government to organise elections. The second is gang violence. It’s estimated that more than half of Port-au-Prince is under the control of gangs.  When the provisional electoral council was preparing for elections a few months back, its staff could not access a number of voting centres due to gang control. Third, eligible Haitian voters should have voter ID cards.

    The US government and others should affirm the right of the Haitian people to self-determination. The USA should neither insist on nor support elections without evidence of concrete measures to ensure that they are free, fair, inclusive and perceived as legitimate. Haitian CSOs and the Commission will indicate when the conditions exist for free, fair and legitimate elections.

    Is there a migration crisis caused by the situation in Haiti? How can the challenges faced by Haitian migrants be addressed?

    What we call the ‘migration crisis’ is a strong example of how US foreign policy and immigration policy towards Haiti have long been affected by anti-Black racism.

    Many Haitians who left the country following the earthquake in 2010 first moved to South America. Many have subsequently left. The economies of Brazil and Chile worsened, and Haitian migrants encountered racism and a lack of economic opportunity. Families and individuals have travelled northward by foot, boat and bus towards the Mexico-USA border.

    For many years now, the US government has not allowed Haitian migrants and other migrants to enter the USA. They are expelling people without an asylum interview – a ‘credible fear’ interview, which is required under international law – back to Haiti.

    The US government must stop using Title 42, a public health provision, as a pretext to expel migrants. The US government should instead offer humanitarian assistance and support Haitian family reunification and relocation in the USA.

    It is impossible to justify deportation to Haiti right now, for the same reasons that the US government has advised US citizens not to travel there. There are estimates of nearly 1,000 documented cases of kidnapping in 2021. Friends explain that anyone is at risk. Kidnappings are no longer targeted, but school kids and street merchants and pedestrians are being held hostage to demand money. The US government has not only declared Haiti unsafe for travel, but in May 2021, the US Department of Homeland Security designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status, allowing eligible Haitian nationals residing in the USA to apply to remain there because Haiti cannot safely repatriate its nationals.

    The USA should halt deportations to Haiti. And the USA and other countries in the Americas must begin to recognise, address and repair the anti-Black discrimination that characterises their immigration policies.

    What should the international community, and especially the USA, do to improve the situation?

    First, the international community should take the lead of Haitian CSOs and engage in a serious and supportive way with the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. Daniel Foote, the US special envoy for Haiti, resigned in protest eight weeks into the job; he said that his colleagues at the State Department were not interested in supporting Haitian-led solutions. The USA should play the role of encouraging consensus building and facilitating conversations to move things forward without interfering.

    Second, all deportations to Haiti must stop. They are not only in violation of international law. They are also highly immoral and unjust.

    Foreigners, myself included, are not best placed to prescribe solutions in Haiti: instead, we must support those created by Haitian people and Haitian organisations. It is time for the Haitian people to decide on the path forward, and we need to actively support, and follow.

    Civic space in Haiti is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow@elliehappel on Twitter.

  • HONDURAS: ‘The ruling of the Inter-American Court marks a before and after for LGBTQI+ people’

    CIVICUS speaks with Indyra Mendoza, founder and general coordinator of Red Lésbica Cattrachas (Cattrachas Lesbian Network), a lesbian feminist organisation dedicated to defending the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in Honduras. In March 2021 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)made a ruling in the case of Vicky Hernández. Vicky, a trans woman, and human rights defender, was murdered between the night of 28 June and the early morning of 29 June 2009, in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, while a curfew was in force following a coup. Her killing came in a context of enormous discrimination and violence, including by the security forces, against LGBTQI+ people.

    Indyra Mendoza

    What was the process that resulted in the IACtHR ruling? What was the role of Cattrachas?

    Cattrachas Lesbian Network’s Violence Observatory recorded Vicky’s case and immediately identified it as a potential strategic litigation case, as it was one of the first murders of an LGBTQI+ person following the coup d’état.

    Even before the coup, Cattrachas had identified a pattern of non-lethal violence against transgender women by police officers. And while we had already recorded 20 violent deaths of LGBTQI+ people between 1998 and 2008, the killings of transgender women increased after the 2009 coup. The Observatory recorded a total of 15 violent deaths of transgender women, most of which occurred during curfews or states of exception decreed illegally by the government, when state security forces were in absolute control of the streets.

    In Vicky’s case, Cattrachas learned that no autopsy had been performed, so we contacted her family and found out that very few investigative steps had been taken. On 23 December 2012, Cattrachas filed the initial petition for Vicky’s murder with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a USA-based human rights organisation, later joined in. The Commission issued its merits report, which established that human rights violations had taken place, on 7 December 2018 and sent the case to the IACtHR on 30 April 2019. The public hearing was held on 11 and 12 November 2020. 

    Finally, on 26 March 2021, the IACtHR issued a ruling declaring the State of Honduras responsible for the violation of Vicky’s rights to life, personal integrity, equality and non-discrimination, recognition of legal personality, personal liberty, privacy, freedom of expression and name. It also ruled that the State of Honduras failed to comply with the obligation established in article 7.a of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, also known as the Convention of Belém Do Pará. Additionally, the IACtHR established that Vicky’s death was not investigated with due diligence, and therefore condemned Honduras for the violation of due process, judicial protection and the obligation established in article 7.b of the Convention. Finally, the Court declared that the right to personal integrity of Vicky’s relatives had also been violated. The ruling was notified on 28 June 2021, 12 years after the coup d’état and the transfemicide of Vicky Hernández.

    The resolution of this case was exceptional. What was the reason for this exception?

    Its resolution was exceptional because of the multiple intersectionalities of violence present in Vicky’s life. Vicky was a young Honduran transgender woman and human rights defender, a sex worker living with HIV, with limited economic resources, and at some point in her life, precarious employment had forced her to emigrate. Vicky’s is the first case of lethal violence against an LGBTQI+ person that occurred at the intersection of two relevant contexts: the 2009 coup d’état and the context of structural violence that LGBTQI+ people, and particularly transgender women, face in Honduras.

    The case allowed the Court to reiterate standards on the right to gender identity, equality, and non-discrimination, and to insist that, in contexts of historical violence, subordination, and discrimination, in this case against transgender people, international commitments impose a reinforced responsibility on the state. Furthermore, through an evolutionary interpretation, the Court established that transgender women are women, and are therefore protected by the Convention of Belém Do Pará.

    What is the significance of this ruling for LGBTQI+ people in Honduras?

    The ruling in Vicky’s case marks a before and after, as it establishes guarantees of non-repetition that must be turned into public policy in favour of LGBTQI+ people.

    The measures set by the ruling include the establishment of an educational scholarship for transgender persons, which will bear the name of Vicky Hernández, the implementation of education, awareness-raising and training plan for the Honduran security forces, the adoption of protocols for the diagnosis, data collection, monitoring and investigation of cases of violence against LGBTQI+ people, and the adoption of a procedure to recognise gender identity in identity papers and public records. This procedure should be guided by the standards of Advisory Opinion 24/17, which implies that it should not require any law, should be expeditious, should not require pathologising tests, should not require a historical record of changes, and should be, as far as possible, free of charge.

    More than a decade after the murder of Vicky Hernández, what is the situation of LGBTQI+ people in Honduras?

    LGBTQI+ people in Honduras face constitutional and legal limitations based on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity that prohibit us from accessing equal marriage as well as the recognition of marriage celebrated abroad, de facto union, adoption, intimate visits in prisons, change of name based on gender identity and blood donation. Specifically, in relation to changing names, the IACtHR ruling in Vicky’s case mandates the state to establish an adequate and effective procedure to recognise the identity of transgender people.

    Honduras is the country with the highest rate of violent deaths of LGBTQI+ people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Since the transfemicide of Vicky, to date 388 LGBTQI+ people have been murdered in Honduras and one person is missing; 221 of those people are gay, 112 are transgender and 46 are lesbian. Only 83 cases have been prosecuted, resulting in 11 acquittals and 34 convictions, which reflects a 91 percent impunity rate.

    In sum, LGBTQI+ people face not only major legal obstacles but also a very high level of lethal violence and lack of access to justice.

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

    Get in touch with Cattrachas through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CATTRACHAS on Twitter. 

  • HONDURAS: ‘We must address the roots of the conflict: the handing over of natural resources’

    Edy TaboraCIVICUS speaks about the criminalisation of environmental, land and territorial defenders in Honduras with Edy Tábora, director of the law firm Justicia para los Pueblos (Justice for the Peoples) and coordinator of the group of defence lawyers of eight defenders of the Guapinol river who were recently released from detention.

    Why were the Guapinol defenders criminalised?

    The case of the eight Guapinol comrades deprived of their freedom is one of the most revealing expressions of the conflicts around mining and energy and the dispossession of land and natural resources in Honduras. Along with that of Berta Cáceres, the Guapinol case is one of the most significant ones.

    Berta’s case, which culminated in her assassination, was the first in a new wave of criminalisation surrounding dispossession projects following the 2009 military coup. Her case displayed all the typical elements: stigmatisation, surveillance, rupture of the social fabric, criminalisation. The same pattern can be seen in many parts of Honduras.

    After the coup, there was a privately conducted exploration of mineral deposits and businesspeople realised there was a lot of money to be made here. In the case of Guapinol, the process kicked off with the granting of an iron oxide mining concession – one of the largest in the country – to Los Pinares, a holding company registered in Panama, owned by an extremely wealthy Honduran family. Its mining business was developed jointly with the US company Nucor.

    Nucor claims to have withdrawn from the project in late 2019 due to the conflict triggered by the criminalisation of the Guapinol defenders, but there is no evidence of this and we do not believe it to be true. Los Pinares is simply the mining arm of a company whose power comes from airport concessions at home and abroad. It is a company with high-level political connections, and with so much power that in 2013 it succeeded in getting the National Congress to change the delimitation of the core zone of a national park.

    On 22 April 2013, the day before a new mining law came into force, applications were submitted for the two mining concessions related to the Guapinol case, both located in the core zone of the Montaña de Botaderos National Park. This had been declared a national park in 2012, as part of a ‘friendly settlement’ with the relatives of Carlos Escaleras, a social leader and environmental defender active in the 1980s and 1990s, who was assassinated for defending this mountain. The statute of the national park, which bears the name of Carlos Escaleras, prohibited the granting of mining concessions in its core zone and even its buffer zone.

    However, in 2014, engineers began to arrive on the mountain to collect information and check how deep down metal was deposited. People noticed this, began to demand an explanation and organised in the Municipal Committee of Public and Common Goods of Tocoa.

    In June 2016 they began to file complaints; some were filed by the Guapinol defenders who ended up in prison. They requested information from the institutions in charge of granting mining permits but only obtained some information in November 2019, after three years of back and forth. Tired of not getting answers, in June 2018 people started protesting at the Municipality of Tocoa Colón. It was then that systematic surveillance by the national police and Los Pinares security began.

    In August 2018, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise held press conferences in which it complained to the government about an alleged loss of 20 billion dollars caused by ‘vandals’ protesting in various parts of Honduras.

    Criminalisation was a nationwide strategy, but the criminalisation of the Guapinol comrades was the most serious case. On 8 September 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented the first accusation against 18 comrades for the crimes of usurpation, damage and usurpation of public space. Los Pinares appeared in the hearings as the accuser. Fourteen comrades were put on trial and all their cases were closed, but the fact that they were accused enabled the illegal eviction, in October 2018, of the Camp for Water and Life, one of many set up around Honduras. This was one of four charges brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office as part of the strategy to criminalise resistance movements against mining and energy projects.

    In January 2019, in response to a complaint filed by Los Pinares, the Public Prosecutor’s Office filed another indictment against 32 people, including eight Guapinol comrades. The nature of the charges changed: it was no longer about usurpation of public space but about organised crime. Human rights defenders were now treated as taking part in organised crime, with charges including criminal association, theft, damage, unjust deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson. The case was assigned to the Specialised Court for Organised Crime, which meant it was transferred from local to national jurisdiction, in violation of the right to be tried by one’s natural judge. 

    Of the 32, a first group voluntarily submitted to trial in February 2019 and was kept in prison for only 10 days before the accusations against them were dismissed. The Guapinol eight, however, despite having voluntarily submitted to trial, were subjected to arbitrary detention from 26 August 2019 until 24 February 2022, when they finally regained their freedom.

    What did civil society do to secure their release?

    During the pandemic, Guapinol was one of the most high-profile cases globally. Not even the pandemic could stop our comrades’ defence. We quickly moved our activities online, and by late April 2020 we were already filing habeas corpus writs for our comrades’ right to health, alongside international organisations. Even under these conditions, we managed to set up discussions with important organisations, and three months after the pandemic began, we restarted our advocacy work, which meant that by the time the trial started, the case had become very well known around the world.

    Initially the case was promoted by the Coalition Against Impunity, which brings together more than 50 Honduran civil society organisations (CSOs). Later, many CSOs joined a kind of international support group for the case.

    First, we publicly denounced the violence and criminalisation against the Municipal Committee. Second, before our comrades were imprisoned, we documented the irregular granting of concessions for natural resources. Third, alongside several Honduran CSOs, we organised our comrades’ legal defence. A working group was then organised including national and international CSOs to support the defence. A lot of advocacy work was done, both nationally and internationally, to convince the public that this was a very important case and to counter the company’s account of the violence allegedly committed by our comrades.

    Documentary and testimonial work was crucial to expose our comrades’ real activism. We had many meetings with international CSOs. Canadian, US and European organisations and academics reported on the concession and the legal process. International CSOs filed amicus curiae – friend of the court – briefs with Honduran courts. We participated in multiple forums with national and international organisations.

    Many actions converged to create a powerful wave of demands for our comrades’ release. CIVICUS’s and Amnesty International’s campaigns, for example, allowed us to reach wider audiences. When the trial came, the case was widely known, and less than 24 hours after the end of the trial, in which our comrades were convicted with two thirds of the court’s votes, the Supreme Court of Justice annulled the whole process and ordered them to be released.

    This was an unprecedented decision, surely motivated by the strength of the demand for their freedom and by the evidence presented, both in and out of court, which demonstrated that our comrades were innocent and that they fight for a just cause that is of great interest to humanity.

    Are there other cases like the Guapinol case in Honduras?

    There are many defenders criminalised for defending land, including some from the Garífuna people, a marginalised minority, but they are not in prison. Many comrades were also imprisoned for defending democracy in the aftermath of 2017’s electoral fraud: around 30 people were imprisoned in maximum security prisons, but they are currently free. Most pending cases are being closed as a result of an amnesty issued by the National Congress in February 2022.

    In that sense, the Guapinol case was an exception, because this amnesty did not apply to them. What’s important about this case is that we managed to close the process by defending ourselves even with the highly questionable tools offered by the Honduran judicial system.

    However, there were other cases at the same time as Guapinol, such as that of the Indigenous comrades of the Lenca people in the department of La Paz, who were accused of forced displacement. They were imprisoned for more than a year for a crime that is the craziest thing I have ever heard: they were accused of displacing landowners. The Public Prosecutor’s narrative uses the made-up concept of ‘reverse racism’, according to which Indigenous peoples can also commit discrimination against minorities within their communities – the minority in this case being the landowners.

    Do you view Guapinol as part of a pattern of criminalisation against environmental defenders?

    We have detected patterns of criminalisation by sector in the cases we have monitored. For example, between 2011 and 2016 one of the most criminalised sectors was the student movement mobilised in defence of public education. Some 350 students, mostly university students, were criminalised.

    In the case of environmental defenders, we were able to document several patterns of criminalisation. Again and again, prosecutions were initiated only a few days after pronouncements by companies or employers’ organisations. The behaviour of the police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office has also been similar in all cases, with an initial focus on eviction and accusations changing over time following the same pattern. The narrative peddled by companies is always the same as well, often because they share the same lawyers.

    Criminalisation follows different patterns depending on the interests affected. The crimes people are accused of when challenging mining interests differ from those used to dispossess communities of land for the construction of tourism megaprojects or the plantation of African palm in the Atlantic zone, and from those used against peasants claiming access to land and crops.

    However, all the groups criminalised over the past 15 years have something in common: their resistance to the project, promoted since the 2000s, of handing over natural resources to private companies. Land grabbing was politically supported the state following the coup: from that moment on, national regulations were made more flexible to facilitate dispossession and the national police and the security forces of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary were placed at the service of the private sector, which used them to criminalise land rights defenders.

    Has there been any improvement in the situation of environmental defenders since the new government came to power in January 2022?

    The new government brought several positive changes. First, while we had already achieved the closure of several emblematic cases, it decreed an amnesty that resulted in the closure of most legal proceedings against defenders, although there are still some cases pending.

    Second, the new government has put an end to the state’s stigmatisation of land struggles, which used to make use of information obtained by state security forces. And third, for the time being the government has not tackled conflicts with violence. People who protest are not being repressed.

    In recent years state violence was deployed to manage social protest, private violence was reflected in the assassination of defenders, and hybrid violence was seen in the area of surveillance. Over the four years of the current government we may no longer witness violent management of social protests, but there is a chance that state violence will be replaced by private corporate violence.

    What are the challenges ahead?

    The challenge right now is to address the causes of criminalisation. We have worked to defend and support our comrades criminalised by the state and private companies, but we have never been able to address what’s at the root of the conflict: the handing over of natural resources. Preventing the criminalisation of defenders is a big step, but we must address the issue of concessions, which in fact continue. Approved projects are waiting to be implemented. If we don’t seize the moment to address this problem, then when the government’s political colour changes, private companies will come back stronger and criminalisation will intensify.

    Moreover, social movements are worn out after 12 years of resistance against the handing over of natural resources. There must be accountability, reparations for victims and guarantees of legal security for defenders to be able to do their work. The hostile legal framework for exercising rights and defending human rights that has been established in recent decades must be reversed.

    Civic space in Honduras is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Learn more about the Guapinol case on itswebsite and follow@Edy_Tabora on Twitter.

  • HORN OF AFRICA: ‘De-escalation must be the primary objective’

    Mengistu AssefaCIVICUS speaks with Mengistu Assefa, Program Manager at the Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD), about a port deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland and the possibility of it escalating into an armed conflict with Somalia.

    CARD is an Ethiopian civil society organisation that advocates for democracy and human rights through citizen empowerment.

    What’s the relevance of the recent port deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland?

    Following Eritrea’s independence in 1993, Ethiopia became a landlocked nation, placed in a challenging position for international trade. Since then, Djibouti has emerged as its primary access point to the sea, handling over 95 per cent of its trade volume. This dependence comes at a cost, with Ethiopia paying more than US$1 billion annually in fees to Djibouti’s ports and infrastructure. With its estimated population of 126 million, the second largest in Africa, Ethiopia views sea access as critical for its economic, political and demographic future.

    To achieve this, on 1 January 2024 the Ethiopian federal government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on commercial port access with Somaliland, a self-proclaimed autonomous territory that is internationally recognised as part of Somalia.

    While this MoU is not a legally binding agreement, it carries significant implications for the region because it walks a tightrope between cooperation and recognition. For Somaliland, the MoU represents a potential step towards international recognition of its de facto autonomy. Although the agreement’s full details remain undisclosed, it also reportedly grants Ethiopia access to Somaliland’s Red Sea coast, potentially including a military base. Ethiopian authorities have not been explicit about Somaliland’s recognition, saying the MoU allows for an ‘in-depth assessment’ of Somaliland’s quest for recognition.

    Somalia vehemently rejects the MoU, viewing it as a violation of its territorial integrity and political sovereignty. It is actively mobilising diplomatic pressure against the deal. Somali president Hassan Sheik Mohamed has visited Egypt and Eritrea, Ethiopia’s long-standing competitors, seeking support. Additionally, the Arab League, of which Somalia is a member, has denounced the MoU. Egypt’s leader, already locked in negotiations with Ethiopia over a Nile dam project, has assured Somalia of potential support if requested, further escalating regional tensions.

    What’s the political status of Somaliland?

    Somaliland, with an estimated population of five million, broke away from Somalia and declared its independence in 1991 after 30 years of civil war. It fought for its independence based on the argument that it had a distinct historical heritage. Somaliland was a UK protectorate, while Somalia was under Italian control. For Somalilanders, this is enough argument to prove they are different territories. Moreover, in June 1960 Somaliland was briefly recognised as an independent state by around 35 nations for a span of five days, before it relinquished its sovereignty to reunite with the Somali Republic.

    Somaliland declared its independence more than three decades ago but Somalia has never recognised it. Neither has any international organisation. Even so, Somaliland has managed to become a stable, functional state. It established its own army and democratic institutions and has held six elections with peaceful transitions of power.

    In late 2022 and early 2023, a local armed movement, the Dhulbahante militias, rose against Somaliland’s government, declaring its intention to rejoin Somalia. This uprising posed significant political and security challenges to the Somaliland government, partly contributing to the postponement of 2023 elections. It cast a shadow of instability over Somaliland’s bid for international recognition, which hinges on its ability to demonstrate long-term stability and democratic institutions.

    Could the port deal lead to international recognition of Somaliland’s independence?

    Somaliland has made clear that a binding legal agreement could only be signed once it is officially recognised as an independent nation state. But the Ethiopian side of the story is quite different. Ethiopia hasn’t ruled out the possibility of that happening but hasn’t explicitly said it would take a stance on the recognition of Somaliland. The signing of a binding legal international agreement with Somaliland would however result in Ethiopia’s de facto recognition of its independence.

    Looking at the bigger picture, this deal could affect the regional security architecture, particularly when it comes to fighting Al-Shabaab, an Islamist terrorist group based in Somalia and allied with Al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab is perceived as a global security threat and has explicitly targeted Ethiopia. Consequently, Ethiopia is engaged in fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia alongside the Somali army. If Ethiopia recognises Somaliland, Somalia will likely force Ethiopia to pull out its troops. However, as Somalia cannot take charge of its security on its own, Ethiopia could use it as leverage to force Somalia to back down from a strong reaction.

    Ethiopia’s potential recognition of Somaliland carries significant implications. Located in a strategically crucial area along the Gulf of Eden, where Houthis and pirates constantly attack international ships, Somaliland’s 850-kilometre coastline attracts interest from various countries seeking a potential military base. Ethiopia’s explicit recognition of Somaliland could trigger a domino effect, with other countries following suit, although recognition would likely face significant hurdles at the African Union (AU).

    The AU adheres to the principle of respecting colonial borders and has expressed concerns about setting a precedent for secessionist movements in other African states, including Morocco and Nigeria. Ethiopia will likely weigh this carefully before explicitly recognising Somaliland’s independence. However, the rapidly shifting landscape of international interests suggests that it’s not an impossibility. This possibility is further amplified by the growing involvement of great and emerging powers in the Red Sea region, driven by economic and security interests.

    Could tensions escalate into a conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia?

    Ethiopia and Somalia have had difficult relations in the past. In 1964, they clashed in a three-month border conflict. This initial skirmish foreshadowed a larger and bloodier conflict that erupted between 1977 and 1978. During this period, Somalia invaded Ethiopia with the intent of annexing the Ogaden region, inhabited by ethnic Somalis. The conflict quickly became a proxy war for the contenders of the Cold War, with the western bloc supporting Somalia and the Soviet Union backing Ethiopia. Ultimately, Ethiopia repelled the Somali army.

    In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group aiming to unite all Somalis across Ethiopia, Somalia and Somaliland under Islamic rule, gained control of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. This development raised concerns in Ethiopia, which perceived it as a threat to its national security and regional stability. Supported by the USA in the context of the ‘war on terror’, Ethiopia militarily intervened in Somalia and removed the ICU from power.

    Several years later, Ethiopia and Somalia signed a bilateral agreement aimed at stabilising the region. This agreement facilitated the deployment of Ethiopian security forces to assist the Somali National Army in its fight against Al-Shabaab and support the ongoing Somali transition process. It’s important to note that these Ethiopian troops are currently integrated into the AU Transition Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping mission.

    Since October 2023, Ethiopia has declared its intention to gain access to the sea by peaceful means. In exchange for access Ethiopia has offered Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia land-swaps and stakes in a successful state-owned business such as Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s biggest and most successful airline, and even in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. But none of these countries accepted Ethiopia’s offer, leaving Somaliland as a seemingly more amenable option.

    Somalia viewed Ethiopia’s signing of the port deal with Somaliland as betrayal. It reacted strongly and aggressively because it considers it an encroachment on its territory and an act against its sovereignty.

    Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland’s independence could open a Pandora’s box. In fear that it could lead to regional and global recognition, Somalia said that if Ethiopia moved forward in implementing the agreement, consequences would follow.

    This all brings us to the final and crucial point: where will this take the region? While the possibility of conflict cannot be entirely dismissed, it’s important to consider various factors and perspectives to assess its likelihood.

    First, military capabilities and intentions play a role. While Somalia’s military power is not comparable to Ethiopia’s, the potential for escalation and regional instability cannot be ignored. Additionally, Ethiopia’s stated commitment to peaceful resolutions needs to be weighed against its historical engagements and potential strategic calculations.

    Second, the international community’s role matters. The Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region are already grappling with complex conflicts and any further instability would have significant repercussions. International pressure and diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions and promote dialogue will be crucial in preventing conflict.

    Further, Somalia’s response to the MoU adds another layer of complexity. Its seeking of support from Ethiopia’s historical competitors, such as Egypt and Eritrea, as well as regional entities such as the Arab League, could potentially lead to increased diplomatic pressure against Ethiopia. This, in turn, could further strain relations between the two countries for the foreseeable future.

    Finally, the MoU is likely to ignite discussions about the status of Somaliland, both within the AU and at the United Nations Security Council.

    What should the international community do to address this potential crisis?

    The international community plays a crucial role in navigating the complex situation surrounding Ethiopia’s pursuit of sea access and its MoU with Somaliland. It is essential to engage with all stakeholders, particularly the Somali government and Somaliland’s authorities. It should be a top priority to facilitate negotiations to find a lasting solution that ensures both peaceful coexistence and normalised relations, as people in the Horn of Africa are ultimately bearing the brunt of this disagreement.

    Regardless of the outcome, be it Somaliland’s reunification with Somalia or its international recognition as a separate state, the two countries must establish a mutually agreeable arrangement for peaceful coexistence. The international community can play the role of facilitating a genuine conversation between the two. This is of course easier said than done, given the historical complexities of their relationship and the vested interests of various states and organisations, including western nations and other international players, who prioritise their security and economic interests in the region.

    International involvement should also aim to support Ethiopia and Somalia in reaching a mutually agreeable solution. This requires careful diplomacy to avoid exacerbating existing tensions or creating new problems. It’s also essential to urge those with vested interests in the region to avoid exploiting this situation for their agendas. De-escalation must be the primary objective.

    Civic space in bothEthiopia andSomalia is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with CARD through itswebsite or itsFacebook orInstagram pages, and follow@CARDEthiopia and@mengistu_dadi on Twitter.

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