Veronika Mora

Veronika Mora, of the Okotars Foundation( Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation) speaks to CIVICUS about the Orban government’s clampdown on Hungarian civil society and their sources of funding.

1. What precipitated the recent challenges for civil society in Hungary? 

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been steadily increasing its influence over media and civil society since 2010. In particular the government has been attempting to control sources of funding and has made a number of changes to the funding arrangements from the Norwegian funds. Earlier, 9 strands of funding within the mechanism were delivered by the Hungarian National Development Agency, but since early 2014 the government unilaterally shifted these funds to a new agency without prior consultation with the donor governments (besides Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). 

Following the most recent election in April 2014, the government moved to challenge the Norwegian donor on the NGO Fund and wrote a letter to the Norwegian Government claiming that the NGO Fund was being used to support opposition political groups; and called for a re-negotiation of the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding. 

Professor Mohammed Ismail of the Pakistan NGOs Forum (PNF Pakistan), speaks to CIVICUS about the overall operating environment of civil society in Pakistan and the recent bills which severely curb civic space.

1. How would you describe the overall operating environment of civil society in Pakistan? Have you observed a noticeable shift in policy regarding the protection of HRDs and promotion of civil society space since PM Nawaz Sharif assumed office in June 2013.

Public perception about CSOs and their role changed with natural disasters of the past decade. Earthquakes, floods and the inevitable displacement of thousands of people necessitated a humanitarian response from CSOs, but also resulted in corrupt relations between CSOs and government agencies. With time, the government also tightened its control over CSOs, and organizations that advocate the protection of fundamental human rights were adversely affected.

Pakistani CSOs extensively cooperated with lawyers to restore judicial independence.  Unfortunately, CSOs failed to take collective action to address pressing issues in Pakistan. Today, many NGOs and networks risk become irrelevant.

Nawaz Sharif’s neoliberal policies aim to increase industrial growth and attract foreign investment. While doing so Sharif fails to create space for a vibrant civil society in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif enacted numerous laws which restrict civic space since he came to power in 2013. 

Right wing policies of Sharif’s government and his favorable stand against Islamic fundamentalists are encouraging him to take actions that oppress civil society in Pakistan. Imran Khan is also providing space for religious extremists and the Taliban in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his party is in power.

Islamic fundamentalists are threating civic space as they continuously attack human rights defenders (HRDs). Many HRDs relocated to Islamabad from Peshawar as they feared their lives were under threat. International award-winning women rights activists Malala Yousafzai was not acknowledged by the Pakistani government; however NGOs from various political backgrounds gathered and paid their tributes to her. Malala was subject to a smear campaign in the social and electronic media where she was accused of being a “Jewish spy” and a “Western agent” attempting to destroy Pakistan and Islam. There is no doubt that the civic space for CSOs and HRDs are shrinking.

Mark HeywoodMark Heywood is the Executive Director of SECTION27 and a national executive member of the Treatment Action Campaign, an activist movement formed in 1998 that fights for the rights of people living with HIV (PWAs). The organisation also works toward improving the country’s health system. Both organisations are based in South Africa. 

Q: You head an organisation called SECTION27. Can you tell us about its work and mandate?

A: SECTION27 - named after section 27 of the South African Constitution - is a public interest law centre that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect and advance human rights. The organisation focuses on five work areas: the right to health; implementation of the National Strategic Plan on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and TB; the right to basic education; the right to food and accountability and good governance. We firmly believe that the Constitution is the framework to achieving a just and equitable society with accountability and transparency.

SECTION27 was established in 2010 after it became apparent that its predecessor, the AIDS Law Project needed to broaden its scope and deal not only with human rights in relation to HIV but also with rights to health, education and its social determinants as well. 

Laurent Munyandilikirwa, former president of Rwandan CSO, LIPRODHOR, speaks to CIVICUS about the state of civil society in Rwanda and the government’s continued targeted harassment of LIPRODHOR.

1. At the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS co-hosted an event which examined the growing restrictions on civil society in East Africa. Can you tell us a bit about the main challenges faced by civil society in Rwanda?

Although Rwanda has ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR and the Rwandan Constitution enshrines the principles essential to creating an enabling environment for civil society including the rights to expression, assembly and association, independent civil society groups continues to be subjected to unjust restrictions. While the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in the constitution, the government is simultaneously attempting to silence the very people working on the implementation of these rights.

The government restricts the work of CSOs through a number of legal obstacles including overly bureaucratic registration processes, unwarranted limitations on financial funding, and laws permitting excessive and broad interception of information and communication. Such laws hugely impact the daily activities and operations of civil society organisations, in particular those working on civil and political rights. As a result of these and other extra-legal measures, civil society organizations in Rwanda have been forced into a downward spiral: the increasing control exerted over them by the government increases their overhead expenses while it decreases their access to funding, which in turn diminishes their ability to execute projects that attract new financial support. If this continues in the long term, the survival of independent human rights organisations in Rwanda is looking increasingly doubtful.

Amal ElmohandesIn light of the ongoing threats faced by civil society activists, journalists and ordinary citizens in Egypt from state and non-state actors, CIVICUS interviews Amal Elmohandes, Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Program at Nasra for Feminist Studies, to get a better understanding on the current situation.


1) What is the current state of human rights and particularly Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Egypt?


The current human rights situation in Egypt is pretty dismal. However, violations targeting WHRDs and women in the public space have been systematic and uniform throughout the different governments in the past three and a half years. These atrocities have been prevalent during the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), during President Mohammad Morsi’s tenure, and during the reign of the interim government that preceded the election of the new Egyptian president in May 2014. Sexual violence has been carried out by both state and non-state actors, including threats of rape, sexual assault and physical beating. In December 2013 a case of oral rape was well documented and other cases of sexual assaults and gang rapes took place in Tahrir Square and its vicinity. 3 cases of sexual assault were reported in June 2012, 19 in November 2012 and 24 in January 2013.  Between 28 June and 7 July 2013 186 cases of sexual violence against women were reported and 3 cases documented on 25 January 2014.  One of these was broadcast live on television.  In addition, tens of mob-sexual assaults and gang rapes took place during the June 3-8 celebrations marking the election of Egypt’s new president.

4 March, 2014

Feliciano Reyna1Feliciano Reyna is a human rights advocate working on HIV and AIDS related issues in Venezuela since 1995. He has been involved in CIVILIS since 2009, a non-profit organisation in Venezuela promoting and defending human rights.

CIVILIS´ mission is the development of information and capacity building skills for organized citizen actions aimed at the promotion and defense of human rights, based on multidisciplinary approaches and on civic, democratic values. CIVILIS seeks to contribute to the expansion and strengthening of frameworks of respect, and guarantees to the dignity of human life, in their civic, political, social, economic and cultural dimensions. 

Feliciano Reyna speaks to CIVICUS about the ongoing protests and the fragile political situation in Venezuela. 

1. What prompted Foro Por La Vida and other Venezuelan organizations to issue a call for urgent international action to support human rights, justice and peace in Venezuela? 

The impetus for the call arose from the pattern of criminalization of protests in Venezuela, which started in 2005, that led the government to suppress protests in the Western part of the country in early February. The largest protest to date took place on February 12 this year in the capital, Caracas. During this protest, three people died, many were wounded and others were detained. This was then followed by an information blackout where TV stations and media were heavily censored or self-censored themselves. 

This environment of criminalization has not just been about criminalising protests but also takes the form of government officials, from the President down, condemning the protests as part of an “attempted coup” and as “fascist movements sponsored by foreign agents and enemies of the state.”

Instead of promoting dialogue with the protesters, the state resorted to extreme use of force, arbitrary detentions, cruel and degrading treatment of detainees, which include some cases of torture, denying due process of law, as well as utilising state terrorism laws against protestors. In effect, many of the close to 1,000 arrested are forbidden now from exercising their right to freedom of expression and to protest. 

Andrew Khoo, the Co-Chairperson of Malaysian Bar Council's Human Rights Committee (BCHRC), speaks to CIVICUS about the growing restrictions on civil society and obstacles to realizing UPR recommendations in Malaysia.

How would you describe the overall operating environment for civil society in Malaysia? What are the main challenges faced by civil society?

We have seen the overall operating environment for civil society in Malaysia deteriorate significantly in recent years. The government has increasingly responded to criticism from civil society organisations (CSOs) with unwarranted and targeted restrictions. The most common tactics employed by the government to obstruct the work of dissenting groups include unsolicited accounting and tax audits, unjustified inspections to check compliance with registration requirements, questioning of organizational staff and demands for confidential documents and warrantless seizures of equipment and records.

While CSOs in Malaysia are permitted to receive foreign funding, the authorities routinely level unfounded accusation that CSOs which receive international support are agents of foreign governments working to undermine the sovereign interests of the country or national security in Malaysia. CSOs are also subjected to slander and smear campaigns in the media. The government-controlled press regularly accuses CSOs of being enemies of the state or enemies of Islam.

In June 2013, protesters took to the streets in Brazil to protest against increases in the prices of bus tickets in the major cities. The protests later spread as demonstrators expressed their displeasure over high corruption in the government, poor public services, high living costs and police brutality. CIVICUS speaks to Brazilian lawyer and activist Natasha Zadorosny who provides an insider’s perspective into the protests and the police’s response.

Intern hit by police

1. What is the nature of your work and how involved are you with the demonstrations in Brazil?
The protests in Brazil started on 6 June 2013 and at the initial stages I was just another protester. However, since mid-July, I have been actively involved as a lawyer on a voluntary basis. At the moment there are two main groups made up of volunteer lawyers who participate in the protests and assist activists and other participants. These groups are the Institute of Human Rights Defenders (IDDH) and the Habeas Corpus. IDDH is an NGO which advocates for the defence of human rights and protects the rights of protesters who are victims of police harassment and brutality. Habeas Corpus was created in June at the start of the protests to defend and protect the rights of activists arbitrarily arrested during the protests in Rio de Janeiro. I work as an independent lawyer but collaborate with Habeas Corpus. During the protests, I am identified publicly as a lawyer and my presence provides a sense of security to the protesters. I clarify doubts about legal issues for the protesters and pass on information about the protests using social media, including facebook and “whatsapp” to other volunteer lawyers.

1. How do you operate as a female activist in Saudi Arabia?
We have never had an organisation or union between women. We tried to organise something like that but there are a wide range of different beliefs amongst Saudi women. Women are afraid of the persecution that might result and so we were unable to establish a formalised group.

women to drive

However, I know the women that are interested in women’s issues and they know me, and we keep in touch. When I travel in Saudi, I meet them in Jedah or Riyadh, and we use Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype to keep in touch. I am pretty sure the authorities monitor everything. Legally, in Saudi we cannot arrange a meeting of over 30 people and must get permission for meetings over that number.

Saira Rahman, wife of detained activist Adilur Rahman Khan speaks to CIVICUS about the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention and the on-going persecution of his Bangladesh-based organisation, Odhikar.

Why are the authorities targeting Adil?
On June 11 2013, Odhikar published a fact finding report documenting the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces which began in the capital, Dhaka at 2 am on May 5 2013. Following the protests, the government only reported 11 fatal casualties during the two day demonstration.

In stark contrast to the government’s official statement, Odhikar documented 61 persons killed that night. While the Ministry of Information requested the names and addresses of the families of those killed, Odhikar, fearing state reprisals against the families of the victims, committed only to providing the list to an independent commission set-up by the government to investigate the use of violence during the protests. The ministry, however, did not respond to Odhikar’s request.

The government has arrested Adil, who is the driving force behind Odhikar, on specious charges including falsifying information, inciting violence and marring the image of the state. However, the charges against Adil undoubtedly stem from his legitimate human rights work including protecting the identities of individuals willing to speak to Odhikar about the May demonstrations.

Ahead of the mass protests expected in Egypt on Sunday, CIVICUS spoke with Hicham Ezzat, an activist for Egypt’s pro-revolution movement.

Hicham Ezzat 21) Why did you become an activist?

It was a call more than a choice. The overwhelming nature of the causes brought out by the Egyptian revolution was beyond my individualism and I felt like my person was not as important as these causes.

Even more personally, the Egyptian revolution reconciled me with Egypt. I hadn’t found a place for myself as a French-Egyptian bi-national. There was no box for bi-nationals in Egypt before. I felt most of the people protesting around me were looking for a box to identify with or some acceptance that they had not found in the old Egypt.

For me, there is a very strong feeling that I now feel more Egyptian than some of these “pure Egyptians”. They were always accusing me of being less Egyptian than they. But the revolution made me realise that I love this country more than some of them do. Many travelled away and left, but I stayed.

Aysegul Ekmekci and Semanur Karaman from Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) speak to CIVICUS about the on-going protests in the country and what they mean for the youth, politics and civil society in Turkey.

      Taksim Square

 

1)    Some analysts are comparing the situation in Turkey with the Arab Spring. What are your thoughts?
The Arab Spring was quite unique in the sense that it was a series of unprecedented events to see in the whole region. Within a matter of months, repressive governments of the region faced strong resistance from their citizens and had to respond to their calls. Although the international media is comparing the events in Turkey with the Arab Spring, they are actually quite different. The events, that started to take place in Istanbul as a reaction to the demolishing of the last green park in the center of Istanbul, did not initially begin with a political demand. However, public reaction to the government has escalated after the police forces used excessive violence against protestors who wanted their voices to be heard by the government.

Awa Innocent Ndah of Impact CreatorsAwa Ndah is the Founder and Executive Director of Impact Creators, a youth educational and professional development organisation based in Cameroon. He is also the co- founder and country coordinator of the African Trainer's Network. In the past he has played numerous roles in various local and international advocacy events and campaigns as a trainer, facilitator, team leader and presenter. Lastly, he works with AIESEC in Cameroon as an alumnus coach/ trainer and sponsor.

Given the wide variety of challenges that youth in Africa face, socio-economic instability through the lack of employment appears to be common amongst all states. What are some of the current major repercussions of this challenge for African youth, and what are common debates held by African leaders to curb it?

Unemployment is a current global challenge and its repercussions leave no one indifferent. The global economic crisis affected Africa's economy and it's slow but steady rebound struck a serious blow during and after the Arab Spring. North African youths are the highest of those hit in Africa. ILO's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013, states that North Africa "has a youth unemployment rate as high as 23.7 per cent in 2012" while the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils - Youth Unemployment Visualization 2013 pits unemployment rates in North Africa at 27.9% and in Sub-Saharan Africa at 11.5%. Undoubtedly and regrettably, Africa has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Unemployment is therefore blighting a whole generation of youngsters in Africa. The socio-economic, political and psychosocial repercussions of unemployment are far-reaching particularly to the man [or woman] on the street. In the face of economic stagnation and downturn, financial uncertainty crowned by skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment, the future of the African youth leaves little or nothing to ride home with, all whilst populations just keep increasing. African Economic Outlook (AEO) estimates that there are "almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 and that Africa has the youngest population in the world." This number according to AEO "...will double by 2045."

Esther Agbarakwe co- founder of the Nigerian Youth Climate CoalitionEsther Agbarakwe is a co-founder of the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition, the biggest youth climate movement in Nigeria. She also serves as a technical Advisor to the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). Recently she returned from Washington, DC where she served as an Atlas Corps Fellow with Population Action International. Currently Ms Agbarakwe is also a young climate change policy advisor and trainer with experience in creating, facilitating and managing youth-led projects. She has over eight years of experience working on sexuality and environmental issues. In the past, apart from being selected as one of the 'Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders' in 2010, Ms Agbarakwe was also a recipient of The Dekeyser and Friends Foundation Leadership Award in 2009, the Ford Foundation/LEAP Africa Nigerian Youth Leadership Award in 2010, Commonwealth Youth Climate Fellowship 2010, the Atlas Corps Fellowship Award in 2012 and received two nominations in the Future Awards in Nigeria under the Category of "Best Use of Advocacy" for 2011 and 2012 respectively. In addition, Ms Agbarakwe represented Africa at over 20 global governance meetings on sustainable development. She has also served roles as African coordinator of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Youth and Children Major Group, and representative of African youths at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 15, COP17), African Development Forum (ADF) and Rio +20, where she worked with a delegation from The Elders; Gro Harlem Brundtland, President Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Fernando Cardozo 20 as one of the famous four "Youngers" demonstrating true intergenerational dialogue on sustainability.

South Sudan Law Society SSLSVictor Lowilla, senior legal aid attorney at the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS), speaks to CIVICUS about the trajectory of civil society in South Sudan since independence and the growing restrictions on independent media and journalists in the country.

How would you describe the overall operating environment of civil society in South Sudan?

While the current legal framework governing civil society in South Sudan is not particularly restrictive, the government is taking an increasingly hostile approach to organizations which advocate on sensitive issues leading to a severe constriction of operational space for independent dissent. Civil society groups which report on contentious issues, deemed off-limits by the government, do so at the risk of reprisal. The National Security Intelligence, in its mission to insulate the government from criticism, is becoming increasingly vigilant and willing to arrest anyone who openly speaks out against the government.

Dag WakeneDagnachew-WakeneDagnachew B. Wakene is a researcher from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, specialising in studies of inclusive development, human rights and law. As a person with disability, Dagnachew currently works as a part-time Research Associate at World Enabled – a disability and youth focused initiative based in Berkeley, California. He is also a Board Member and Youth Representative at the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (SADPD), as well as an active participant in ongoing regional and global deliberations on the ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda,’ representing the cause of inclusive development and continent.

The term impoverished is often used to describe all groups of society that are victims of poverty. How do impoverished persons with disabilities experience poverty differently or in comparison to persons without disability?

Needless to say, numerous studies over the past decade or two have increasingly reported an alarming rate of disability among individuals living in poverty, affirming the peculiar bi-directional/vicious link between poverty and disability. One is both the cause and consequence of the other such that poverty causes disabilities (through, for instance, poor living conditions, health endangering employment, malnutrition, poor access to healthcare and education opportunities etc.);while disability, on the other hand, results in severe poverty. This means that the most pressing issue faced globally by persons with disabilities is not their specific disability but their lack of equitable access to education, employment, health care and the social and legal support systems. The World Disability Report (2011) stated, in no ambiguous terms, that persons with disabilities comprise 15 to 20 percent of the poorest individuals in developing countries and are often relegated to the margins of society, where they are a perceived as being a 'burden', instead of potential and capable contributors to family and national economic activities.

Kiara WorthKiara Worth is one of the Organising Partners for the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). The MGCY is the official youth constituency for sustainable development negotiations, including the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Her role as Organising Partner involves facilitation and advancement of the participation of young people within these processes, including policy amendments and youth activism. In the past, she has engaged with thousands of youth across the globe fostering dialogue, collaboration, participation and unity and diversity amongst young people, and mobilising them to act. She also works as an independent consultant for sustainable development, focusing on rural resource management and communications. She applies alternative forms of social development that use the creative arts and theatre as a means of enabling social transformation. Her publications, dramatic performances and community theatre have focused on environmental integrity and sustainable living. Her work has been featured at numerous panel events at the UNCSD and related events.

How has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework enhanced the voices of children and youth globally since its inception in 2000?

The MDG framework has helped to raise a number of key concerns and issues affecting children and youth globally, and has attempted to enhance their voice to overcome these challenges. Increasingly, youth are recognised as key participants in decision-making and development, yet capacity building of and creating sustained partnerships with young people in achieving the MDGs have yet to be realised.

Youth have been involved directly in the MDGs and have had a variety of platforms to promote their participation. While this has been extremely positive, there is continuous need for successful models of youth participation to be adapted and replicated to specific political and socio-economic realities, taking into consideration the challenges facing youth-led and youth-serving organisations. More support needs to be given to children and youth organisations to further enhance their real participation, and the MGCY is hopeful that the post-2015 agenda will do this.

United Nations officials, civil society groups and worldwide media coverage hailed last month's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for taking a significant step forward in the campaign to end gender-based violence. The outcome document from the 57th CSW -- supported by UN Women -- included substantial agreements regarding the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment, including the need to guarantee women's reproductive rights and access to health services.


Following the CSW, Lakshmi Puri, who had been instrumental in facilitating months of preparations as well as the final two weeks of tough but successful negotiations, took over as acting head of UN Women after Executive Director Michelle Bachelet stepped down. Puri, who is also assistant secretary-general of the UN, has been a force in elevating UN Women's prominence over the last couple years. The agency is making women's rights a central focus of the post-2015 development agenda -- an effort particularly critical at a time when both women and their rights are being subjected to a number of high-profile attacks.


Talking to Puri gives one the deep sense of the interconnectedness that UN Women prioritizes in advancing gender equality and women's empowerment. By working with other UN agencies, governments and civil society groups globally, UN Women is proving the profound societal benefits of enhancing women's economic and political standing, along with education and health services. Puri spoke with The InterDependent about these issues and more.


Read more at Huffington Post

Omaid SharifiMr Omaid Sharifi is a member of CIVICUS and the Co-Founder of Sela Foundation in Afghanistan. He is also the Country Representative of the Hungary based International Centre for Democratic Transition; Asia Society 21 Fellow and Co-Chair of Afghanistan Young Leader's Initiative and a Board Member of the Paywand Afghanan Association. He also holds memberships with: the Global Youth Anti-Corruption Network; the Clinton Global Initiative University; the South Asian Good News Channel; and the South Asian Youth Conference.

What experiences and emotions have drawn you to working with the challenges that face the youth in civil society today?

Since my days selling cookies on the streets of Kabul to the current days working full-time as a youth and civil society activist, I am no stranger to hard work. I have invested my time and limited resources to the redevelopment of my country. I have stretched my time and energy to its utmost limits as I am involved in a number of initiatives as a civil society member through the various organizations that I work with.

The World We Want 2015 initiative aims to create a collective vision of the most important priorities of people in every part of the world, including indigenous populations, women and youths, to ultimately inform what the development agenda should include when the current MDGs expire in 2015. The initiative is part of the UN efforts to gather viewpoints from people worldwide to help shape the future global development agenda after 2015, the deadline for the MDGs, a set of eight anti- poverty targets to be reached in two years. “We have the technological means that allows us to reach out like never before to citizens,” said [Olav] Kjorven [assistant secretary- general for development policy at the UN Development Programme]. “What we are hoping is that through this mobilization of citizenry, in terms of their interest in this discussion, is that we’ll be getting a lot of valuable insights and inputs that can help us understand what people would like to see.”

Read more at NZ week

Matt Simmonds of the Trade Union Developments Cooperation NetworkMatt Simmonds is the liaison officer for the platform of civil society organisations that sits in the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP- Eff), BetterAid in Paris. He is housed in the office of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), where his responsibilities include facilitating and strengthening the advocacy work of the platform primarily through liaising on a regular basis with the OECD secretariat and other stakeholders of the WP- Eff. Prior to this role, he worked at the United Nations office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), where, in his capacity as policy associate, he followed several UN processes such as the UN Financing for Development Process. He holds a Master's Degree in International Development from the New School in New York.

To what extent has the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework influenced the international community towards improving liveable and workable conditions for workers in marginalised areas of the world?

The MDGs, as originally developed in 2000, very much overlooked the employment dimension when trying to address poverty under MDG 1. No surprises then that, also overlooked, were conditions of employment and the challenges workers face the world over especially in those parts of the world where they are most marginalised. So it is safe to say that at least from the very outset, the MDG framework would not have had much influence on the international community in addressing the challenges faced by workers.

However, at the point when the MDG review process began, it was clear that issues around employment and decent work needed to be addressed head on if progress was to be made against MDG 1. So in 2008 the sub target (1b) to Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people was integrated into the MDG Framework, along with a number of indicators to measure progress on this sub target.

Arjan Van Houwelingen of the World Society for the Protection of Animals NetherlandsArjan Van Houwelingen of the World Society for the Protection of Animals Netherlands shares why the Post-2015 Agenda needs to include animal welfare and detailed targets for international cooperation towards sustainable development.

Have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) served as a strong framework for encouraging corporations to prioritise climate change and environmental sustainability? Please elaborate.

While this question is slightly outside of the scope of the work of WSPA, my reaction would be that the MDG process has done very little to encourage the private sector towards environmental sustainable practices. Increasing attention to the issue of climate change may have encouraged the 'greening' of corporate brands but the likelihood of a continued absence of strong international agreement on mitigation will encourage the private sector to continue to postpone real action in this area.

Leo Williams Beyond 2015Leo Williams in the International Coordinator of the Beyond 2015 campaign, which brings together over 260 civil society organisations from more than 60 countries that work together to influence the creation of the Post- 2015 Development Framework. Prior to this role, Mr Williams worked as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Officer for Bond, the UK membership organisation for NGOs working in international development, and the Scotland Malawi Partnership, a large network of organisations and individuals working between Scotland and Malawi. Having studied Arabic, he also worked to promote peace and justice between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel together with the Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives.

How has the establishment of the MDGs framework enhanced the voices of CSOs in the global South since its inception in 2000? Please elaborate on whether or not there was a significant increase of involvement from global South actors during the past 13 years, in a way that was lacking at the creation of the MDGs.

I have certainly seen a marked increase in the engagement of actors from the global south in the Beyond 2015 campaign. For example, in late 2010, the majority of governments, UN departments and CSOs were of the opinion that it was too early to start talking about 'post-MDGs' for fear that it would mean less focus on achieving the MDGs before the 2015 deadline. Relatively quickly this became an untenable position as CSOs started to realise that it had taken governments over a decade of 'summitteering' to agree the Millennium Declaration which led to the MDGs. In 2010 and 2011 we did not have the luxury of a decade – we needed to ensure that these conversations started as soon as possible, to ensure the process to develop the next framework was participatory, inclusive and responsive to the voices of those most affected by poverty and injustice – rather than to have been written by a small group of UN insiders.

Longgena Ginting Greenpeace Indonesia"Indonesia is home to massive environmental and cultural resources. By protecting civil society, we can help to ensure a greater degree of protection for these local and global assets, many of which are fundamental to supporting life on this planet."

Longgena Ginting, Country Director of Greenpeace Indonesia, speaks to CIVICUS about Indonesia’s Mass Organisation Bill and the serious risks that it poses to civil society in Indonesia.

What kind of environment does civil society in Indonesia operate in?

With the fall of the Suharto Regime in 1998 and the advent of our current political era, sometimes referred to as the “New Indonesia”, a robust and variegated civil society sector has emerged including student activist groups, traditional governance organizations and  independent trade unions. These groups play a fundamental role in balancing state authority and in supporting the development and implementation of equitable and just government policies.


Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dave Pearson, who is a long-time staff member at SIL International, a large nongovernmental organization which has pioneered advocacy for minority language rights and resources around the world. He also serves as SIL’s permanent representative to UNESCO, where he consults on issues at the intersection of minority languages and development work.

The impetus for this conversation was a recent refresh of SIL’s website, which made me newly aware of some great resources they have published on this theme, including a booklet entitled Why Languages Matter: Meeting Millennium Development Goals through Local Languages and a larger project conducted with UNESCO, called Why Language Matters for the Millennium Development Goals. We sat down to talk about this important issue, often overlooked by the global health community.

Read more at GlobalHealthHub.org

Ivana SavicIvana Savic is a Policy Officer at Change Mob and Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development Studies. She serves as a board member to the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) at CIVICUS. Prior to these roles, she served as Junior Advisor at the Gender Equality Department to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia. Since 2009 she served as the representative for the Child Rights Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, which was an Organizing Partner for the Major Group on Children and Youth at the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil last year.

How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework assisted in the development of youth organizations, capacities and livelihoods since its inception in 2000?
MDGs have been important in advancing the livelihoods and capacities of young people, but also mobilizing young people to be involved in the implementation and progress reporting of the MDGs. However, Beyond 2015 goals should have at least one goal committed to youth and one committed to human development governance, particularly issues pertaining participation in decision making.

What are some of the key issues facing youth throughout the world today, which should be prioritised in a Post-2015 Agenda?
People all over the world, especially young people, are faced with increasing environmental degradation, human rights violations and economic crises and those issues should be prioritised in the Post-2015 Agenda. A clean, safe, healthy, adequate and sustainable environment is a prerequisite for life, survival and development. It also bares consequences for the fulfilment of human rights. Unfortunately, however, the environment is not an indefinite resource and its degradation negatively influences human health and life as well as the future and the lives of future generations. Furthermore, human rights, especially rights such as right to life, survival and development, right to adequate standard of living, right to health, right to work and social security, freedom from violence; and also the right to participation should be emphasised in the post MDGs agenda. It would be better to say that protection, fulfilment and advancement of human rights should be a foundation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. After all, development goals could be perceived as efforts made toward fulfilling the vision of a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

Uchita de Zoysa Global Sustainability Solutions Sri LankaUchita de Zoysa is the Chairman of Global Sustainability Solutions (GLOSS), the Executive Director of the Centre for Environment and Development, and Initiator of the People's Sustainability Treaties. He is the author of several books and international reports, and has played a leading role in the formulation of global independent sector collective agreements such as The NGO Alternative Treaties and the Oslo Declaration on Sustainable Consumption. Prior to these roles, Mr de Zoysa created and led the largest environment and development NGO in Sri Lanka, the Public Campaign on Environment & Development. In addition, he has also held numerous international posts including Advisory Board Member and Head of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption for SC.Asia.

To what extent has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000, promoted the issues of sustainability and responsibility amongst corporations within global production and consumption practices?

The MDG's had no doubt helped create awareness on sustainability and responsibility amongst all critical stakeholders including business and industry.

Richard Morgan UNICEFRichard Morgan is the Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the Post- 2015 Agenda. He is a member of the UN Secretary- General's Task Team on the Post- 2015 Agenda and has chaired various UN inter agency groups on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the past. Prior to this, Mr Morgan served as UNICEF's Director of Policy, UNICEF in Africa and for the Government of Botswana during the 1970-1990s. His focus lies within the areas of how rights based, normative approaches can be effectively applied to international development1. Source2

 To what extent have governments increased commitment to child and gender sensitive policies after the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000?

This is not easy to answer rigorously, and would depend on careful, comparative cross-country analysis of national policies between 2000 and 2012. Certainly there have been a number of individual advances in national child- and gender-sensitive policies, both across sectors and in specific areas such as juvenile justice reform and legislation designed to prevent violence against children and women. However, much more remains to be done in terms of policies, legislation, administrative measures, pro-child budgets and programmes.

Dr. Changyong Rhee, Asian Development BankDr. Changyong Rhee is the Chief Economics and spokesperson on economic forecasts, trends at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). He has over 20 years of professional experience in government and academia and served as the Secretary General of the Presidential Committee for the G- 20 Summit where he played a role in shaping and advancing the agenda for the 2010 G- 20 Seoul Summit. In previous years, Dr. Rhee also served as Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Commission of the Republic of Korea and played an instrumental role in developing strategic policy responses to the 2008 global economic crisis. In the private sector, Dr. Rhee advised the Shinhan Bank and Woori Investment and was also the director of the financial market think tank, the Korea Fixed Income Research Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University.

How have the Asian and Pacific regions changed since the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework in 2000?

Asia has been experiencing fast growth, contributing to the shift of global gravity to the region. The GDP growth rate of 8.3% averaged over 2000-2011 is faster than any other region in the world and has helped lift almost 300 million Asians out of extreme poverty.

New CIVICUS Secretary General Dhananjayan (Danny) Sriskandarajah who officially began his mandate as head of the global alliance this week speaks to the CIVICUS Policy Unit about the role of civil society in redressing the challenges affecting citizens around the world.

What are your preliminary reflections about the role of CIVICUS in particular and global civil society in general in responding to the convergence of crises affecting the world today?

I am very excited about the chance to work at an organisation like CIVICUS. I have long-admired the work that CIVICUS does to protect civil society space and promote citizen participation. I also feel positive about the role of civil society in addressing some of the great challenges facing the world today.

Civil society voices were screaming about the big problems – from financial meltdown to climate crisis – long before governments and business woke up. But, with governments lacking the will or resources to do anything and most businesses still addicted to short-term profits, I am certain that it will be civil society that will find new solutions based on equity, participation and sustainability.

One of my main aims at CIVICUS is to help amplify those voices, especially from the global South, which are coming up with novel ways of promoting citizen voice and innovative ways of fighting injustice.


Felix Dodds Felix Dodds is an independent consultant focusing on stakeholder engagement in the sustainable development process. He is also a current Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. Prior to these roles, he served as Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future and has been active at the UN since 1990, having attended a myriad of World Summits. He has also participated in all UN Commissions for Sustainable Development and UNEP Governing Councils; and has chaired the 64th UN DPI NGO Conference on Sustainable Development. Additionally, he is a member of a number of advisory boards such as the Great Transition.

1. How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) assisted in creating an environment conducive to the actions of civil society since its inception in 2000?

It should be remembered that unlike Agenda 21 there was little stakeholder involvement in the development of the MDGs. They by and large came from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (DAC OECD) targets so there was considerable opposition by stakeholders to the MDGs to begin with. From the sustainable development world, who had mostly bypassed the MDG Summit to focus on the World Summit on Sustainable Development, there was little in MDG7 to be happy with. MDG7 was slightly strengthened by the addition of a sanitation target. It is clear in the years since 2000 that development funding refocused around the MDGs and climate change and therefore so did much stakeholder involvement and actions.

Lewis Mwape of the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD), speaks to CIVICUS about the status of the 2009 Zambian NGO Act and the campaign to amend the law.

In 2009 the government passed the NGO Act. Can you tell us a little about the restrictions on civil society under the law?

If implemented, provisions governing the registration of NGOs under the new law will be extremely problematic. Under the law CSOs must re-register every five years. In addition, prior to registering, CSOs must explicitly state their sources of funding and proposed activities. Such intrusive requirements will create severe administrative and organizational hurdles to the registration of new NGOs. The prospect that NGOs will be required to secure sustainable funding prior to registration is impractical.

The NGO Act also greatly narrows the definitions of CSOs. Labour unions, faith based organizations and professional groups are not recognized under the NGO Act and are expected to register according to separate legislation with the Ministry of Labour and under the Society Act for Faith Based Organisations. Distinguishing between civil society groups is divisive and will weaken cohesion among different sectors.

Natalie Akstein, CIVICUS Junior Convening Officer and youth focal point, interviews youth delegates at the Global Youth Forum in Bali, Indonesia. Delegates provide perspectives on the Forum's issues and suggestions for CIVICUS to strengthen its work on youth participation.

Samuel Kissi from Ghana is interviewed in this video.

*For more information on the Global Youth Forum go to this site: www.icpdyouth.org

Natalie Akstein, CIVICUS Junior Convening Officer and youth focal point, interviews youth delegates at the Global Youth Forum currently taking place in Bali, Indonesia. Delegates provide perspectives on the Forum's issues and suggestions for CIVICUS to strengthen its work on youth participation.

Omer ÇİFTÇİ from Turkey is interviewed in this video.

*For more information on the Global Youth Forum go to this site: www.icpdyouth.org

Can you tell us a little bit about the mission and work of Odhikar?
Odhikar Logo BangladeshOdhikar was formed by a group of human rights activists who fought against Bangladesh’s autocratic regime and struggled to restore democracy. Together, the group initiated discussions underscoring the need to uphold the civil and political rights of the people of Bangladesh along with their social, cultural and economic rights. A decision was then made to form an organisation to advance such rights and on October 10, 1994, Odhikar (a Bengali word that means ‘rights’) came into being. Its aim was to create a wider monitoring and awareness raising system on the abuse of civil and political rights.

Odhikar’s mission is broad and includes the promotion of human rights through the introduction of participatory democracy and good governance as well as advocacy and lobbying for the incorporation and ratification of international human rights instruments into domestic human rights compliant laws. Odhikar also stands to fight impunity, promote justice and criminalise torture within Bangladesh and, through affiliated networks, at regional and international levels.

The organisation’s day to day work focuses on documenting, fact-finding, monitoring and researching human rights abuses that include enforced disappearances, custodial deaths, violence against women, torture, prison conditions, violations of freedom of expression, election monitoring and fostering mass awareness campaigns on rights and duties.

How would you evaluate the Future We Want outcome document in two sentences?

The Future We Want outcome document is far from certain to actually lead us to the Future We Want due to its lack of ambition and commitment by the national government leaders of the world. Yet, it does contain some seeds which allow us to hope and which could form the basis of important action by many.

Do you think the conference was a success or a failure? Does the outcome give you hope or do you feel that it has regressed in terms of the progress?

Rio +20 was not the success the world and its young people needed it to be, but neither was it a catastrophic failure. Instead, it continues making little improvements, and for the world to continue muddling through, which is really not good enough.

Which stakeholder should have the biggest responsibility and make more efforts after Rio+20?

All stakeholders should do what they can: national governments, local and subnational governments, companies, individuals and civil society as a whole. Rio+20 encouraged this multifaceted action, in side events as well as in provisions in the official text such as specific sections on all nine Major Groups, on corporate sustainability reporting, on sustainable cities and on voluntary commitments.

Farooq Ullah is Editorial Advisor at the Stakeholder Forum. He is also a Specialist Advisor to the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee and a member of the Alliance for Future Generations.

What are your overall impressions about the Rio + 20 Conference? Were the gains commensurate to the energy and resources spent?

It is too simplistic to declare Rio+20 an utter failure or a roaring success. It is important to look deeper than a superficial assessment to understand what really happened. Sustainable development is complex; I wish it were easier. There are, without a doubt, some successes that must be celebrated, minor though they may be.

Rio+20 launched numerous processes. It is the outcomes and success of these processes which will be the ultimate judge of the success of Rio+20.

How is the Stakeholder Forum planning to follow-up on the decisions made at Rio + 20?

Stakeholder Forum is planning much follow-up work to Rio+20, particularly on the Sustainable Development Goals, the intergovernmental process on Mobilisation of Resources, the Green Economy and Corporate Sustainability.

Boris Pustyntsev, Director of the Russia-based Citizens' Watch, speaks to CIVICUS about the impact of the new 'NGO Law' and recent restrictions on civil society activism in Russia.

The Russian Parliament recently adopted a new NGO law. Can you tell us a bit about the requirements set out in the law?

The law requires NGOs which receive funds from foreign sources and "participate in political activities" to apply for inclusion in a special registrar of NGOs which "perform functions of a foreign agent." After registering as a foreign agent, the NGO is required to provide relevant administrative authorities with detailed information pertaining to the amount of funds and other property received from foreign sources as well as information detailing how the funding and property will be used. In addition, every NGO registered as a 'foreign agent' must regularly submit documents detailing its activities, structure and members of its governing bodies to these authorities.

Furthermore, all publications issued and disseminated by NGOs designated as 'foreign agents' must include a notice that it has been published by an NGO registered as a 'foreign agent.' Also, any public events, including conferences, seminars or roundtable discussions, etc., organized by such an NGO must be preceded by an announcement that the organizer has been registered as a 'foreign agent.'

Dr Hassan Abdel Ati, Secretary General of Sudan’s National Civic Forum, speaks to CIVICUS about the crackdown on civil society activism and independent journalists since student-led protests began in March 2011.

A student led protest movement has emerged in Sudan. What issues have protestors put forward and what has been the government’s reaction to the demonstrations?

The youth protests, which began in earnest in March 2011, were spearheaded by university students in Khartoum, Kassala and Port Sudan. The protests started as sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations. However, the recent wave of protests, which followed violent confrontations with South Sudan forces in Hejlieg, have received far greater media attention. The recent protests were organised simultaneously in universities and residential areas in major cities in 11 of 15 regional states across Sudan. The demands put forward by demonstrators have widened beyond initial concerns about price increases of basic commodities to include the severe deprivation of freedom, peace and justice.

Since the movement began, protesters have demonstrated peacefully and in line with the 2005 Sudan Interim Constitution and its adjoining bill of rights. But government reaction to the protests has been vicious and unprecedented, and has contravened Sudanese Law. Riot police, plain clothes security personal and student militias have raided university premises and female student hostels, beating students and causing serious bodily harm. In addition, government security forces have used tear gas in enclosed areas, including in the Wad Nobawi Mosque in Omdurman and at the University of Khartoum. Furthermore, security officials have unwarrantedly and indiscriminately used rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse demonstrators. In early August, in reaction to demonstrations in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State, 12 people, most of them under the age of 20, were killed. At present, over 2,000 people involved in the demonstrations across Sudan remain in detention, with several being held in undisclosed facilities.

Catherine Pearce is the Campaign Manager for Future Justice [www.futurejustice.org] at the World Future Council, which campaigns for the interests of future generations to be taken into account in policy-making. Catherine has almost a decade's experience in the area of climate and energy policy, having worked with the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, where she convened mayors and advisors on reducing emissions and energy use in some of the world's largest cities. She also coordinated the climate campaign for Friends of the Earth International and the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group in Westminster, UK.

What do you feel were the high and low points of the Rio+20 processes?

In the face of the enormity of our environmental and economic crises, Rio+20 offered a critical moment to seize new, visionary ideas and commit to ambitious, long-term action to secure the safekeeping of the planet and our very wellbeing.

Back in 2010, the Rio+20 Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, said, "There has never been a more urgent time to drive political will and action to make our societies more economically strong and socially and environmentally sustainable. We need to reinvigorate support here and now." Yet as Rio+20 neared, government positions became clear. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned them to resist the prioritisation of narrow national interests over the opportunity to take a new path to address the needs of the billions without, and safeguard the very sources of life on which we all depend.

These loaded statements were accompanied by inspiring civil society actions and campaigns, a high point perhaps, and stark warnings from the scientific community, all pointing in the same direction of what was required and expected of leaders in Rio.

The summit was never going to match its famous predecessor in Rio de Janeiro 20 years earlier. But while new legislation or new conventions were not a realistic part of the Rio+20 predicted outcome, some innovative new ideas were. The World Future Council had been actively promoting one such idea: to establish Ombudspersons for Future Generations. These would be independent guardians appointed at global, national and local levels whose job would be to help safeguard environmental and social conditions by speaking up authoritatively for future generations in all areas of policy-making.

Natia Kapanadze, Director of the Media Legal Defense Center at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), based in Tbilsi, Georgia, speaks to CIVICUS about recent attacks on independent journalists and civil society’s response.

What can you tell us about recent attacks on journalists and the freedom of expression in Georgia?

The work of journalists in Georgia has become particularly difficult in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 2012. Since March, freedom of movement for Georgian journalists has been greatly restricted, with authorities denying reporters access to administrative offices and preventing them from covering government meetings and speeches.

Several journalists have also been subjected to heightened intimidation and physical abuse. In early July, video footage was released showing over a dozen activists, including ten journalists, being attacked in the village of Karaleti. The activists came to Karaleti to conduct election campaigning for the opposition coalition Georgia Dream.

Media organisations criticising the authorities have also faced problems in broadcast distribution. In one recent case, satellite dishes imported by broadcasters Studio Maestro LLC were impounded by the government in connection with an alleged vote-buying scheme. Studio Maestro LLC has contended that the distribution of the satellite dishes was simply part of a campaign to increase the scale of its audience. The state has failed to provide any explanation of the case, which has been condemned by civil society as affront to freedom of expression.

Susanne Salz is the former Executive and Policy Assistant to the Secretary General of ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. ICLEI represents local authorities in numerous global forums, and in her role Susanne coordinated ICLEI’s global strategic relationships, working with partners such as UN-Habitat, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. At Rio+20, she represented local authorities. In the past, Susanne worked at the Education Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and at UN Volunteers.

How would you evaluate the Future We Want outcome document in two sentences?

The Future We Want outcome document is far from certain to actually lead us to the future we want, due to its lack of ambition, and the lack of commitment by the national government leaders of the world. Yet it does contain some seeds that allow us to hope and which could form the basis of important action by many.

Do you think the conference was a success or a failure? Does the outcome give you hope or do you feel that it has regressed in terms of the progress?

Rio+20 was not the success the world and its young people needed it to be, but neither was it a catastrophic failure. Instead, it continues the tendency of making little improvements, and for the world to continue muddling through, which is really not good enough.

How would you evaluate the successes and failures of Rio + 20?

I have sincerely mixed feelings about Rio+20. What was definitely pleasant was that it was hosted by the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro. Lucky country, to have such a spectacular and friendly city! Although, the conference was itself too big and the distances between Rio Centro and the People’s Summit were too far from each other. I had the impression that I was running frantically from one venue to another, which was quite frustrating.

So, most people say that if the summit did not result in a binding outcome document, then Rio+20 would have at least been a place for stakeholders to meet. But I would actually even challenge this. Rio+20 could engage in some multi-stakeholder dialogue only during the Sustainable Development Dialogue Days and in a few other venues. But again, I have this impression that CSOs and governments mainly talked to themselves, while the UN tried its best to get everyone to reach a common position. I was also surprised to see how the UN opened large avenues for the private sector, offering its representatives a fantastic marketing playing field. We need totally to rethink the engineering of these global events.

Vladimir Simonko, co-founder and chair of the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) speaks to CIVICUS about the challenges the LGBT community faces in one of the most homophobic countries in Europe.

What current barriers exist for LGBT groups trying to operate in Lithuania?

Intolerance in general and homophobia as in Lithuanian society form a barrier for LGBT groups.

Lithuania is a party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as numerous other international human rights instruments. But despite these formal commitments to protecting the rights of LGBT individuals, public opinion polls show that Lithuania is one of the most homophobic countries in Europe. Sexual minorities in Lithuania suffer from systematic discrimination and are subjected to hate speech within Lithuanian media.

Qamar Naseem, programme coordinator with women’s organisation Blue Veins, based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, speaks to CIVICUS about the main challenges civil society groups and women face from religious right politicians in Pakistan.

What do you feel are the main challenges faced by civil society in Pakistan?

There are several challenges to CSOs in the different areas of Pakistan. The biggest challenge to Pakistani civil society is its recognition; it has often failed to bring the government within a people-centric corruption-free framework.

In most areas of Pakistan civil society exists in an underdeveloped form. There are always challenges to the liberal and democratic system in Pakistan, which has not allowed CSOs to grow in a considerable way. Ignorance, lack of sensitisation and poor knowledge about rights, and a lack of inclusion polices, have remained big challenges for civil society.

With increasing extremism, the space for liberals has decreased significantly. The space for dissent is consistently becoming smaller and more restricted. It is becoming easier for the state and the other dominant powers to label all dissent as terrorism or anti-national, while non-state actors aligned with the state easily label dissent as being part of a western agenda.

CIVICUS speaks to Dr Sabina Anokye-Mensah from Voice of African Mothers (VAM) on her expectations for Rio+20. As a civil society organisation and organising partner for the conference's Women Major Group, VAM advocates for women's education and empowerment in the African continent. She speaks about the challenges that arise from the concept of the green economy concept, and the tensions that currently face governments in the adoption of a rights-based approach.

What are your expectations from Rio+20?

The results of Rio+20 are expected to guide the actions of governments and the UN regarding the issue of sustainable development in the following years. Following from the conference I expect a cordial and improved relationship between governments, civil society, major groups, private sector and all stakeholders, so that the collaboration will provide a system of economic and environmental activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, which create the opportunity for men, women, boys and girls to live in harmony with nature and be treated equally. Rio+20 results should strengthen sectoral linkages between agencies to ensure the use of the green economy as one of the means toward the achievement of the three pillars of sustainable development.

CIVICUS Director of Outreach, Henri Valot, interviews Nikhil Seth, Director, UN Division of Sustainable Development and Head of the Rio+20 Secretariat*


Listen to the interview


HENRI: What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?

NIKHIL: My hopes and aspirations for Rio+20 are very high. First, I think it's going to be a very important convening of over 60,000 game-changers and people who have a deep impact on national policy. Representatives of civil society bring expertise in a wide range of areas, so it's not only a political governmental conference, but the ability to convene the largest UN conference in history, and the communities we will bring together at Rio will produce not one outcome which everyone focuses on - the political outcome - but thousands of outcomes, which bring together different communities of expertise, which has the potential for nurturing and brokering new partnerships. It has the potential of civil society engaging with different civil society from different parts of the world, so it's a mammoth assembly of people, and people forget that sometimes. So my hope is that in both the political outcome and in these other outcomes that I talk about that we will get real traction for the "future we want".

HENRI: In your opinion, what are the major challenges that the UN or member states are facing in establishing a concrete or ambitious outcome agreement? I know the problem on the Zero Draft and the negotiations that are happening. What are, for you, the main challenges?

NIKHIL: I think we are living in very difficult times. To start, news from all around the world is not good. The politics are kind of shot up globally, the economics are shot up globally, and people see only dark clouds in the global political, social and economic situation, so we are meeting in very difficult times, and meeting at such times, people wonder that groups will renege from the promises of the past, because the difficult situations mean difficulties for example, in financial resources. It means difficulties in various other commitments that have been made over the last twenty years, so the major worry is that other groups and countries might step back from their promises that will reduce the trust and the confidence and as a result people will not engage honestly and openly to solve the problems that we are out to solve. So my major worry is that the politics of the current times that we are living through will constrain significant progress.

Sukhrobjon Ismailov, founder and director of the Expert Working Group, Uzbekistan, speaks to CIVICUS about the challenges of being a human rights defender in his country. The Expert Working Group is a network of independent Uzbek experts and researchers studying issues related to law and public interest, human rights and fundamental freedoms, rule of law, democratisation and liberalisation.

Uzbekistan is considered one of the most difficult countries in which to be a civil society activist. What are the main challenges faced by you and your colleagues?

The challenges a CSO faces, whether local activists of international CSOs, partly depends on the Uzbek authorities' attitude of treating them well or badly depending on how politically loyal they are to the Uzbek regime. If they are loyal, issues regarding state registration and legal status, public support, persecutions and pressure - including imprisonment, physical attacks and abuse, threats, psychological pressure, coercion to cooperate with the authorities and secret services, blocking of websites and other types of media channels, denial of exit visas and freedom of movement, and restriction of freedom of assembly – can be solved. Those civil society activists and groups critical of the Uzbek government's policies face all these challenges on an everyday basis.

Jaehyun Jang is a Programme Specialist and Researcher at the Reshaping Development Institute (ReDI) in the Republic of Korea. ReDI is an independent think tank in the field of international development cooperation that aims to promote global development, study and research, and policy for the advancement of global knowledge cooperation. Here he tells us about his pessimism about the official Rio+20 process versus his hope in the People’s Summit, and the dangers in the current promotion of green growth and the green economy.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?

I don’t have much expectation and hope for the forthcoming Rio+20. This is due to the fact that the main agenda of Rio+20 looks ‘zero ambitious’ compared to the original Rio summit, considering the seriousness and urgency of the multiple crises we and the earth face at the moment. By looking at the recent Rio+20 negotiations on the zero draft, it also seems that the recent failures in the UN climate change negotiations, caused by a growing tension between developed and major emerging developing economies, will lead the Rio+20 into another failure.

Roberto Bissio is Coordinator of Social Watch network and Executive Director of the Third World Institute. He serves as a board member of the Third World Network, the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation and of the Montreal International Forum. He is also a member of the Civil Society Advisory Committee to the United Nations Development Programme. Here, he talks about his hopes for Rio+20, and the need for sustainable development goals to combine human rights and sustainability agendas.

What are your expectations from Rio+20?

Rio+20 should at least reaffirm the Rio principles and resist the pressures to keep trusting in the kind of market solutions that have been proven a failure by the 2008 crisis. Ideally a Council for Sustainable Development within the UN framework should be created and an Ombudsperson for Future Generations appointed.

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