CIVICUS Interviews Nikhil Seth, Head of the Rio+20 Secretariat

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.

 

‘Fewer and fewer committed, independent civil society activists are remaining’ - interview with Sukhrobjon Ismailov, civil society activist, Uzbekistan

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.

 

‘Address the voice of the 99%’: Rio+20 interview with Jaehyun Jang, Programme Specialist, Reshaping Development Institute, Republic of Korea

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.

 

‘What is needed is a monitoring and accountability system for governments North and South’ – Rio+20 interview with Roberto Bissio, Coordinator, Social Watch

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.

 

‘International civil society should spread awareness of the devastating effects of Ethiopian law’: interview with Endalkachew Molla, Director, Human Rights Council, Ethiopia

Endalkachew Molla Demilew is the Director of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Council (HRCO), responsible for coordinating the operations of the head and branch offices, establishing links and partnerships with governmental and non-governmental institutions, human rights activists, aid organisations, CSOs and the media, and overseeing HRCO’s human rights reporting and monitoring procedures. Previously he has held positions in both governmental and non-governmental institutions. Here, he tells us about his experience of working under the new CSO law introduced in 2009, the CSO Proclamation, described at the time  as “one of the most restrictive laws in the world” for civil society by Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association.

The CSO Proclamation that was introduced in 2009 raised a significant amount of international attention at the time. What has been the impact of this legislation over the last three years?

 

CIVICUS interview with Jose Mavungo

Jose Mavungo is a human rights activist from the Cabinda region. He is the co-founder of the Mpalabanda Association, which has been denied permission to operate by the Angolan government. Presently, Jose Mavungo is coordinating activities of the members of the Mpalabanda Association. He speaks to CIVICUS about the challenges faced by civil society in Angola.

We understand that your organisation, “Proclamation of Mpalabanda” continues to suffer from a 2006 ban. Can you tell us a little about the circumstances of the ban and the present situation?

The issue of banning Mpalabanda is deeply linked to historical and subjective elements influenced by the conflict in Cabinda. We receive almost on a daily basis, tragic stories of military and civilian victims. The authorities want to emerge victorious in the Cabinda conflict at any cost even at the expense of legal and universal human rights standards.

 

‘Young women are a vital part of shaping the future’ – Rio+20 interview

A Rio+20 interview with Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda is the General Secretary of the World YWCA, a global federation in 125 countries, and a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in CSO governance and transition management. She is also the Vice Chair of CIVICUS. She is active in trying to ensure that young women are able to help shape the future sustainable development agenda, and that the women's human rights impacts of climate change and sustainability challenges are taken into account. She talks to CIVICUS about her hopes for Rio+20 and the work of the World YWCA.

How is the World YWCA planning to advance women's issues, and participation at Rio+20?

The World YWCA will have a small delegation of YWCA representatives at Rio+20 with two clear goals – to ensure young people, and particularly young women, play a role in shaping the sustainable development agenda, and to ensure the agenda coming out of Rio+20 is inextricably linked with advancing gender equality and women's human rights. It is also essential that commitments are adequately resourced and that we continue to strengthen accountability mechanisms.

 

An innovative proposal to inspire the world - An interview with Alice Vincent of World Future Council

An interview with Alice Vincent of World Future Council on the Ombudsperson for Future Generations proposal

In the latest of our interviews with key civil society figures on the road to Rio+20, we talk to Alice Vincent, Policy Officer at the World Future Council, an organisation which brings together representatives of governments, parliaments, the arts, civil society, academia and the business world to form a voice for the rights of future generations. It hopes to see Rio+20 commit to establishing an Ombudsperson for Future Generations.

What is the World Future Council's proposal for Ombudspersons for Future Generations?

The World Future Council is proposing an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations under the second theme of Rio+20, 'Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development'.

The World Future Council is an organisation that endeavours to bring the interests of future generations to the centre of policy-making. We identify existing innovative future-just policies and advise policy-makers on how best to implement these.

 

‘We don’t see the necessary urgency and commitment from member states’ - Rio+20 interview with Cristina Diez Saguillo, Main Representative to the United Nations, International Movement ATD Fourth World

Cristina Diez Saguillo has been a member of the International Movement ATD Fourth World's full-time volunteer corps since 2003. Prior to that she worked in the financial sector as a fund administrator and worked in grassroots projects with children and young people in poverty in disadvantaged urban areas of Spain. In 2010 she became the main representative of the organisation to the United Nations.

What issues is ATD Fourth World bringing to Rio+20?

The main issues we’re bringing to Rio+20 are human rights and the participation of all stakeholders, with special attention to those most affected by extreme poverty and exclusion.

The conference should contribute to building a new sustainable development framework and the outcomes should be based on internationally agreed upon human rights principles and standards. The work of the UN Human Rights Council in developing Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights provides a useful reference point in developing a human-rights based approach to sustainable development and poverty eradication. A rights-based approach will ensure the following:

 

‘Good intentions pasted onto flawed governance structures are not enough’ – Rio+20 interview with Linda Sheehan, Earth Law Center

Linda Sheehan is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, an organisation that promotes recognition of the legal rights of all of Earth’s inhabitants and ecosystems and advocates for and promotes Earth-based laws and policies. She has 20 years’ experience of environmental law and policy.

What issues is the Earth Law Center bringing to Rio+20?

 

In the 20 years since the Rio Earth Summit, we have witnessed increasing worldwide ecosystem degradation and accelerating species losses. Scientists agree that we now stand at a crossroads, at which we can decide to fundamentally change our behaviour now, or face irreversible climate change impacts that will begin to take on lives of their own. Further good intentions pasted onto existing, flawed governance structures are not enough. Instead, we need to transform our overarching governance systems themselves to reward sustainable actions and discourage self-destructive behaviour.

 

‘Civil society needs to be vigilant’ - interview with Elizabeth Thompson, Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Coordinator, UN Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20

Elizabeth Thompson is a former Minister for Energy and Environment of Barbados who also served as Minister for Physical Development and Minister for Health. Ms Thompson was appointed to the Barbados Senate and was a practising attorney as well as a journalist. She has also served as a lecturer in ecology, economy, energy and politics.

 

CIVICUS Interview with Chantal Line Carpentier

Sustainable Development Officer and Major Groups Programme Coordinator
UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Sustainable Development

Chantal Line Carpentier joined the Division for Sustainable Development of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) as a Sustainable Development Officer in 2007. She previously served as Head of the Trade and Environment Programme of the North American Free Trade Agreement Commission for Environmental Cooperation and worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute as well as consulting for the United Nations Development Programme, World Bank, and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. She regularly publishes journal articles and book chapters on the relations between economics, trade and environment.

 

Rio+20 Interviews

CIVICUS has conducted a series of interviews with key players involved in the Rio+20 process. You may see the list of interviews conducted so far below: earth-summit-306-rtxvfxs

 

An interview with Felix Dodds, Executive Director of Stakeholder Forum

Felix Dodds is part of a number of advisory boards for Rio+20, including the global scientists conference in 2012 'Planet Under Pressure', the German Government sponsored conference 'Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus' in the Green Economy and the Government of Abu Dhabi sponsored conference 'Eye on Earth Summit' framework committee and stakeholder advisory committee.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?

I have many hopes and aspirations for Rio+20 and some of those include:

  1. The establishment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have been brought to the table by the governments of Colombia and Guatemala.  Areas for the SDGs might include oceans, energy, biodiversity, food security and nutrition, water, urbanisation, sustainable consumption and production. These goals should have universal application and build on Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPol). Integrating the SDGs with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to produce a single post-2015 framework would be a vital outcome from Rio.
  2. Put money on the table to fund a move towards an economy based on sustainable development. Governments can do this by delivering on the 0.7% commitment through the support of a financial transaction tax (FTT). The initiative might help governments refinance themselves, though it must be clear that that the money should support the move to economies supporting sustainable development.
  3. Support the establishment of a Convention on Corporate Sustainability to address the issues of mandatory reporting on stock exchanges. The Convention should be about more than simply addressing reporting; it should also deal with responsibility, principles of transparency and accountability of corporations. The Convention already has the support of governments, stakeholders and many key global companies as well as Global Compact.

     

CIVICUS advocates South Africans 'Right to Know'

CIVICUS interview with Dale McKinley

Dale McKinley, official spokesperson of South Africa’s Right to Know Campaign (R2K) and member of its national working group spoke to CIVICUS about the Protection of Information Bill passed by the National Assembly and awaiting approval of the National Council of Provinces. Dale is a long time social and political activist as well as an independent writer.

We understand that the Protection of Information Bill was revised a few times before the National Assembly passed it in November last year. What are the main concerns with the current draft of the bill?

Overall, despite the amendments, the fundamental thrust of the bill has not changed. It gives tremendous powers to the Minister of State Security to withhold a great deal of information from the public. The Right to Know campaign had devised a seven point freedom test for the bill. The bill passed by the National Assembly fails this test on the following grounds.

 

Interview with a civil society activist: Andrey Yurov

Andrey Yurov, from the Moscow Helsinki Group, International Youth Human Rights Movement and Head of International Observation Mission in Belarus, talks to Adele Poskitt at CIVICUS during the OSCE Civil Society Parallel conference about the situation for civil society in Belarus.

What do you think will be the impact of the 4.5 year sentence recently given to Ales Bialiatski going to be in Belarus?

The situation with Ales Bialiatski proves that there is no right for freedom of association in Belarus. The case is evidence that there is no free trial and no standards of rights are being observed in the country. The international community should understand that Belarus is not willing to meet its international human rights commitments. This situation is very difficult for Viasna, the organisation that Ales headed, but his colleagues are not going to stop their work. Despite the difficult conditions the organisation is facing and the possible confiscation of the venue they use as an office, I have no doubts they will continue their excellent work.

 

Interview with a civil society activist: Andrey Yurov

Andrey Yurov, from the Moscow Helsinki Group, International Youth Human Rights Movement and Head of International Observation Mission in Belarus, talks to Adele Poskitt at CIVICUS during the OSCE Civil Society Parallel conference about the situation for civil society in Belarus.

What do you think will be the impact of the 4.5 year sentence recently given to Ales Bialiatski going to be in Belarus?

The situation with Ales Bialiatski proves that there is no right for freedom of association in Belarus. The case is evidence that there is no free trial and no standards of rights are being observed in the country. The international community should understand that Belarus is not willing to meet its international human rights commitments. This situation is very difficult for Viasna, the organisation that Ales headed, but his colleagues are not going to stop their work. Despite the difficult conditions the organisation is facing and the possible confiscation of the venue they use as an office, I have no doubts they will continue their excellent work.

 

CIVICUS Interview with Billy Mayaya

Billy Mayaya, Programme Manager, Church and Society (CCAP Nkohma Synod), the human Rights and advocacy department of the Presbyterian Church in Malawi spoke to CIVICUS about the current political situation in the country and the targeted threats  civil society members. Billy is also the Chairperson of the Civil and Political Rights Committee of the Malawi Human Rights Commission and Board Member of the Human Rights Consultative Committee

The environment for civil society in Malawi appears to be deteriorating for the past few months. Could you tell us a little bit about the current situation and your recent arrest with four other colleagues?
There is an incremental movement towards shrinking civil society space in Malawi, the dynamics of which were prompted by the current ruling party’s landslide victory in 2009. The Democratic Progressive Party viewed this as licence to rule without the consensus of the people that voted them into power for a second term. Concerned with the increasing levels of impunity, civil society as a collective began to demand transparency,accountability and observance of the rule of law. In response, the position of government was to maintain a more hard-line approach. This was evidenced by the level of vitriol directed to civil society concerns. Civil society organisations and select individuals were publicly targeted at presidential functions as being agents of foreign governments bent on damaging Malawi's profile abroad. Civil society organisations were branded a security risk and threatened with deregistration. As a response, the Government has enacted legislation meant to further shrink the space for civil society. Chief among these is the NGO Act 2000 which cautions NGO not to engage in political activities a veiled reference to advocacy.

 

Interview with civil society activist: Gino Govender

Gino Govender, a seasoned civil society and trade union activist has recently joined Amnesty International’s International Mobilization team. He is based in South Africa and his mandate includes supporting growth in the region.  Prior to joining Amnesty, Gino was the Executive Director of Ditsela Workers’ Education Institute.  He has served a variety of student, community, labour and political organisations in organising, education and leadership roles over the years. He speaks to CIVICUS about his work, future plans and the state of civil society in Southern Africa.

 

Interview with civil society activist: Arthur Larok, Director of Programmes at the Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGO)

Arthur Larok, Director of Programmes at the Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGO), the newest addition to CIVICUS’ Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) family, discusses whether there is a new beginning with the NGO Law Reform Process in Uganda. Arthur has wide experience in civil society law and governance. He has written widely on governance and democratisation in Uganda and recently authored a chapter detailing the legal environment for NGOs in Uganda, which was published in the book (Dis enabling the Public Sphere: Civil Society Regulation in Africa (Volume 1).  He holds a Masters Degree in Governance and Development from the Institute of Development Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Makerere University.

 

Interview with Henri Valot, CIVICUS' new Director of Outreach

Interview by: Elizabeth Hira, Human Rights Activist and  Policy Unit Intern for CIVICUS

Henri Valot has just rejoined CIVICUS as the Outreach Director, although his relationship with the organisation began in 2005 when he served as the CIVICUS Policy Advisor. In that role, he was involved with the origins of GCAP, the Better Aid Coalition and the pivotal OECD High Level Forum 3 in Accra where CSOs were acknowledged as development actors in their own right. Henri brings more than 20 years of experience around international cooperation and development effectiveness, having worked on peacekeeping missions, with the UNDP, and most recently in Angola and Burundi with the National Democratic Institute. He is also a professor of political philosophy. We asked Henri for his thoughts on the recent citizen uprisings in Greece and Spain, and what movements like this and Arab Spring signal for how CSOs must adapt to the changing future of citizen action.

 

Interview with civil society activist: Pepe Julian Onziemam

Pepe Julian Onziemam, Programme Coordinator for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) human rights organisations in Uganda, speaks to CIVICUS about the challenges of working in a hostile environment.

Q. Tell us about your work as an LGBTI activist

A. My work and that of the organisations - advocating for gay and lesbian people - which I have been involved with since 2004, has considerable challenges. Legislation that criminalises same-sex activities, means that we don't have space for advocacy work and most of what we do has to be done underground so people do not have to show their faces. We are forced to meet in private and have no access to legal aid. To issue statements we must create alliances with fellow civil society groups to deliver our message within Uganda. This is incredibly isolating and makes our work even more difficult. Our long-term goal is to decriminalise homosexuality.

In 2009, a draconian anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in the Uganda Parliament by MP David Bahati. There has been mixed reaction to the bill and the process has been drawn out because of the pressure exerted by religious leaders.

(CIVICUS has analysed the bill which, through its wide ambit, seeks to criminalise the work of civil society organisations promoting the rights of LGBTI persons through cancellation of their registration and punishment of the head of the organisation with seven years imprisonment. Other repugnant provisions of the bill include punishment by death for HIV infected persons if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender; life imprisonment for attempting to contract a marriage with a person of the same gender; extradition to Uganda of citizens or permanent residents if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender; and enhanced punishment of life imprisonment for sexual relations between people of the same gender. http://civicus.org/media-centre/press-releases/archieve/474--civicus-condemns-the-ugandan-anti-homosexuality-bill )

 

Interview with Civil Society Activist - Amy Bartlett

 

Amy Bartlett, the Global Coordinator of the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, a unique global initiative working to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of civil society in development initiatives, speaks to CIVICUS about her work.

The Open Forum has been coordinating a collective civil society voice on development effectiveness over the last couple of years. Can you tell us about this process? 

The Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness is a unique space for CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) worldwide to engage in a global and fully participatory process towards defining and introducing a framework of mutually shared development effectiveness principles. Through the Open Forum, which will be operating from 2009 until the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011, CSOs are striving to build a consensus on commonly accepted principles to improve their development effectiveness and on minimum standards for an enabling environment where CSOs can fully apply and strengthen their specific roles in development. This framework will take account of CSO development visions, approaches, relationships and the impact of their actions. To develop this framework, the Open Forum is also facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues with and among CSOs, donors and governments on these issues at country, regional and international levels.

 

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