Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies and colleagues;
I thank you for this opportunity you gave me to address you on this distinct and historical occasion. My name is Netsanet Belay and I represent one of the oldest global alliances of civil society organisations based in the South: CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizens participation.
We are gathered here today to welcome and launch yet another initiative to rescue, protect and support civil society groups under attack. The global picture and the rationale behind this initiative are very clear. In as much as the launch of this fund represents a unique occasion that sparks hopes to millions of activists around the world, we need to remind ourselves that this is far from a joyful event. Today we live in a world where there is a surge in widespread and systematic attacks on civil society space, aimed at curbing the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Incidents of unwarranted restrictive legislations, malicious prosecutions, imposition of travel bans, unwarranted raiding of offices, illicit surveillance, wiretapping and asset freezes are increasingly commonplace. The methods indeed vary. But the objective – and the threat posed to democracy – remain the same.
On behalf of this consortium of civil society organisations that come together to implement this initiative, as well as on behalf of countless civil society organisations and activists around the world who continue to operate under repression and attack, I too like to express our deepest gratitude and applaud your courage, resolve and commitment to live up to your moral imperatives and commitments.
I also want to echo few points that highlight the importance and meaning of this initiative we are about to embark. To start with the obvious, you have made available a modest, but indeed a very much needed resource for emergency and advocacy support to civil society groups and activist at risk. This resource will be used for legal representation, trial monitoring, medical bills, replenishing damaged/confiscated equipments as well as for supporting basic costs for prison visitation to families of jailed activists- to people like my mother who once were forced to pass through this ordeal.
The fund will also strengthen ongoing efforts to support national advocacy initiatives and to promote a safer and more enabling environment for civil society groups. This will mean few more activists will have the opportunity to come and talk to you and your colleagues in various human rights platforms like Geneva. You will get the chance see them in the eyes, hear their plight and witness the human face of this repression.
I assure you these seemingly meek efforts do make an impact and a difference in people’s lives: I speak from personal experience. Already initiatives like CIVICUS Civil Society Crisis Response Fund have supported various national advocacy efforts. Series of advocacy campaigns against the restrictive Ethiopian charities law have been mounted; high profile solidarity missions with local activists to Zimbabwe have been organised; activist from Belarus, Uzbekistan and Philippines gone to Geneva to tell their stories and engage with the various human rights mechanisms. As reminded to us yesterday by an activist from Kenya, change happens when those who normally don't speak are heard by those who normally don't listen.
We also believe this initiative also marks the beginning of a modest stride that you are taking - a step from Political Won’t to Political Will. You have come together as one multilateral group, pooling your resources together, to work in coordination with civil society, to protect and enable civil society. Commend yourselves for this accomplishment as in this spirit of collaboration and sharing of responsibilities lies the legitimacy of your motives and the strength of your actions.
But finally, we do hope you will also agree with us that resolving this global challenge demands much more than just your money. It demands collective political action, ethical partnership amongst states and enforcement of basic human rights obligations. As members of the global community, and as bearers of collective and individual responsibilities to promote a universal observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, we expect more from you in balancing rights against interests, rules against politics, action against rhetoric.
I thank you.