CIVICUS speaks to Julienne Lusenge, director of SOFEPADI (Solidarite Feminine pour la Paix et le Development Integral), an NGO based in the Democratic Republic of Congo which supports and empowers women and girls who are rape and domestic violence survivors.
CIVICUS conversa con Manuel Robles, integrante del Movimiento Marcha Verde de la República Dominicana. Surgida en enero de 2017 al calor de la indignación popular por el escándalo Odebrecht, que involucró a altos funcionarios de tres sucesivos gobiernos dominicanos, Marcha Verde incluye a un amplio conglomerado de organizaciones de la sociedad civil y centra su estrategia en la movilización callejera. Sus principales objetivos son el establecimiento de una comisión independiente de investigación, la identificación y apertura de causas judiciales contra todos los implicados en casos de corrupción, y la recuperación de los activos de la corrupción.
CIVICUS conversa con Sara García Gross, Coordinadora Ejecutiva de la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico de El Salvador e integrante de la Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos. Fundada en 2009, Agrupación Ciudadana es una organización de la sociedad civil multidisciplinaria que busca generar conciencia para cambiar la legislación sobre la interrupción del embarazo en el país; defender legalmente a las mujeres que han sido acusadas o condenadas o por abortos o delitos relacionados; y promover la educación en materia de salud sexual y reproductiva.
CIVICUS conversa con Saúl Baños, abogado de la Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica de El Salvador y Director Ejecutivo de una de las organizaciones que la integran, la Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho. El entrevistado relata una historia de éxito de la sociedad civil en su lucha por la prohibición de la minería metálica en el país, y da cuenta de los desafíos pendientes.
1. A fines de marzo se aprobó en El Salvador una ley pionera que prohíbe la minería metálica en el país. ¿Cómo fue el proceso que condujo a su aprobación, y qué rol desempeñó en él la sociedad civil organizada?
La ley de prohibición de la minería metálica fue aprobada por la Asamblea Legislativa el 29 de marzo de 2017. Que un país tan pequeño y empobrecido como El Salvador tomara esta decisión soberana contra los intereses de una poderosa empresa transnacional fue un hecho sin precedentes que nosotros consideramos como una victoria aunque los contenidos de la ley no fueran exactamente los que impulsábamos en un principio.
CIVICUS speaks to a Liberian activist about the invasions by multinational companies into community and indigenous lands. Rural communities are at the receiving end of human rights violations perpetuated against these companies and the police while the state appears to be turning a blind eye to their plight. The activist prefers to remain anonymous to protect their identity.
1. Can you describe the state of land rights, resource rights and indigenous rights in Liberia?
Communities and land rights activists in Liberia struggle to protect land and natural resources from multinational companies who are given access to land and natural resources by the government without taking into consideration the needs and views of Liberians. In exploiting land and natural resources, these multinational corporations violate the rights of communities, exploit children and their actions have an adverse effect on the environment. Recently, the Liberian government discussed land ownership and rights through a land authority and land rights Act and promised to include more local voices such as those of women and children. However, the laws remain unenforced even though resources that are being taken by big companies are supposed to empower all communities in Liberia. A major challenge is that these multinationals have agreements with the government without taking into account the views and concerns of communities whose livelihood will be affected by the exploitation of these resources.
2. What do you view as the core issues related to Golden Veroleum’s work in Liberia?
The survival and livelihood of Liberia’s rural communities is attributed to their access to the rainforests and to land for cultivation. Upon the arrival in 2010 of Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a oil palm developer, rural farmers’ lands have been taken from them, often times by force. GVL has continued their expansion and let nothing get in their way; not farmers, not virgin rainforests teeming with wildlife, not even their promises made to help the local communities and assist them in developing education and other necessities. GVL has continued their operations but has returned nothing to the Liberian communities from whom they took the land.
Many of the communities and farmers have disagreed with GVL but have been met with threats and bribery by officials in positions of power. When the members of the communities chose to take a stand and express concerns over the actions of GVL, they have been arrested and beaten. GVL has employed a heavily armed and armored police unit called the Police Support Unit which they have invited to indefinitely stay to protect GVL’s interests and plantations. The workers that work for GVL are underpaid – in most cases US$10 a day and a rice supply which GVL’s forces have been confiscating in village raids. GVL has forced communities out of their land and some members of communities have gone into hiding to avoid reprisals.
3. How are communities of rural farmers affected by GVL’s palm oil production?
The land of these rural farmers has been confiscated, oftentimes by force, and has been poisoned with the chemicals used inside of palm plantations. GVL supposedly assumes that all local farmers will be obliged to work for them, facing underpayment and no access to the land on which they used to live. Some farmers have refused and simply left to live in the rainforest, yet GVL’s continued expansion threatens the delicate balance of the rainforest in which they live. Others have been beaten and imprisoned and remain there with no hope of ever leaving due to the corruption of GVL’s employed police unit.
4. In addition to concerns by farmers, can you expand on what your concerns are about the palm oil expansion by GVL?
My concerns are that the pleas of these farmers have remained unheard and overlooked by the Liberian government because of the economic benefit the government is receiving for this development. The conditions into which they force these communities, along with the ruthless means used to place them in such peril is very worrying and speaks a lot about the corruption that remains unexposed within the palm oil industry. I am concerned at what the future will bring, with little advancement in development for the communities. Farmers are detained and several are unaccounted for and GVL colludes with the government to gain access to land without consent of local communities.
5. In your opinion, why is this issue not being covered in the mainstream media?
Much of the story has been covered up or kept quiet by corrupt local officials and GVL. However, we hope that as civil society continues to highlight these issues, the matter will get the attention it deserves. Palm oil is used widely for domestic and industrial purposes — from cleaning products to culinary purposes and manufacturing — yet the methods of producing palm oil are not made public. Even major brand names using this oil have not spoken about which companies they source it from and by what means. If this was publicised by the mainstream media there would be a breach of trust between consumers and providers.
6. How has the government of Liberia responded to opposition to the oil plantation and why has it responded in this manner?
In the aftermath of Liberia’s war, the government expected investors to boost the economy and were quick to accept companies that produce palm oil. Liberians were initially happy about the arrival of multinational companies as they promised to create jobs and build schools. However, when the multinationals started violating the rights of communities, the government did not respond. In fact, we know that GVL has been bribing government officials who now ignore the actions of GVL and silence the voices of communities.
7. What can international civil society do to provide support and solidarity to activists in Liberia on this matter?
I would suggest we call on the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to include Liberia consistently on their agenda. It would also be important for international human rights institutions and mechanisms to work with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a voluntary association of the palm oil industry, to ensure GVL stops its operations until it has fulfilled promises made to communities. Finally, we hope local and international media outlets can do more to highlight the human rights violations, human-trafficking, child slavery and illegal deforestation which are common in the palm oil industry. This will persuade customers to demand that their providers ensure that products are produced in line with ethical and human rights standards. Providers unwilling to meet these demands should be exposed to prevent further damage to communities and their lands, in countries such as Liberia.
• Liberia is rated as “Repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor.
CIVICUS speaks to Huseyin Hurmali, President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation about the difficult environment for journalists in Turkey. Worldwide, Turkey has the highest number of imprisoned journalists. He also speaks about the future of democracy in Turkey after the President’s move to consolidate power following a tightly-contested referendum.
1. How would you describe the situation in Turkey for journalists and writers?
Depressing: More than half the journalists who are in prison around the world are in Turkey. Turkey currently has the highest number of journalists in jail worldwide. Concrete information, confirmed by the international press and human rights organisations, indicates that Turkey is not a free country in terms of freedom of the press.
According to a report released by the Journalists Association of Turkey, 839 journalists appeared in court simply for reporting news in 2016. These numbers are a clear indication that the problematic situation of freedom of the press in Turkey is far worse than many people think. It should be noted that this number may rise at any moment due to ongoing police raids and detentions. After the 15 July 2016 coup, 85% of the journalists and media workers were taken into custody and arrested. The journalists are charged with various charges among them “espionage”, “membership of a terrorist organisation”, “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “attempting to overthrow the current government”. As is mentioned in the report of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, the practices of silencing journalists through the abuse of the criminal justice system and expanding the scope of the definition of terrorism to use it against defendants are among the human rights violations frequently cited in human rights reports as well as in documents from the European Union, the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In addition to the jailed journalists and writers, there is a significant number of those for whom detention warrants were issued or were forced to flee the country due to the fear of unfair trial. These journalists and writers have to live in exile enduring financial hardships, intimidation of their families back in Turkey, denial of consular services at Turkish embassies and consulates, uncertain legal status in their respective countries, and having to hide their identities in their countries of asylum due to continuous death threats on social media from supporters of President Recep Erdogan.
There are a few remaining independent and critical media organisations in Turkey, and their staff are working under constant threat of arrest, violence, hate speech, discrimination, profiling, censorship and even death. The court is now the most frequent place of visitation for critical journalists who face criminal cases against them, if they have not been jailed yet. The seizure and closure of 189 media organisations by the government indicates that not only the freedom of media is lost, but also a huge number of employees in this sector including the editorial, administrative and technical staff who have to face unemployment. More than 30% of journalists alone in the media sector have lost their jobs and were denied the right of carrying out their profession in any other institution, due to being blacklisted by the government. Furthermore, some of the journalists and writers who are in jail or in exile have lost all their assets by seizure orders from non-independent courts. Thereby, the victimisation of journalists and writers in Turkey reaches out to their close and extended families, inside and outside of the country.
2. Please elaborate on some of the persecution tactics being used by the Turkish state against those who don’t agree with what’s going in the country at present.
President Erdogan and the Turkish government are waging a war against dissent under the disguise of a war on terror, using the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 as a tool. The Turkish state’s persecution of dissenters was already taking place at a gradual speed since the mass protests in June 2013. The violent crushing down of the peaceful protests became a routine after that, until a point where people are afraid to exercise their right of peaceful gathering and mass protests. The government’s use of the police force to suppress dissent became more explicit when a corruption probe was revealed in December 2013, which included the close circle of Erdogan as prime suspects. Erdogan turned this case into a test of loyalty to himself within the security and the judiciary branch, jailing, discharging, or displacing the police officers and the judiciary members who were involved in the corruption probe against his government members (and himself). He became increasingly interventionist on the judiciary system by declaring his opponents as terrorists and criminals without any evidence.
The redesigning of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors in 2014 gave way to the total instrumentalisation of legal system for the intimidation and persecution of dissenters. They reinterpreted the trusteeship concept in property law which was meant to prevent a private enterprise from bankruptcy, and appointed trustees as a way of seizing the private media, business, and educational institutions that were owned by the targeted individuals or groups. The ending of the peace process with the Kurdish movement in June 2015 was followed by a collective punishment of the Kurds by a military attack that tore down the Kurdish-majority cities in the southeast of Turkey. Legal actions were taken against peaceful supporters of the Kurdish case in order to silence opposition, as seen in the case of more than 1 000 academics who signed a petition for peace, and had to suffer administrative and legal investigation for criticising the state. People who belonged to the Gulen-inspired Hizmet movement, which became Erdogan’s number one target after the corruption probe in 2013, began to be detained and arrested for being a member of an “armed terror organisation” which was a term that was coined for the movement, in addition to “the parallel state structure” without any trial or a court decision. Critics from all sections were subjected to arbitrary legal harassment, by facing charges such as “insulting the President” “defaming state institutions” or “aiding a terror organisation” when they stood against the wrongful acts of the state; therefore people were forced to exert self-censorship in their social media posts and public conversations. Legal actions were taken against absurdly small incidents, such as liking an anti-Erdogan cartoon on Facebook, as a way of demonstrating the power of authority and the extent of its reach.
The State of Emergency declared in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 2016 gave total impunity to the state’s ongoing persecution tactics as well as enabling it to launch a total crackdown against civil society and civil servants. The coup attempt gave the government the pretext to declare the Hizmet movement as an “armed terror organization” by blaming Gulen and his followers for the putsch, and to round up anyone who is even remotely connected to the network as a “coup supporter” and “member of an armed terror organisation.” It is a serious offense in Turkish criminal law, and entails harsh imprisonment conditions. The state of emergency decrees are immune to parliamentary or judicial control, allowing the dismissal of over 138 000 civil servants without any right to appeal, the closure of 149 media outlets, 2 099 schools, dormitories and universities. Under the state of emergency over 50 000 have been arrested (including 13 MPs from pro-Kurdish HDP) and 102 000 detained. Again, the Kurdish opposition and the Hizmet movement became the main target of the executive decrees, while the state is careful to include all sorts of dissidents to create fear among loyalists and opponents alike. The state also uses its embassies and consulates around the world to harass opponents by denying them of regular services, canceling their passports, and threatening to revoke their citizenship status if they are charged with a crime in Turkey and reject to return to the country after three months of notice.
Turkey’s persecution of dissidents through illegal means has also reached beyond its national borders. Tactics employed include threats, denial of consular services, profiling and abductions. The recent abductions of Turkish nationals from Malaysia in total violation of international law is a case in point. Since October 2016, five Turkish nationals have been illegally detained by Malaysian operatives and handed over to Turkish authorities. These individuals are currently jailed in Turkey, raising serious fear of torture and inhuman treatment. The systematic nature of their abduction leaves little doubt about cooperation between the Turkish and Malaysian governments. There is growing concern that such a pattern could be repeated in other parts of the world where corrupt regimes or clandestine structures would be willing to cooperate with Turkey in order to kidnap Hizmet Movement sympathisers.
3. Please elaborate on how your organisation was deprived of its status at the UN following pressure from the Turkish government.
As an international civil society organization dedicated to a culture of peace, human rights and sustainable development, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) promotes diversity and inclusion by creating forums for intellectual and social engagement, generates and shares knowledge with stakeholders, builds partnerships worldwide and develops policy recommendations for positive social change.
JWF received ECOSOC general consultative status in 2012, becoming the first and only NGO from Turkey to hold this status. Having this important status made the United Nations’ Global Agenda 2030 a priority area for JWF, particularly in terms of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Following the numerous violations of the freedom of speech in Turkey and as a result of the groundless claim of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the UN – namely, that JWF no longer exists, despite the fact that JWF is an NGO registered in New York State – JWF‘s general consultative status with ECOSOC was revoked on 19 April 2017 during the UN ECOSOC meeting. The Turkish government´s dictation for the withdrawal of JWF’s consultative status with ECOSOC was based on the fact that JWF’s operations were ended in Turkey by a post-coup emergency decree on 22 July 2016, which was issued due to its alleged associations with a fictitious terror organisation. We must point out that JWF is a 501(c) non-governmental organisation registered in New York State and has had its headquarters in New York since 2014.
The Turkish government exploited procedural flaws in the rules and misused its membership status at the relevant UN bodies to extend its massive crackdown on civil society in Turkey to the United Nations platform. The ensuing decision to revoke JWF’s consultative status clearly contradicts the UN’s promotion of active civil society participation in the 2030 Agenda. Apart from Turkey’s increasing tendency towards dictatorship, there is also a growing concern about the intimidation of and reprisals against individuals and organisations that cooperate with the UN system. The withdrawal of JWF’s status clearly violates Article 56 of Resolution 1996/31, which indicates that the NGO concerned “shall be given written reasons for that decision and shall have an opportunity to present its response for appropriate consideration by the Committee”. JWF was neither informed in writing about this arbitrary action, nor was it given a platform to defend its twenty-three years of dedication to peace and the protection of human rights. JWF’s dedication to peace, human rights and sustainable development has been proven by the many activities and projects that have been implemented ever since JWF received general consultative status with ECOSOC in July 2012. JWF’s quadrennial report submitted to the Committee on NGOs in June 2016 is more than enough to indicate that this decision is not fair, given JWF’s activities and performance. The decision is clearly politically driven and secured by the privileged position of member states against NGOs in the ECOSOC system.
4. Given the total clampdown on freedom of expression in the country how is democratic dissent being expressed? Are any creative methods being used?
The “No” campaign during the 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum can be seen as a very creative expression of democratic dissent. Especially, young people’s creative political activism against the referendum shows that free expression will be hard to stamp out in the country.
Without a doubt, speaking out against Erdogan comes with risks: “No” campaigners have faced alleged government-backed coercion and suppression. In March 2017, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) unveiled a 78-point report regarding irregularities and suppression of 'No' campaigners.
But still, protesters have plastered photos of jailed artists and politicians who oppose the measure at select transport hubs. Videos of police questioning women who spoke out against the referendum on a ferry have gone viral in social media. Officials have banned a Kurdish song encouraging a “no” vote. (The subtitle to this song reads, "Playing this song in Turkey will land you in jail.") Young women in colorful masks shouting “No!” and university students beating drums and singing songs about freedom were among the thousands who marched on Istiklal Street, a popular thoroughfare in Istanbul, to campaign against boosting President Erdogan’s powers in a constitutional referendum. Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent is nothing new, but the creativity of the young people especially is still giving hope.
5. What can international civil society do to support freedom of expression in Turkey?
As the civil society and free and independent media in Turkey have been greatly impaired by the ongoing purge, international delegations of civil society and media organisations visiting Turkey must show solidarity with all victims of state oppression and be their voice indiscriminately. The wide range of civil servants, professionals, in addition many journalists and intellectuals who had to flee Turkey after the coup must be supported in their struggle to find safety and legal protection. The exiled journalists who launched initiatives to report on human rights abuses in Turkey need the help of international civil society in carrying out this high-risk, and mostly high-cost task. The remaining voices of dissent, which have most recently surfaced itself with the 49% (and possibly more) of the referendum voters in Turkey can only be kept alive as long as they feel the support of the international civil society through social media campaigns, as the social media is the major platform where alternative voices can be heard. Where Turkish citizens are silenced with fear, the international community must speak for them.
6. How do you see the future of democracy in Turkey.
The constitutional referendum last month unfortunately nailed the coffin of democracy and separation of powers in Turkey, allowing President Erdogan to combine the executive, legislative and judiciary powers. While this has already been the de facto system in Turkey for the last couple of years as Erdogan captured more and more elements of the state, the proposed Constitution will make it permanent as the de jure system. Yet there is still hope, as we have seen that even in an unfair and possibly rigged election, half of the voters stood against this proposal, and denied Erdogan a decisive victory. First and foremost of all, the State of Emergency rule must end as soon as possible, and the Turkish government has to stop the repression of its people and establish the fundamental rights of individuals.
• Turkey is rated as “repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor.
CIVICUS speaks to Natalia Muñoz Castillo, director of International Affairs at the Observatory Against Street Harassment (OCAC), a Chilean civil society organisation that works to make public spaces safe and egalitarian, making them accessible to the most vulnerable, and specifically to women, children, adolescents and LGBTI people.
1.Why an organisation dedicated to the issue of street harassment? Why is this an important issue in terms of women’s rights?
While there are indeed other outstanding issues in which women’s lives and health are directly at stake, street sexual harassment is also a real problem in Chile. And it is an issue that is difficult to address because it is supposedly attached to our culture. For a long time it was considered to be part of our Latin American culture and upheld as “the way Chilean men are”, and therefore it was believed that there was nothing you could do to guarantee your safety in the street. We believe it is unfair for women to be second-rate persons and to be forced to use the public space in fear. What we try to do at OCAC is challenge preconceptions, take ownership of public space and promote change so that we can feel safe without being constantly on guard against the possibility of sexual assault. In Chile, giving a woman a “compliment” in the street is widely accepted, it is considered normal and natural; however, it actually violates the right of women to walk around safely. This practice has endured for many years, and in that sense it is “traditional”, but that does not make it acceptable. If it causes you fear and insecurity, and limits your prospects for the only reason that you are a woman – it makes you avoid certain routes, restrict your schedule, change the way you dress or move – then it amounts to gender-based violence.
2. In which ways does the use of public space – that is, the restrictions linked to the understanding of the place that each is meant to occupy – relate to the broader problem of gender inequality?
The female gender is generally associated with the private sphere. The privileged participation of males in the public sphere translates into better salaries, greater security in the streets and sexual freedom. When women dare to cross these barriers of patriarchy, societal norms immediately set the limits. If I, a woman, leave the private space and try to move freely in the public space, I become a target for violence. And society will blame me for whatever happens to me: it was my fault because I was in a place where I should not have been, because I was dressed in a way I shouldn’t have, or because I was out at a time when I should have been home. So gender inequality is visible both inside and outside the home. The Observatory focuses on what goes on outside, while other organisations focus on, for instance, sexual violence within the home, dating violence and other violations of rights that occur in the sphere of private or intimate relationships. In sum, OCAC focuses its efforts on addressing sexual violence taking place in the streets, and occurring when women seek to occupy a public space that traditionally, according to societal norms, does not belong to them.
3. You have probably been told a thousand times: “Chile has a female president, what else do you want?
That’s exactly right. And we reply: The fact that Chile has a female president [Michelle Bachelet, president in 2006-10 and re-elected in 2014] is no guarantee that all women in our society are being treated equally. In fact, the president herself is portrayed in the media in an extremely sexist fashion. Congress representatives such as former student leaders Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola also receive sexist press coverage and public opinion also reflects these views. People refer to the president in demeaning ways by focusing on her weight or her body, which has never happened to male presidents. Even when they reach prominent positions in national politics, women are still subjected to violence linked to traits that have nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs. They are permanently questioned and assessed in terms of their “feminine” attributes and for their bodies above anything else.
4. As feminist activists, have you and your colleagues faced similar stereotypes?
I am also a teacher, and when I talk to my students about gender issues they often react by saying “but prof, you don’t look like a feminist!” It’s just that I don’t fit into their stereotypes. They say “but you are married”, meaning I am not a lesbian, or they point out that I have long hair, or that I wear makeup, or that I don’t mistreat male students but instead treat them all equally. This surprises them because their point of departure is the characterisation of a feminist as a very angry woman who rejects everything feminine and wants to vent her anger against men – in short, a “feminazi”.
This conversation helps my students feel that gender issues are much closer to them and gives them a different point of entrance into feminism – by watching my actions, and particularly my emphasis on equal treatment. As representatives of a feminist organisation, we are subjected to public scrutiny, so we need to be careful of, for instance, the ways we refer to men and women. And we strongly insist that the current situation is not the fault of individual men, but of the patriarchal structure within which all of us, both men and women, have been raised.
In fact, although there are many women in our organisation, and our directors are all female (for reasons of experience with these issues as well as trajectory within the organisation), ours is not strictly a women’s organisation, since many males also work in it.
5. On its website, the Observatory does not define itself as a feminist organisation. Is that label still too much weight to carry?
This was a discussion that we did have in the beginning. When the organisation was founded, in 2013, there was still some fear of the connotations the label could carry. Still then, being a feminist was not “cool” in Latin America, it was not in fashion, so the label was not all that desirable. But after a while we realised that what we were doing was grounded in feminism, and that we needed to claim the label and see what happened – and if it was not well received, then bad luck. So we started presenting ourselves as feminists, as we do on Twitter and Facebook.
As our work began to take hold – our posters were there in the metro, our memes circulated on social media – we noticed feminism was becoming more popular among younger generations. Among young women, today it is almost unconceivable not to be a feminist. I may have a biased perspective, because I am talking about the people I interact with in my surroundings, but nowadays my students are very aware of what harassment is, they recognise gender differences and inequalities, they know that respect requires and understand what things should not be done… I am not sure I would say feminism is now fashionable, but at least it is more normal: you can say you are a feminist and you will not be attacked from all flanks. It is possible to have a meaningful conversation, and even to quote feminist organisations to support your argument… this may have something to do with access to information, which is much more open today. Internet access has educated the public on these issues.
6. What strategies – advocacy, campaigning, mobilisation – does OCAC use?
As an organisation we work in various fields, and we work in teams of professionals specialised in law, sociology and political science, communications and design, and psychology, pedagogy and social work, depending on the case. The International Networks team, which I lead, works alongside “sister” organisations in several Latin American countries: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Uruguay. In some of these countries, and particularly in Guatemala and Nicaragua, the situation is much more difficult than in Chile. Here in Chile, street sexual harassment usually takes less-than-drastic forms: you feel insecure and limited in your freedom, but phenomena such as gang rapes are rare, while they are fairly common in other countries.
So we collaborate with our counterparts in these countries by producing joint campaigns at the regional level and supporting the communications work of our weaker nodes. For those countries where violence against women and girls is more serious, such as Guatemala, we have devised stronger awareness-raising campaigns. The demands we put forward for our governments to address are not the same everywhere: in those cases, for instance, rather than a law against street harassment more basic security measures are required, including protection against femicide. We try to be a source of support for these organisations, because they also feel much more abandoned by the law than we do. After all, civil society organisations mostly have one another for support.
In turn, the Legal Advisory team provides legal support to victims of street sexual harassment, and it was also the one that drafted and promoted the Law of Street Respect (Ley de Respeto Callejero) that is currently under discussion in the Chilean Senate Human Rights Commission. The Communications team works in sharing experiences, making public denunciations and generating content for campaigns. We also have a Studies team whose research feeds into public debate, outreach efforts and campaigns; an Interventions team that works with communities, schools and public opinion to educate the public about street harassment, and also accompanies victims; and a Management and Projects team that develops alliances, seeks donations and guarantees funding for our initiatives.
It is important to note that while we emerged as an organisation with a focus on street sexual harassment, which is therefore at the core of our work, we embrace the feminist demand in its entirety. We therefore have a clear-cut position on femicide and we support the #NiUnaMenos (“not one less”) campaign and the legalisation of abortion. However, street mobilisation does not rank high among our strategies: although we regularly join in mobilisations summoned by other organisations, OCAC itself rarely calls for mobilisation. Rather than massively taking to the streets, we focus on using to our favour a variety of platforms – social media, traditional media, institutional spaces, communications with elected officials – that are available for citizens to make themselves heard. We consider ourselves to be neither street feminists nor academic feminists, but we rather try to spread our message throughout society. So we try to be present in the media, in schools and universities as well as in streets, marketplaces and public squares.
A recent campaign we took out there was #Notedavergüenza (“Aren’t you ashamed”). We addressed it to men, whom we invited to reflect on consent in order to understand that, in the absence of explicit consent, many behaviours that are relatively common in fact constitute sexual violence. Besides spreading it on social media, we took the campaign to street markets in order to talk to people about it. Our goal is to establish a dialogue, introduce our organisation to people and have them commit to making a change and spreading it.
6. Have you faced any obstacles, cultural or otherwise, when doing this work?
Cultural obstacles are there, but mostly among older generations. Chile was the last country in the region to legalise divorce, and is among those that still ban abortion under any circumstances. However, this is a legacy of the dictatorship (1973-1990) rather than a deeply rooted cultural trait. In fact, until the late 1960s Chilean women had access to therapeutic abortion, under lax conditions that made it relatively accessible. It was under the Pinochet regime that legislation went back to unmitigated prohibition, and this remained untouched as democracy was restored, among other reasons because the coalition that came to power and ruled for many years was either led by or prominently included the Christian Democratic Party. Thus the law remained aligned with Christian doctrine.
While the law remained frozen in time, citizens’ mentality changed. And in some areas, and to some extent, this had repercussions on the law, which began to give way. This was the case of Law No. 20830, passed in 2015, which regulated civil unions for same-sex couples. This happened because the younger generation is more open on these issues than their predecessors. My parents’ generation grew up under the dictatorship, so they grew up in fear, and change does not come easy to them.
In this sense, today’s obstacles are legal and political rather than cultural. Chile’s majority is nominally Catholic, that is, Catholic by tradition rather than out of actual conviction or regular religious practice. The majority of the population takes stances that are more open and tolerant than those of the Church, but the political class is more conservative than public opinion. The Catholic Church continues to wield power and its views are taken into account when decisions are made. That is why, for us, the Catholic Church remains a wall in our way.
• Civic space in Chile is rated as “narrowed” in the CIVICUS Monitor.
• Get in touch with OCAC through their website, visit their Facebook page, or follow @ocacchile on Twitter. You can also sign to support the campaign against street harassment at www.respetocallejero.cl
CIVICUS speaks to Anita Koncsik of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) on the recent Bill on transparency of organisations receiving foreign funding. Anita also speaks on the recent massive protests in the country and the general operating environment for civil society. For over two decades, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has been active in protecting the rights of citizens against undue interference by those in position of public power.
1. What are the main concerns of civil society over the draft bill “on transparency of organisations receiving foreign funding” that was presented to the Hungarian Parliament on 7 April?
First and foremost, the Bill is not necessary at all. NGOs are complying with already existing comprehensive transparency requirements. Act CLXXV of 2011 on the Freedom of Association, on the Non-profit Status and on the Operation and Support of Civil Organizations also known as the Civil Act already regulates which financial statements have to be presented for meeting transparency standards. For example ourselves as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union we have to create 4 annual reports - including one focusing on donations. While we believe that accountability in both the governmental and non-governmental sphere is important, the new regulation clearly serves other interests. That is the reason why it is embedded into the smear campaign of the government that was initiated 4 years ago against NGOs that dare to take a critical stance against its measures. The very existence of the Bill is an attempt to silence or threaten critical voices. It therefore violates freedom of expression, good reputations and it serves to stigmatise NGOs (therefore is discriminative) and infringes on the privacy of donors as well.
2. The government says the law is necessary to guard against money laundering and terrorism. How is civil society responding to these concerns and what accountability mechanisms are in place?
This is a hypocritical argument coming from a government that has allowed several grey zones for financial maneuvers, like stability savings account (which is explicitly state supported money laundering) or the concept of settlement bonds (invented by a minister of the government who himself is known to channel public resources to unidentified offshore brokers without any legitimate reason at all). But apart from the government’s deflective argumentations, there are already accountability mechanisms in place anchored in the aforementioned Civil Act. NGOs that do not receive Hungarian public funds (like HCLU) have to publish an annual financial report, a non-profit report (as an annex to the report deposited at the registering court), and a report on donations.
Anti-money laundering measures affect mostly the private financial sector in Hungary and these measures are usually the subject of criticism from both of Hungarian and international experts for lacking proper risk assessment of sufficient depth with regard to potential threats, vulnerabilities and their consequences in general. According to the expert group MONEYVAL of Council of Europe, Hungary should conduct a formal review of the entire non-profit organisation (NPO) sector in order to identify NPOs that could potentially pose a higher risk of financing terrorism. But this recommendation puts emphasis on a substantiated review of the sector and if the government concludes that the existing frameworks and measures are not good enough to protect the sector, the newly adopted laws/measures must be proportionate and targeted (but not tailored to target NGOs that criticise government). We are not aware of the occurrence of any such review. The new Bill clearly does not serve anti-money laundering purposes. In addition, if the regulation enters into force, MONEYVAL still can consider the aforementioned recommendation unfulfilled - based on overregulation and discrimination - alongside with other recommendations that the government is not so eager to address such as rectifying shortcomings of the mechanism for verifying the information on beneficial owners of financial institutions. Therefore meeting international standards is not the motive behind the legislation.
3. What other motivations does civil society believe lie behind the government’s actions?
This proposal clearly fits into the hostile anti-NGO campaign that was initiated 4 years ago, during which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denounced human rights NGOs as agents of foreign political interests, endorsed the idea of “illiberal state” and rhetorical attacks were accompanied by a series of administrative checks and criminal investigations. Eventually, all investigations were dropped and none yielded any finding of wrongdoing or irregularities, but - in 2016, after a two and a half year long legal procedure - HCLU shed light on the fact that the government control investigations were ordered by the Prime Minister himself which proves the pure political nature of the audits.
In the meantime, government propaganda started to portray NGOs that criticise it as a national security risk. MP Szilárd Németh, vice president of the Fidesz and of the Parliament’s National Security Committee announced in September of 2016 in an interview that he requested the national security services to inspect organisations “cooperating with the Soros-network”. The MP stated that he had identified 22 such organisations, and claimed that these organisations openly violate Hungarian and European laws, and participate in politics unlawfully with “black money”. It must be noted that in Hungary secret services can gather information without a judicial warrant when it is related to national security risks, therefore safeguards and independent oversight of the covert information-gathering is missing, which contradicts international law of course.
After a short break, in December 2016, Prime Minister Orbán announced that in 2017, states would aim to “drive out” from their countries George Soros and also the organisations he supports.
A month later, Fidesz Vice President Szilárd Németh, one of the MP’s who is currently submitting the Bill, said: “The Soros empire’s fake civil organisations are maintained so that global capital and the world of political correctness can be imposed on national governments. These organisations have to be rolled back with all available tools, and I think they have to be swept out of here.”
These statements reveal the true aim of the illiberal Hungarian government: the Bill is the latest attempt to stigmatise and silence those who voice critical opinions about public affairs.
4. Can you tell us about recent mass protests that occurred over the possibility of the closure of the Central European University.
The adopted and promulgated Bill aimed clearly at undermining operation of Central European University (CEU) in Hungary. The proposal was amending the Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education enacting new requirements for domestic operation that extend beyond already existing accreditation criteria (and the recognition of foreign accreditation). The purpose of the amendment was to enable politics to intrude into education, making the operation of universities subject to these regulations (currently that covers exclusively CEU) depending on political will. Opponents were protesting against unconstitutional restriction on educational and academic freedom and freedom of research, joined by thousands of Hungarians outraged over the latest anti-EU government propaganda campaign in the form of another “national consultation,” (calling on Hungarians to “stop Brussels”). It also has to be noted that as a reaction to the first protests, the government only accelerated the legislative procedure aiming at prohibiting real political discussion about the amendment. During the mass protest other buzzwords emerged, like protest against the illicit closure of the left-wing broadsheet Népszabadság, restrictions on freedom of expression and fighting propaganda of the FIDESZ media empire (including public television channels) and against social exclusion and xenophobia fueled by the government, etc.
5. Can you describe the overall environment for CSOs in Hungary? Do different CSOs experience different attitudes from the state?
Yes, they do experience different treatment depending on which financial resources they have access to and how critical they dare to be of the government. Besides the blacklisted Soros-network NGOs, there are Hungarian GONGOs, like the Civil Cooperation Forum [Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF)] that is the organiser of pro-government “peace rallies” and participated very actively in the electoral campaign of 2014 on the side of the governing parties. CÖF claims to finance the organisation’s operations exclusively through private donations. It is not clear from their reports, though, who these donors are and CÖF has a proven connection to a FIDESZ party Foundation from which it has received tens of millions of forints. Transparency of such organisation, however, is not an issue according to the government.
Besides, government propaganda created a (false) link between human rights defense and terrorism, since according to the governmental narrative, the refugee phenomenon is the radix malorum of terrorism and there is a vocal group of human rights NGOs that still devote attention to refugee rights and try to help in spite of the current hostile circumstances. These NGOs therefore are face charges of supporting terrorism by increasing the terror threat level of the country.
6. Given the government’s attitude towards civil society, what support can international and regional groups offer to civil society organisations in the country?
Opposing the Bill and the threats to fundamental freedoms and CSOs in Hungary, is crucial right now on both an international and a domestic level. We ask our partner organisations to express their views, and also call on their government representatives to convey these concerns to the representatives of the Hungarian government. Besides moral support and creating a pressure on the government, it is equally important to maintain financial security and independence of these organisations, therefore helping with widening the scope of international fundraising is also appreciated. The international community can be the biggest listed donor of these organisations that could be used against government pro bill arguments.
• The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union monitors legislation, pursues strategic litigation, conducts public education and launches awareness raising media campaigns. It stands by citizens unable to defend themselves, assisting them in protecting their basic rights. Our lawyers provide free legal aid service in about 2 000 cases per year and this number is increasing.
Hungary is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor
CIVICUS speaks to María Ysabel Cedano, Director of DEMUS –Study for the Defense of Women’s Rights, a Peruvian feminist organisation that since 1987 defends human rights, and particularly women’s sexual and reproductive rights, by promoting their free exercise and questioning the hegemonic cultural paradigm on women and their sexuality. DEMUS carries out public opinion campaigns and advocacy work with the three branches of government; it conducts strategic litigation and promotes mobilisation on issues related to the promotion of equality and non-discrimination, a life free from gender-based violence, access to justice, and sexual and reproductive rights.
1. How would you describe the context for the exercise of feminist activism in Peru?
Generally speaking, conditions for activism greatly depend on the ideology, programme and nature of the organisation and movement in question - on its stance regarding the state and the incumbent government, and on its relationship with political forces and the powers that be.
Due to our agenda, we feminists are antagonists of Fujimorism, the political movement founded by Alberto Fujimori, who ruled Peru between 1990 and 2000. Our organisation has criticised and opposed them since the 1990s, as we have fought for justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of the Fujimori administration’s policy of systematic forced sterilisation. Its victims were mostly peasant, indigenous and poor women who underwent irreversible surgical contraception without being able to give their free and informed consent, in a context of widespread violence.
On this issue, in 2003 we reached a Friendly Settlement Agreement (FSA) in the Mamérita Mestanza case. As a result, the Peruvian state acknowledged its responsibility for human rights violations in the context of the forced sterilisation policy and committed to providing justice and reparation to victims. We also obtained favourable statements by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that have boosted our work to defend the right to access justice and to promote a policy of integral reparations. That made us a target of Fujimorist attacks, in the form of defamation in the national media as well as in social media. We have in fact sued former congressman Alejandro Aguinaga, under investigation in the preliminary examination of forced sterilisations as a crime against humanity and other serious violations of human rights, which the Public Ministry opened in 2004 in compliance with the already mentioned FSA. The case still remains in its preliminary stages due to political interference, which we have publically denounced. For more than fourteen years, the Public Ministry has failed to accuse former President Fujimori and his former Health Ministers, including Aguinaga, and no prosecution has taken place. In the meantime, Fujimorism has not undergone any renovation whatsoever: it still does not believe in human rights and cannot fathom the right of women to decide on their own. In fact they all remain very convinced that it is the state that has to decide for them.
The other antagonists we have as a result of our feminist agenda are the Catholic and Evangelical ecclesial hierarchies, as well as other conservative and fundamentalist religious groups such as Opus Dei, Sodalitium and Bethel. These are the leaders of an anti- sexual and reproductive rights agenda and seek to legislate and implement public policies to strengthen the institutions that guarantee their political, economic, social and cultural dominance, thereby ignoring the secular character of the state that the authorities in turn fail to enforce. For decades they have run a strong campaign against what they call “gender ideology”, not just in Peru but throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and beyond. These are multimillion-dollar campaigns that maintain that “gender ideology” attacks life, marriage and family. The funding they poured into the fear campaign against the peace accords in Colombia is a good example of this. They have also promoted a campaign called "Don't mess with my children" in several countries in the region.
While these actors have questioned the scientific and legal validity of the gender perspective, the concept of gender has been adopted in the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and in standards such as CEDAW, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Convention of Belém do Pará. In Peru it was included into several laws, public policies and institutions, as a result of which conservative sectors are currently trying, for instance, to eliminate the gender perspective from the school curriculum, including all allusions to sexual orientation and gender identity. They have done so by means of both street actions and lawsuits. These however have not yielded the desired results: the overwhelming response from the Ministry of Justice’s Attorney General even covered them in ridicule. As a result, they had no alternative left other than using their power in Congress, where there are currently two bills that have been submitted by Fujimorism towards that aim.
Lastly, in addition to harassing us through their press, as they have always done, these sectors now also attack us for our funding sources. They say we are the instruments of great powers seeking to impose Western models of family and sexuality in our country.
Thanks to a journalistic investigation that then became a criminal investigation, we currently know of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Sodalitium, one of the most conservative and powerful groups within the Catholic Church. The scandal contributed to weakening the attacks coming from the ecclesial hierarchy. We are also beginning to know about the unholy business the Church does with education, health and even cemeteries within the framework of the Concordat between the Peruvian state and the Vatican. The very same priests who have spent years fighting us on the decriminalisation of abortion for rape cases, and who have said the worst things about us because they consider themselves to be the “defenders of life”, have allegedly covered for rapists of children and adolescents in their congregations and communities. This has helped people overcome their fear of denouncing the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy and double standards, and has limited the church’s ability to demand the government implement specific policies. For instance, the government has recently obeyed a court order to resume the distribution of emergency oral contraception despite pressures from Cardinal Cipriani.
Given that our struggles for transitional justice have led us to seek justice and integral reparations for the victims of sexual violence during the internal armed conflict (1980-2000), we face not only Fujimorism but also APRA, a traditional party that ruled during a part of this period. They both seek to divide Peruvians between terrorists and non-terrorists and associate the left and human rights with terrorism. They never get tired of asserting that those who attack the military are terrorists - or ungrateful to say the least, for persecuting those who freed us from terrorism. If we strive for the legalisation of abortion we are abortionists, and if we defend human rights we are terrorists.
2. How does DEMUS work to overcome these obstacles?
We combine organisational and mobilisation strategies to strengthen the feminist and women’s diversity movement, public and political advocacy for legislation, public policies and access to justice measures, and strategic litigation. Among the latter were for instance the Manta y Vilca trial on rape during the internal armed conflict, which established that this was a crime against humanity; the case of forced sterilisations during the Fujimori administration; and other cases that have allowed us to move forward in terms of the recognition and guarantee of the human right to therapeutic abortion, among other sexual and reproductive rights.
Ours is not just a lawyers’ struggle: we work in multidisciplinary teams and in alliances and within networks including other feminist, women’s, LGBTIQ and human rights NGOs, groups and platforms. Experience has taught us that it is not enough to obtain jurisprudence, standards, laws and public policies if there are no social movements and citizens defending them, that is, if there is no social base accompanying and empathising with the victims. Strategic litigation, legal defence and psycho-legal and therapeutic help are therefore always to be accompanied with mobilisation and campaigning.
3. Is the Peruvian women’s movement integrated into regional or global networks, so as to face an adversary that is?
There are indeed very important global and regional networks. In Latin America, the level of articulation reached by indigenous, peasant and environmental women human rights defenders is astonishing in contrast with the weakening of some feminist networks. New technologies have revolutionised communications, and we now have various alternative means to organise ourselves in networks.
We must think about how to strengthen our thematic networks, for instance in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, in order to resist together. This is facilitated by a number of conceptual convergences, but complicated by the scarcity of resources reaching Latin America, competition around which affects alliances and articulations. Neoliberalism has also had an impact on inter-subjective relations: conflicts and rivalries arise due to scarce funding. It is impossible to understand the degree of difficulties we face without analysing the changes in and the new rules of international cooperation and funding mechanisms.
On the other hand, we must not forget that Peru’s is a post-conflict society, with open wounds and an abundance of distrust, which has not yet learned to resolve differences without violence. We need to be aware of these limitations, so as not to reproduce what we criticise. But we are certainly still very strong: with much greater organisation and resources than we have, Catholics and evangelicals have not yet managed to create enough pressure in the streets and on public opinion to remove sex education from the school curriculum. Their only hope is now placed on authoritarian conservative forces in Congress.
4. What progress or setbacks do you perceive in the struggle for women’s rights in Peru?
Taking stock of the forty years of contemporary feminism in Peru, there has been net progress in terms of the legal-institutional framework. Advances have been the result of constant struggle and permanent dispute, and are neither ideal nor stable: they need to be continuously defended and perfected.
For instance, in late 2015 a substantial amendment to Law No. 26260 (1993) on domestic violence was finally passed. The new legislation, Law No. 30394, is a law against gender-based violence. Shortly after, in July 2016, the Third National Plan against Gender Violence (2016-2021) was passed. In both cases there was a dispute over the diversity of the women to be protected. There was much resistance against the possibility that legislation would also protect lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. In fact, recognition of the variety of forms that gender violence can take was not as resisted as the extension and recognition of the objects of protection. The women’s movement succeeded in getting some previously unacknowledged forms of gender violence recognised as such, including gender-based violence in the context of social conflicts. We wanted the new law to protect women human rights defenders of land, the environment, and natural resources, that is, indigenous and peasant women who are currently criminalised and on whom conflicts have a differential impact on the basis of gender. This we achieved. We had also proposed that the violation of sexual and reproductive rights be recognised as gender violence. And while we achieved recognition of forced sterilisation, rape in the context of internal armed conflict, violence due to sexual orientation, and obstetric violence as forms of gender-based violence, such recognition was not expressed in the language of sexual and reproductive rights. In additional, sexual orientation-based violence was recognised but gender identity-based violence was not.
Fifteen years after the First National Plan was launched, and more than twenty after the first law against then-called “domestic” or “intra-family” violence was passed, tension between women’s rights and family protection persists. Although Law No. 30364 has in many respects aligned legislation with the Belém do Pará Convention, violence based on gender identity discrimination has not yet been recognised. Public debate continues to focus on nature as a determinant of sexuality, reproduction and family.
Why is it that feminists and LGBT people perceive “family protection” as contrary to our rights? First, because not all families are protected. Family rights of the LGBT population are not recognised. Secondly, because why protect the existing family – a traditional, hierarchical, violent family based on sexual division of labour and the exclusive recognition of heterosexual sexuality? A family organisation free of discrimination and gender-based violence should be promoted instead. In other words, measures should be taken to dismantle the patriarchal family, which functions as the very first place of normalisation and control, particularly for women and LGBT persons. The family has become a space in which physical, psychological and sexual violence remain unpunished: in fact, Peru has the second highest rate of denunciation of sexual offences against girls and adolescents in the region, and these are in many cases perpetrated by family members. Finally, a person’s (and in this case a woman’s) rights can never be subordinated, conditioned or reduced to a by-product of family welfare, in the same way as the rights of an actual person cannot be subordinated to the rights of being yet to be born.
In sum, in historical perspective there has been progress in the recognition and guarantee of rights, but these have been the product of constant struggle. We face strong resistance, and if we had not permanently defended our conquests, we would certainly have seen them retreat long ago.
5. In this context, how has DEMUS’ agenda changed since its beginnings in 1987?
DEMUS is an organisation well known for its work for the right to a life free of gender-based violence. We specialise in prevention, care, denunciation, therapeutic and psycho-legal accompaniment, litigation, advocacy with legislative, policymaking and justice administration bodies, and campaigning and mobilisation on gender-based violence. For instance, we developed the “Not one more death” campaign, which placed femicide on the public agenda, and the “A man doesn't rape” campaign, which contributed to call attention on the problem of sexual violence, impunity and the culture of rape.
In the beginning we had to dispute about the very concept of what was then called “intra-family violence”, which we designated as “violence against women” and today we call “gender-based violence”. We saw violence against women as a problem of power inequality, sexual discrimination and impunity, so we advocated for equality and access to justice. However, as years passed and the first laws and policies on the issue were passed, we realised that we were not obtaining the results we expected.
The fight against violence against women had gained consensus as part of the state agenda and had occupied a space in the institutional structure of the state (commissions, ministries, etc.), and even ultraconservatives had begun to accept equal opportunities between men and women (which was enshrined in Law No. 28983 of 2007) all the while resisting the recognition of other sexual orientations and gender identities. So we began a conceptual revision and concluded that if we wanted to combat gender-based violence, our central strategic battle had to revolve around women’s autonomy and self-determination in the field of sexuality and reproduction, the recognition of and the provision of guarantees for sexual and reproductive rights understood as fundamental human rights, and access to justice in cases where these were violated. The perspective of sexual and reproductive rights came to enrich the equality and non-discrimination approach in addressing the problems of gender-based violence and impunity.
Thus, although the defence of LGBT rights and the legalisation of abortion were already in DEMUS’ agenda, they have since become more central to it. And our strategies became richer in the process, because besides strategic litigation and therapeutic and psycho-legal accompaniment we started to focus as well on organisation and mobilisation, public advocacy and communication. We have used the whole toolbox in our search for justice and reparations for the victims of forced sterilisations, and also in our campaigns for emergency oral contraception and the legalisation of abortion (first of all for reasons of rape, foetal malformations incompatible with extra-uterine life, and unconsented artificial insemination and egg transfers, and eventually on the basis of women’s dignity and right to decide).
Most recently, in our work to defend victims of sexual violence and impunity, we have learned from the indigenous and peasant women defenders of land and water that women human rights defenders are being differently affected by the extractivist economy due to their gender, and are being specifically criminalised by corporations such as the Yanacocha mining company and by the state itself. In their struggle to defend lakes and resist mining projects such as Conga, women are having a hard time, since gender-based violence is being used against them. In the actions of the police and the Armed Forces we are currently seeing a criminalisation of social protest, threats and violations of women’s rights echoing those that took place during armed conflict. In order to avoid the repetition of serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity, we are using the new legislation, which now enables it, to denounce Yanacocha and make it clear that there is gender-based violence behind situations of harassment like that suffered by women human rights defenders such as Máxima Acuña.
The other agenda that we increasingly adopted as central is the defence against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in order to achieve recognition of and guarantees for the right to gender identity and lesbians’ right to maternity. We choose the issues we fight for on the basis of several criteria. One of them is that of revolutionising whatever the system resists the most, so that if we win, we will not only have obtained a law, public policy or jurisprudence, but we will also have conquered people’s common sense. And what the system most resists today is transgender identity and the right of LGBT persons to love and family. The system condemns us to civil death, poverty, marginalisation, murder, harassment and rape.
6. In Peru, there have recently been major mobilisations with the motto #NiUnaMenos. How was the issue placed on the public agenda in such a way that mobilisation turned out to be so massive? What roles did regional networks play in the process?
The marches in Argentina, Mexico and other countries inspired many of us: we wanted to do something similarly massive in our own country. But mobilisation did not occur in Peru as a response to a regional call, or as a result of prior coordination within a regional network.
A year prior to this mobilisation there was a high profile case in Peru, in which a woman was savagely attacked in a hotel in Ayacucho, dragged by the hair and almost raped and murdered. The episode had been recorded on video, and everyone followed the case in the media and expected the attacker to be convicted. The ruling came out a few months before the demonstration, and it acquitted the accused. It denied that an attempted rape and femicide had taken place, and it even ruled that the injuries on the victim had been minor. This generated a social phenomenon of indignation that spread throughout the national territory and in social media. Women who were in the ideological and social antipodes from one another agreed that something had to be done, and feminists started talking about a mobilisation meant to make it clear that “if they touch one of us, they are touching us all”. The #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess) slogan was adopted out of the belief that the time had finally come and that this would be a mobilisation of a magnitude similar to those that had taken place in other countries.
In Peru, the idea persists that if you do not obtain justice it is because you cannot prove what has happened to you. You only have your word and that is not enough for justice administrators. Now, if even in a case where there is a video like that, the aggressor is eventually absolved, what kind of security and justice is left for the rest of us? This created an unprecedented feeling of helplessness. Fear quickly turned into indignation, and this in turn into mobilisation. I was invited to join a Facebook chat a few hours after the video was made public. There were ten of us to start with, and a little while later we were over sixty, and the next day we were meeting at a comrade’s place. Within a few hours, the closed group formed in Facebook went from a few women testifying to the various forms of violence in their daily lives to 20 thousand, 40 thousand women reporting on their own stories of violence: at home, in the streets, at work, in school. Terrible stories, and everybody was telling them and keeping each other company.
Thus, in Peru citizens went out into the streets to reject impunity and defend the right to justice. People began to wonder why violence against women persists despite all the laws and policies to combat it. The media started talking about patriarchy and machismo as its causes. There was some recognition of the importance of the feminist struggle, at least in that particular context. Much of the leadership and organisational work towards mobilisation was done by various organised and unorganised female citizens, leaders of feminist groups in neighbourhoods, universities, trade unions, NGOs. Women of a wide diversity of movements, colours, desires, education, professions and talents, in alliance and dialogue with the survivors whose emblematic cases united diverse sectors of society. Conservative sectors have still not managed to obtain similar success in defence of their agenda.
7. Did the mobilisation have any positive effect in terms of public policy?
The mobilisation resulted in some concrete measures, although these were too narrowly focused and involved little public investment. A Circle of Protection program was created, thereby extending attention to 24/7 in five out of over 200 Emergency Women’s Centres (EWC). Coverage of the emergency line Línea 600 was extended to all days of the week. This contributed to an increase in addressed complaints. Also, cases of femicide and rape were subsequently included into the rewards programme to stop offenders.
Additionally, there were announcements regarding the expansion of temporary shelters, the provision of gender training to justice operators, and in particular to the National Police, and the creation of at least 50 new EWCs in various police stations across the country. The Public Ministry adapted its guidelines to Law No. 30364 and announced the creation of prosecution offices specialised in femicide. The Judiciary established a National Gender Commission.
Nonetheless, femicidal violence persists as a savage daily occurrence; there is in fact a patriarchal and male chauvinist counteroffensive underway. They continue to kill us and rape us, and the femicide and rape culture keeps blaming us for it. And the measures adopted by the state in defence of the gender approach and gender equality fall short: they are basically reactions and responses to public pressure. We women do the reporting and monitoring job that the state should be doing. The state and the government always give in when it comes to the sexual and reproductive rights of women and LGBTIQ people. Which makes it clear that unless it becomes feminist, public policy will yield no results. If public policy priorities do not change, women will continue to die.
The most important changes have occurred in the realms of common sense. #NiUnaMenos has shown that there is widespread rejection of violence against women, and that women have become empowered to talk about sexual violence in the same way that we first learned to talk about partner and domestic violence. There is no longer shame in having been a victim: it is clear that the other party is the one at fault. Women now know that there are things that are not right, and that if they happen to them it is not their fault, or God’s will, or the work of nature: it is a violation of rights and a matter of justice, and those responsible have to be punished.
CIVICUS interviews Habiba Al Hinai a human rights defender from Oman who had to leave the country for her own safety. She also elaborates the situation for human rights defenders in the country. She is currently living in Germany with her son after she felt that had become difficult for her to live in her home country due to her human rights activities.
1. What are the restrictions you and other human rights defenders in Oman have faced after being active in the uprising in 2011?
In 2011, and like in many suppressed Arab countries, Oman witnessed wide spread human rights demonstrations that triggered an extremely violent government reaction attempting to suppress such unusual public actions. Demands of Omani demonstrators were not something new to the authorities, especially with rampant corruption, unemployment, poverty, limited education, suppression of press freedom and freedom of expression, ignoring women and children's rights, conducting of false elections and enforced restrictions and monitoring of civic society associations. The protests resulted in the death of two innocent civilians, in addition to tens wounded by rubber bullets and hundreds detained from different parts of the country.
As expected, the government responded with an iron fist to human rights movements such as teachers, doctors and workers strikes by imprisoning demonstration organisers along with many human rights defenders, activists, writers, bloggers and the educated elite. As a result of this oppression, many activists had to run away to other countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Australia and ask for political asylum, as it has been made impossible for them, facing all kinds of threats of detention and imprisonment, to conduct human rights activities within Oman.
In 2012, I was arrested along with two of my colleagues during our coverage of a strike by more than 4 000 workers in the desert oilfield. In 2016. I had to pay a fine as I was convicted of two charges for “insulting the Omani people” and “disturbing the general order set by the government”. These charges arose over a post I wrote on my Facebook page. Because of this statement, I had to sign a statement written by the top security service stating that I will not continue with my human rights activities or otherwise I would be sent to prison. Our organisation’s website, Facebook account and Twitter account were hacked and I was kicked out of the Facebook group so that I cannot edit it anymore. The account is still running and all that’s being said on the site is that we are very happy and have no human rights complaints anymore. For this reason, it would not be safe to start another website, Facebook or Twitter account without having high levels of digital security as it can be hacked again.
A lot of human rights activists in Oman have been sent to courts and faced long and costly trials over fake accusations. Many have served prison sentences of one to three years in prison for “defaming the Sultan” following Facebook and Twitter posts that criticised Sultan Qabos bin Sa’eed Al Sa’eed. This is part of a punishment method for activists who refuse to stop their work. The security services are using different kinds of tools as punishment, including judicial, religious or social pressure. Sadly many activists end up in prison, unable to work or are banned from travelling. Luckily, I was able to leave Oman before I could have been banned from travelling. The political situation in Oman is dire now since the Sultan is of advanced age and is quite sick, which has led to all the different political factions fighting over who will take over power. Unfortunately, the government is using this time to punish activists through prison sentences and other restrictions.
2. What is the situation in general for civil society in Oman?
The situation is that all independent civil society organisations (CSOs) are banned from carrying out their activities and CSO workers have been threatened to not even work online or even form WhatsApp groups. Making calls on Skype, Signal, Messenger and WhatsApp is also banned. All independent magazines and newspaper have been closed down and reports indicate that three journalists from the Al Zaman newspaper have been sentenced to three years in prison for publishing articles critical of the state. Six activists have fled to the United Kingdom where they have been granted asylum, which is a new phenomenon for us. Many of those human rights defenders who are not in prison right now in Oman are waiting for their cases to be finalised by the courts.
The result of this is fear of doing any human rights work. We don’t know who will rule Oman after the Sultan and many people in Oman are in general very afraid because they don’t know what will happen in the future. Additionally there is a lot of corruption and the unemployment rate is very high. 70% of the population are youth under the age of 30, meaning youth unemployment is very high. Omanis feel that the Sultan cannot solve these problems because of his age and illness and are unsure as to who will rule the country in the future.
The crackdown on civil society has resulted in very little reporting on the human rights situation in Oman and most human rights defenders have completely stopped making posts online. The state security has managed to control and push the society back and to make civil society afraid. This has resulted in nobody recording the human rights violations publicly from inside Oman and only space left is for Omani human rights defenders who are abroad to publicly report about the situation.
3. What specific restrictions have you faced as a woman human rights defender?
In general, the environment for women human rights defenders in Oman is very unhealthy. The government uses its political power and pressures religious entities and our families to pressure us with the aim of breaking us down. Methods used to shame women human rights defenders include defamation and spreading bad news about women activists. This has resulted in many women human rights defenders being silenced.
Almost all the women human rights defenders in Oman stopped their activism because they couldn’t take the pressure. The government has contacted over and over the families of women activists to pressure them to stop their female family member from activism. This and the other restrictions became too much for most women human rights defenders to handle. I worked on women’s rights, children’s rights and other human rights issues in Oman and I was punished for it. Besides the detention and paying a fine, I also underwent interrogations by the security forces and was told by the government that I didn’t have a permit to do any work on women and children’s rights.
In my situation, the government sent my own family members to break me down. The government used them and some of our personal differences to come and detain me when I attended a protest in 2011. This creates terrible cracks in the family and I suffered a lot. Now some of my family members chose to abandon me or don’t talk to me. If they even support me financially, they will face a backlash from the government. The restrictions I faced are still causing me great problems. After I was imprisoned in the middle of the dessert in temperatures that could sometimes reach 50 degrees with my hands ties and with no air conditioning, I have a phobia of indoor spaces and this is still very stressful for me today. Currently I am seeing a psychiatrist in Germany for a treatment.
4. What support is needed from international civil society and international actors?
The international community must be aware of the human rights situation in Oman. Many people and governments around the world don’t think there is an issue with human rights in Oman including the European Union. This has a lot to do with us not being able to report on the situation from Oman. The government in Oman managed to scare us quickly before the international community knew what was happening.
It is important to pressure the embassies of Oman around the world. Just recently, I saw that the Omani embassy in London had invited a big INGO for an event at the embassy. This is a sign of how good the Omani government is at networking and putting on a certain face to the outside world including human rights organisations worldwide. It is important that international human rights organisations do not accept invitations to events by the Omani embassies. If they do attend, they must pressure the government officials while at the events.
The United States of America had previously started a Female Genital Mutilation campaign in Oman but when the US-Iran deal came into place with Oman being a key actor in the deal the US started being friendlier to the Omani government. In the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Oman in March 2015, the United States was very gentle concerning the human rights situation in Oman. But the international community can do a lot through diplomacy. When UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to association and assembly, Maina Kiai, came to Oman, he met with activists. Luckily, international organisations supported Maina Kiai’s critical reports but this report must be collected and used as part of diplomacy at an international level. Unfortunately, the Omani government does very good diplomacy so governments need to be persistent.
CIVICUS speaks to Aunohita Mojumdar the editor of Himal Southasian, a review magazine of politics and culture based in Nepal and run by the not-for-profit Southasia Trust. Aunohita Mojumdar speaks on the suspension of the magazine from publishing and freedom of expression in the region. She has spent 25 years reporting from parts of South Asia. Before arriving in Kathmandu in 2012, Mojumdar was based in Kabul, Afghanistan for eight years as a freelancer. She is currently working for the re-launch of the suspended magazine
1. Please tell us about Himal Southasian and what makes it unique?
Himal is unique in a number of ways. It has a regional outlook, covering the whole of Southasia; it functions as a bridge between academia and journalism by making in-depth reporting and research accessible to a wider audience; and it challenges the jingoism and ultra-nationalism that obstructs a clear-eyed view of the region and its challenges.
Though the South Asian region has strong independent media outlets, reportage and analysis are invariably dominated by the national perspective, whether it is in the selection of issues the media covers or the manner in which issues are reported. The hostile rhetoric strengthens the confrontational postures based on jingoism rather than fact-based discourse and debate. As evident in the coverage of Indo-Pak issues. Reporting is also overwhelmingly event-based reporting and Himal has been unique in the kind of context it provides, thus answering the critical question of journalism that is often ignored – the why.
Though significant path-breaking scholarship exists in the region, much of this remains confined to academic texts which remain inaccessible to a wider audience because of stilted jargon or language. Himal seeks to bring this scholarship into the public domain on the premise that informed debate and discourse is a necessary element of democracy.
Despite the rise of ultra-nationalism, most media are unwilling to undertake critical reporting on this issue for fear of being branded as being anti-national. Himal’s contribution in this of expanding the scope for debate and discourse on this is well-established, a recent example being the controversy over Himal’s signature map. (See map is pictured above. Readers note, the map is rotated intentionally by the editors of Himal to reconceptualise regionalism and put a focus on people and not nation-states).
2. Himal Southasian has been forced to cease its operations due to bureaucratic reasons. Could you shed some light as to what happened?
Small organisations are sometimes challenged by the lack of money, staff, professionalism or administrative weaknesses. It is worth mentioning that Himal has met all these challenges and risen above them. The magazine’s suspension in November 2016 was caused by a new but growing expression of intolerance which uses bureaucracy to silence individuals and organisations which are troublesome to regimes, governments and states.
Often this tactic is through investigations, never-ending and ambiguous, and it is the process rather than the outcome which kills. In the case of Himal the method was even simpler. Himal was never investigated nor even questioned. The simple expedient of withholding permission for us to use our grants and to secure work visas for our staff as well as a slow-down of other regulatory processes paralysed our functioning.
These methods clearly work much better than direct censorship or attacks, both because there is no obvious attack and it is long drawn and because it is nearly impossible to mobilise public opinion on it. The low-level but high-value attrition of these methods is making them an increasingly popular form of clamping down on civil society.
3. How would you characterise the environment for civil society in Nepal? Is freedom of expression respected?
As a non-Nepali I cannot hope to speak to the entirety of the situation in Nepal but our experience suggests that there is a high degree of self-censorship. Very few civil society groups spoke out on our behalf after the suspension and even some media organisations whose mandate is the protection of journalists have been reluctant to speak out, let alone other media outlets.
4. Are you hopeful about the future of freedom of expression in South Asia? Is it being respected at present?
Freedom of expression throughout Southasia is facing a major challenge and in fact our last issue published out of Nepal documents the shrinking space in almost the entire region with a few exceptions. There are multiple challenges to freedom of expression. We have increasingly intolerant governments, which are using direct or indirect means to curb media and civil society. We have vigilante groups who are carrying out violent attacks on writers and journalists who are either being actively encouraged by the governments or are encouraged by the impunity the government inaction offers.
Governments are also using more sophisticated methods of control detailed earlier. In fact the challenge to Himal has made us aware of the extent of control exercised on routine functions. There is nothing, for example, in the rules and procedures which force the Nepal government to either give permission or show cause why the permission is being withheld. We see similar actions against NGOs in India where a large number of organisations critical of the government are losing the permission to operate or losing the ability to accept grants. Many non-commercial organisations rely on grants for their function and the reasons to deny them the permission appears arbitrary, linked not to their performance but to their perceived opposition to the government.
Even where media are not directly attacked, the corporatisation of media has led to media reporting more and more on selective subjects catering to audiences with purchasing power. As media emerge more as carriers for advertising they are required to create a feel-good audience for their readers, leaving out the vast majority of the citizens who do not have the purchasing power to drive advertising spend.
Self-censorship is being exercised by the media to avoid any confrontation that could damage the corporate interests while the profit motive of media companies has taken away resources from the actual task of journalism.
While the trends in Southasia are not very different from global trends, the weak rule of law and poor governance in Southasian countries poses additional challenges and is a threat to the small number of independent outlets that exist.
5. How can international and regional civil society support you in carrying out your mandate?
With increasingly complex and sophisticated threats emerging to the survival of independent media, the support structures and strategies also need to evolve. While there are robust processes in place to provide safe havens to activists who are threatened, to relocate them in exile, there are few processes in place for supporting activists and organisations who wish to remain in situ and work. There are few processes to support organisations who may not be physically at risk but whose work is being threatened or compromised. There are absolutely no initiatives which are examining and questioning the new methodologies of attack where organisations and individuals are being targeted by financial investigations even though there is, by now, a pattern of such victimisation.
In our case for example it would have helped if there had been questions asked of the government on the refusal to process permissions. Indeed given the suspension of Himal and the closure of its offices in Nepal after nearly 30 years of public service journalism such questions could still be asked so that governments know they will be held accountable.
While Himal remains ready to resume its editorial work as soon as it is able, it is currently seeking to establish the administrative and financial structures that will allow it to function. Support that would enable this would be welcome.
About Himal: Himal Southasian, a review magazine of politics and culture, is the only regional magazine of its kind. Stretching from Afghanistan to Burma, from Tibet to the Maldives, this region of more than 1.4 billion people shares great swathes of interlocking geography, culture and history. Yet today neighbouring countries can barely talk to one another, much less speak in a common voice. For over three decades, Himal Southasian has strived to define, nurture, and amplify that voice.
CIVICUS conversa con Rosana Palacios Barriga (foto), presidenta de la Unión Nacional de Educadores (UNE) del Ecuador. La UNE, la organización de maestros más grande del país, fue disuelta por resolución del Ministerio de Educación en agosto de 2016 por presuntos incumplimientos de sus propios estatutos y de la normativa vigente para el funcionamiento de las organizaciones sociales.
1. ¿Cuáles fueron las circunstancias que condujeron a la disolución de la Unión Nacional de Educadores, el sindicato más grande del país?
La Unión Nacional de Educadores (UNE) del Ecuador tiene dos líneas de acción. Por un lado, es una organización defensora de derechos humanos, de la educación y de la profesión docente en sus aspectos laborales, de salud y de mejoramiento profesional, económico y social. Por el otro lado, investiga la situación del país y del magisterio; presenta propuestas para que sean trasformadas en políticas públicas; y trabaja en propuestas pedagógicas tales como la de “Educación para la Emancipación” y en estrategias para implantar tecnologías de la información y la comunicación en el aula. En ese sentido, enfrenta la corrupción, la prepotencia y el autoritarismo.
Cuando inició su gestión en 2006, el Presidente Rafael Correa contaba con el respaldo de los sectores de izquierda, los movimientos sociales, sindicales y populares. Ese mismo año, el pueblo ecuatoriano aprobó mediante consulta popular el Plan Decenal, que incluía ocho políticas para la educación. La propuesta que se sometió a consulta popular había sido presentada por la UNE a Rafael Correa, por entonces candidato a presidente, para que fuera elevada a política de Estado. La UNE apoyó su candidatura porqué él dio su apoyo a nuestra propuesta.
El conflicto entre el gobierno y la UNE se inició cuando, una vez comenzada la gestión, la UNE exigió el cumplimiento del Plan Decenal. Ya en el año 2008, la UNE se enfrentó con el Ministro de Educación, Raúl Vallejo, porque éste buscaba implantar una evaluación punitiva destinada a destituir a docentes sin brindarles ninguna opción para que pudieran volver a ejercer su profesión, al tiempo que liberaba al Estado de sus obligaciones laborales para casos de despido. En ese contexto, la UNE exigió el respeto de los derechos laborales y defendió la educación bilingüe, en riesgo ante el cierre de 6000 instituciones escolares.
En el marco de la construcción de la nueva Ley Orgánica de Educación Intercultural (LOEI), la UNE exigió el reconocimiento de los derechos laborales alcanzados por el magisterio y la incorporación de sectores de profesores a la carrera docente de tal manera sean protegidos por la seguridad social y la LOEI. Denunció la precarización y la flexibilización laboral –actualmente son 40 mil los profesores bajo régimen de contrato-, la inestabilidad laboral, el congelamiento de salarios, los chantajes y los despidos. Cabe señalar que al trabajo docente se ha sumado el requisito de cumplimiento de trabajo administrativo, lo cual modifica el rol docente y genera temor, ya que se crea un ambiente de total indefensión.
2. ¿Cuáles cree Ud. que fueron las motivaciones del gobierno para tomar la decisión de disolver la UNE?
El Presidente Correa tiene una política de desintegración de las organizaciones sociales como estrategia de concentración de poder. Cuando la UNE mantuvo sus exigencias, Correa tomó la decisión de destruir esta organización sindical, gremial y popular.
El proceso se inició con una exhibición de poder por parte del presidente, por dos vías: por un lado, el debilitamiento del sindicato ante la opinión pública, mediante campañas persecutorias para las que hizo uso de cadenas nacionales de radio, prensa y TV, en las que condenó sus acciones gremiales; por el otro, la implementación, en 2009, de la evaluación punitiva del magisterio nacional.
En aras del cumplimiento de los objetivos del Plan Decenal, la UNE entregó al gobierno una contrapropuesta de evaluación elaborada sobre bases científicas y pedagógicas. Ante la negativa del régimen de dialogar, la organización declaró un paro nacional que se extendió desde el 15 de septiembre hasta el 7 de octubre de 2009. El paro terminó con un acuerdo entre UNE y el Ejecutivo, cuyos artículos luego fueron incorporados a la nueva Ley de Educación. En suma: lo que el correísmo nunca le perdonó a la UNE fue que desafiara su poder y le ganara.
En su afán por eliminar a nuestra organización, y más en general a todas aquellas que no siguieran sus mandatos, así como de dominar a las restantes, el gobierno emitió el Decreto Ejecutivo No. 16 del 4 de junio de 2013 (Reglamento para el funcionamiento del Sistema Unificado de Información de las Organizaciones Sociales y Ciudadanas). Este decreto recibió el rechazo unánime de la sociedad civil independiente, ya que era violatorio de la libertad de asociación. El decreto estableció nuevos procedimientos y requisitos para el reconocimiento legal de organizaciones de la sociedad civil e introdujo un proceso de evaluación para autorizar a ONGs internacionales para operara en el país. También exigió que las ONGs ecuatorianas se volvieran a registrar, impuso requisitos excesivos de información que podrían ser utilizados contra las propias organizaciones, y otorgó al gobierno amplia discrecionalidad para rechazar peticiones de reconocimiento jurídico o disolver organizaciones con argumentos vagos vinculados con el desvío de sus objetivos declarados, el involucramiento en actividad político-partidaria, la interferencia con las políticas públicas o la afectación de la seguridad del Estado o la paz pública.
Gracias al apoyo de la sociedad civil, organizaciones sindicales, organizaciones de servidores públicos y organismos internacionales como la Federación Sindical Mundial y la Internacional de la Educación, logramos llegar hasta la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) y las Naciones Unidas para denunciar el Decreto Ejecutivo No. 16. En Ecuador, además, se interpuso una demanda de inconstitucionalidad del decreto ante la Corte de Justicia. La primera víctima de disolución a partir de la aplicación del Decreto No. 16, a fines de 2013, fue la Fundación Pachamama, una organización ambientalista.
Entretanto, el gobierno utilizó una táctica de desgaste mediante criminalización contra los dirigentes de la UNE. Mery Zamora, presidenta de la UNE entre 2007 y 2010, fue acusada de sabotaje y terrorismo por supuestamente haber incitado a los alumnos de un colegio a salir a las calles durante la revuelta policial de 2010. Se le siguió un juicio, fue hallada culpable gracias a la presentación de pruebas falsas y finalmente condenada a 8 años de prisión. Si bien en instancia de apelación fue eventualmente declarada inocente y no debió cumplir pena, la Fiscalía de la Nación enseguida volvió a presentar nuevas acusaciones contra ella, por supuestamente haber atentado contra los derechos del Estado.
Otros dirigentes nacionales, como Xaver Cajilema, Paúl Jácome y Edwin Lasluisa, fueron encarcelados durante un año. Decenas de dirigentes provinciales y cantonales – entre ellos Francisco Rojas, Juan Cervantes, Luis Chancay, Sisa Bacacela y Pilar Paredes – fueron destituidos. Hubo cantidades de sumarios administrativos contra maestros que declararan pertenecer a UNE, y muchos fueron removidos de sus funciones o de sus sitios de trabajo.
Los nuevos dirigentes de la UNE, elegidos para el período 2013-2016, incluida yo misma, no fuimos reconocidos. El Ministerio de Educación esgrimió varios pretextos para ello, por ejemplo el incumplimiento del Decreto No. 16, que sin embargo había sido dictado meses después de las elecciones de la UNE, celebradas con voto universal y secreto y con la veeduría del Consejo Nacional Electoral. El Comité Electoral de UNE argumentó la ilegalidad de esta actuación, pero durante casi un año enfrentó el silencio administrativo, y por último recibió la respuesta de que la documentación requerida no había sido entregada. Presumimos que los documentos entregados fueron deliberadamente extraviados.
Por último, en 2015 el Ministerio de Educación creó una organización paralela, llamada “Red de Maestros por la Revolución Educativa” que, dicho sea de paso, no cumplía con ninguno de los parámetros que le eran exigidos a la UNE. De más está decir que esta iniciativa viola los estándares internacionales, empezando por el Convenio 98 de la OIT sobre el derecho de sindicación y negociación colectiva.
La Red de Maestros no es más que un instrumento para la ejecución de la política autoritaria del gobierno en cada institución educativa del país. Dentro de cada escuela, es el brazo político del gobierno y el instrumento persecutorio de los docentes. Así, por ejemplo, la Red de Maestros tiene coordinadores zonales a los que se concede el tiempo para realizar visitas institucionales y se les otorga el respaldo de las autoridades educativas para que cumplan con el rol asignado.
Las autoridades educativas intervinieron para obligar a los maestros, mediante mecanismos ilegales, a afiliarse a la nueva organización. Al mismo tiempo impedían el acceso de la dirigencia de la UNE a los planteles educativos con el objetivo de acelerar el desgaste de nuestra organización. De hecho se emitieron oficios circulares bajo pena de sanción para las autoridades que dejaran ingresar a los establecimientos a dirigentes de UNE, permitieran a los maestros reunirse en asambleas, asistieran a las instalaciones de su gremio o permitieran la diseminación de información sobre la situación del magisterio. Por último, la autoridades se apropiaron del Fondo de Cesantía del Magisterio ecuatoriano, la entidad financiera de la UNE, con una caja de 405 millones de dólares. Para esto último se debió reformar la Ley de Seguridad Social.
3. ¿Qué impacto tuvo la disolución de la UNE? ¿Cómo caracterizaría Ud. la situación resultante?
La disolución de la organización fue el punto culminante de un proceso de acoso que se extendió durante diez años. En el curso de ese período la dirigencia de UNE se dividió en tres sectores: los que decidieron resistir, los que se replegaron, y los (muy pocos) que abandonaron la organización. Este mismo fenómeno se replicó en las bases, con el predominio de los que siguieron la resolución de la dirigencia nacional, plasmada en la consigna “La UNE vive, la lucha continúa”, más tarde reformulada como “La UNE vive, Correa se va” y “La UNE es una organización, no un edificio”.
La dirigencia de UNE resistió y se dedicó a desenmascarar la política correísta que profundizaba la violación de los derechos laborales del docente y de los trabajadores en general. Se unió para ello a las centrales sindicales y a otras organizaciones sociales.
La disolución de la UNE era necesaria para que el gobierno pudiera continuar con el desmantelamiento de la educación pública y el irrespeto a los docentes. A pesar de lo que afirma la propaganda gubernamental, la educación ha sufrido un retroceso. Se han implantado evaluaciones de ingreso a las universidades y puntajes para la elección de carreras fijados desde la Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología, lo cual trajo aparejada la privatización de la educación superior.
4. ¿Es la disolución de la UNE parte de un patrón más amplio de restricciones sobre la sociedad civil en Ecuador? En caso afirmativo, ¿cuáles han sido las principales restricciones del espacio cívico?
La disolución de la UNE es parte de una fórmula que responde al objetivo central del régimen de eliminar toda forma de organización y participación de la sociedad civil en la formulación de las políticas públicas, la defensa de derechos humanos y la promoción de las libertades públicas. O sea, es parte de una estrategia para mantenerse en el poder.
De hecho, en todos los sectores el gobierno ha creado organizaciones paralelas como el FUE (Frente de Estudiantes Universitarios del Ecuador), el FESE (Frente de Estudiantes Secundarios del Ecuador) y Seguro Campesino. Para enfrentar a las centrales sindicales tradicionales se creó en 2014 la CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores), afín al gobierno, y lo mismo en el terreno de los movimientos de mujeres, los movimientos ecologistas y las organizaciones defensoras de la tierra. Al mismo tiempo que estas nuevas organizaciones eran movilizadas, se instituyeron leyes anti obreras para criminalizar la lucha social y se utilizaron los aparatos represivos del Estado contra las organizaciones genuinamente representativas.
Las violaciones de las libertades fundamentales han aumentado bajo la forma de persecución judicial, insultos, linchamiento mediático y agresiones físicas. Sin embargo, el 65% de la población rechaza actualmente estos atropellos, aunque por temor no se ha movilizado en defensa de las organizaciones que enfrentaron procesos de disolución. Pese a ello, hemos podido generar un debate sobre la defensa de los derechos. Y, en el caso específico de los maestros, está presente en la sociedad la necesidad de la existencia de nuestra organización como elemento de defensa, orientación y organización.
5. ¿Ha recibido la UNE solidaridad y apoyo desde el exterior? ¿De qué modo podría la comunidad internacional apoyar a la sociedad civil en Ecuador?
Pienso que tenemos una relación mejorada con nuestros pares en otras partes del mundo. Frente al proceso de disolución y el asalto que hemos sufrido, hemos recibido toda clase de muestras de solidaridad nacional e internacional. Los sindicatos de docentes en Canadá y en España, en particular, han sido claves en esta lucha de resistencia, de defensa de nuestra personería jurídica y recuperación del patrimonio. Sin embargo, en el terreno de la acción de masas no tenemos respuesta. Ello se debe a que existe un debate ideológico y una polarización muy fuerte, ya que fuera del Ecuador el discurso de izquierda de Rafael Correa, unido a la propaganda que despliega el gobierno, sigue sosteniendo la creencia errónea de que el Ecuador aún vive una revolución. Para disipar ese malentendido seguimos necesitando apoyo.
El espacio cívico en Ecuador es clasificado en el CIVICUS Monitor en la categoría “obstrui-do”.
Visite el sitio web o el perfil de Facebook de la Unión Nacional de Educadores, o siga en Twitter a @UNENACIONAL y a @ROSANAPALACIOS4.
CIVICUS speaks to Marco Antonio Gandarillas, Director of the Centre of Information and Documentation Bolivia (CEDIB), a human rights organisation founded in 1970 with the aim of providing information and consulting services with a critical eye on the social reality of Bolivia and Latin America. He speaks on the protests gripping the country in recent years, the response of state security forces and the dire situation of environmental activists.
1. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been protests over water, mobilisations for and against the president’s re-election, violent protests against the coca Bill, and countless local protests. Are we seeing a peak in social mobilisation in Bolivia?
Conflict is a part of this country’s political culture: as sociologist Fernando Calderón would put it, politics in Bolivia is “done in the streets”. We have government agencies and civil society organisations dedicated to counting social conflicts in Bolivia, because this is a country that is in permanent conflict.
The current situation must be apprehended in historical perspective. When President Evo Morales attained power in 2006, it was initially a rather convulsive stage. Certain actors, notably centres of regional power, disputed power spaces with the state. Starting with the constitutional process in 2006-2008, disputes between regional power groups and the central state subsided, and some stability ensued. There were some violent incidents here and there, but generally speaking it was a phase of low levels of conflict that lasted several years.
Around 2011 the situation changed again, with sustained increases in conflict, particularly fuelled by socio-economic factors. The turning point was the mobilisation of the indigenous peoples of TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure), a highly biodiverse protected area. The people of TIPNIS mobilised to reject the construction of a highway that would cut through their territory. The conflict was particularly relevant because this was a sector that had been an ally of the government, and that by mobilising independently raised a national conflict with the state. They received numerous expressions of public support and this became one of the main topics of public debate.
It should be noted that this process of de-alignment was important at the level of social leadership, but not so much at the grassroots level of indigenous organisations. Indigenous peoples actually live very far removed from conventional partisan politics and were not necessarily aligned with the government to begin with. In fact, many indigenous peoples – we are talking about more than thirty groups in the highlands, and about as many in the lowlands - never saw President Evo Morales as one of their own. President Morales represents the sector of the cocaleros, colonisers from the highlands who occupied the lowlands to grow coca in territories originally belonging to smaller and more vulnerable indigenous peoples. So there is actually not a single standpoint attributable to “the indigenous peoples”. Politically, indigenous organisations were a circumstantial ally of a government that at first advocated certain rights, promoted legal progress and proposed dialogue and social pacts. But the government also supported the expansion of agribusiness in the lowland territories of indigenous peoples, even allowing illegal activities such as coca cultivation for cocaine production.
In short, since 2011, and more intensely on the eve of the latest presidential election (the third) that President Morales won in late 2014, we have had a number of conficts that is even higher than the number of conflicts that took place in 2003, a time of social upheaval leading to the fall and flight of then-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Although larger in number, however, the nature of conflicts has also changed. At present, there is a great proliferation of disaggregated conflicts, many of which are accompanied by high levels of violence.
2. How has the state reacted to the protests?
It has become commonplace for conflicts to be contained by heavy police intervention, often resulting in fatalities. The security forces, and particularly the police, enjoy total impunity: no cases of deaths caused by repression have been truly probed, and perpetrators have never even been prosecuted.
For instance, last year the conflict involving mining cooperatives resulted in seven deaths, six on the side of the miners plus a high authority – the deputy Interior Minister – who was lynched. There are detainees, but there is no evidence of legal proceedings complying with due process guarantees having been initiated against the material and intellectual authors of these crimes. Five of those people were killed by police-issued weapons, but perpetrators have not been identified.
This increase in conflict levels is the result of growing social unrest, which has surprisingly not expressed itself at the polls. From President Morales’ 2014 solid victory – he was re-elected with about 60% of the vote – the government deduced that society supported their economic model, regardless of the fact that according to the available data, the main reason for most conflicts was socio-economic in nature, revolving around wages, land, natural resources, public services and the allocation of public funds.
Therefore, as he was inaugurated for the third time, President Morales embraced the deepening of the government’s model as his main objective. This triggered new conflicts and worsened existing ones. I think this is at the basis of the high levels of violence that now characterise social conflict, along with the impunity with which repressive agencies act.
3. Was the repression of protests accompanied by legal changes that may have fueled police violence and increased impunity?
Legal changes have indeed also taken place, as part of a regional trend. Under pressure from the United States of America, all countries in the Southern Cone have introduced repressive reforms into their criminal codes, typifying various forms of social protest as criminal offences. An ambiguous figure that almost all countries incorporated was that of “fight against terrorism”.
In Bolivia, the government soon realised that it could not control society solely through the co-optation of social leadership – what I call “clientelistic social control” – and therefore began to deploy a strategy of repressive social control. The new tools it used went beyond police repression: they included for instance smear campaigns and “public lynching” of dissenting voices by government authorities. Any sector, institution or leader who appears as overly critical is accused by the president of being right-wing, destabilising or promoting coups. This in turn justifies the adoption of further measures such as the physical seizure of organisations’ headquarters, which has often occurred. Many grassroots organisations that were independent from the government, including large indigenous organisations such as CIDOB (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia) have been forcibly taken over by government-affiliated groups that had their legitimately elected authorities removed and replaced with activists from their own ranks or even with government officials. In general, they sought to make this look as if this had been the outcome of a confrontation between groups, when in fact the police intervened to remove legitimate leaders and replace them with impostors. A recent example of this was the attempted takeover of APDHB (Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia) in February 2017.
Once the government was engaged in media lynching, it was only natural for a conviction to develop regarding the need to regulate those situations in which protesting is not acceptable. Various laws – including the Investment Promotion Law and the Mining Law, both passed in 2014 –, along with a number of supreme decrees, for instance those about cooperatives, classified a variety of forms of legitimate social opposition as criminal offences, in many cases carrying prison sentences ranging from 4 to 8 years. I do not know of any specific case in which the Investment Law has been applied to someone for blocking a road; this legislation works rather as deterrence of mobilisation against state-promoted initiatives.
4. Are there any specific issues or mobilised groups that are targeted with higher levels of violence?
Mobilisations with a national ambition and involving political questioning of the government are most harshly repressed. Such was the case of the mobilisation by mining cooperatives. In the pre-electoral period in 2014, miners were promised many things that eventually found their way into a Mining Law (Law No. 535/2014) granting them unrestricted access to exploitation areas. Failure to comply with these provisions led to their mobilisation in 2016.
At the same time, other sectors – particularly indigenous peoples – typically react when their territories and livelihoods are affected by extractive activities. 2011 was a turning point for them too. Until then, there were umbrella indigenous organisations at the regional and national levels. Since then, government action has focused on de-structuring indigenous organisation: most departmental, regional and national organisations have since been seized, or parallel organisations have been established. Indigenous communities’ capacity for national action against mining or hydrocarbon exploitation has therefore been greatly affected. These days, in the context of a large hydroelectric project north of La Paz, the government strategically avoids dealing with local actors, who are directly affected and therefore oppose the project, and deals instead with a regional leadership that no longer represents anybody but turns out to be their preferred political partner.
In dozens of territories, still known as TCOs (tierras comunitarias de origen or “original community lands”), simultaneous processes of resistance are taking place against a number of extractive projects. But these resistances are taking place on a local scale that is often almost imperceptible to the media and public opinion.
5. Have other fundamental civic space freedoms been affected?
Restrictions have been introduced in all areas, but the freedom of association has been hit the worst. From 2011 onwards, the government has targeted not only the directly affected groups mobilised against extractive activities but also the organisations supporting them through research, advocacy and by shaping public opinion. Thus, many research centres and environmental, human rights and indigenous rights NGOs have become enemies to be defeated by the state. In addition to systematically smearing them in public, the government has passed legislation – notably Law No. 351 on Legal Personalities (2013) – in order to deplete the urban civil society that works in solidarity or campaigns on behalf of indigenous and other excluded groups. Law No. 351 replaces the entire previous legal framework of the Civil Code and requires civil society to align its objectives and activities with government policies. More than in the forcible shutting down of organisations, the new legal framework has resulted in “silent suicide”. In a context in which, since judicial authorities are now elected by popular vote, the judiciary has become subordinate to the executive and due process guarantees fail, civil society has felt intimidated. Many organisations have decided to either close their doors or change their goals and lower their profile so as not to disturb power. In so doing, civil society has lost strength and independence.
Over the past few years, CEDIB has received countless inspections by various state agencies. Neither public offices nor private companies are subjected to the kind of controls that this small organisation has had to submit to. We have had audits of all kinds, including some that are blatantly illegal, as when we had to respond to a requirement to submit accounting documentation dating back more than twenty years, although the Commercial Code establishes an obligation to keep records going back just five years.
However, CEDIB is a prestigious centre and has a certain specific weight. In fact, the state is one of the main users of our services and data. So our relationship with the state is complex and contradictory, as the authorities demand resources from us all the while wishing we were politically aligned with the government. This leads to some authorities, as the vice president did at some point, launching attacks against us, while at the same time others keep recognising that they need our information and advice. And in the eyes of society and even the media – including para-governmental outlets – we are still a serious and credible organisation whose existence is vital for democracy. That, in a way, is what has kept us going.
6. How has civil society responded to the deterioration of its enabling environment?
Unfortunately, historic NGO networks have not been able to curb authoritarian advances. Other governments in the past had tried to deprive civil society of its autonomy, but had failed to do so because NGO networks used to be stronger. Vis-à-vis our current government, however, civil society organisations have become weak and intimidated, partly because of the already mentioned administrative restrictions and reprisals used against them, and also as a result of reductions in development aid funding.
Civil society has not just been attacked: it has also suffered divisions. In the face of reduced flows of international cooperation funds, many organisations were left without sources of external funding, which used to be prevalent in the sector, and therefore sought refuge in the state. Other organisations were co-opted not by means of state resources but by President Evo Morales’ developmentalist discourse, which accurately reflected their own ideals and trajectory. And for many others – I would say for the majority – what prevailed was the feeling of impotence vis-à-vis a government that proved itself capable of doing whatever they wanted with them, be it legally or extra-legally. In other words, fear prevailed given the credible threat of controls resulting in steep, impossible-to-pay fines and even in prison sentences for organisations’ staff.
As a result, there is now a large set of NGOs that are actually para-governmental organisations and survive on contracts, consultancy work and other state resources. In addition, there are a number of NGOs that have been founded and are directed by high state authorities. All senior public officials, starting with President Evo Morales, manage NGOs that have been set up in order to run government programmes with international cooperation or public funds. It has been reported that, for instance, a foundation run by the president has its own television channel and handles large state advertising contracts.
Still, along with three other organisations – the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB), the Centre for Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS) and the Centre for Local Development Studies and Support (CEADL) – we did submit a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in defence of the freedoms of associacion and expression as a negative ruling was issued by the Constitutional Court. But it was just the four of us, out of a very vast group of NGOs that did not come together in defence of these freedoms. Fear semed to be the common denominator among them all.
7. Have you missed out on international solidarity as a result of Latin American and global progressives’ sympathies for President Evo Morales? In which ways could the international community support civil society in Bolivia?
We are currently facing a transition scenario. President Morales can no longer run for re-election, and there are several crises underway. One of those crises has derived from the fall in commodities’ prices, which has had a major impact on this ultra-extractivist country that has placed all its bets on primary exports. In other words, we will have not just a change of government but also a change in the state, as a result of impending public spending restrictions. Politically, the upcoming transision must involve the recovery of infringed rights, which requires the repeal or reform of various pieces of legislation and the abandonment of intimidatory practices. It is necessary to ensure a favourable environment for the activities of civil society and journalists, to make public management transparent, and to build an agenda for the strengthening of civil society.
At the international level, the critical phase was overcome years ago. There was a period in which it was outrightly condemned to criticise, or even relativise, the very optimistic view that prevailed abroad about what was going on in Bolivia. We were told that criticism amounted to “play into the hands of the right” and in favour or international power centres. That ended even before TIPNIS: in 2010, the Mother Earth Summit (World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) held in Cochabamba exposed major contradictions between what the government said abroad and what they did domestically: between its environmental discourse, on the one hand, and the expansion of extractivism and the advances of deforestation, on the other.
Another, more recent turning point was the Indigenous Communication Summit in November 2016. The Bolivian government acted as convenor of this annual summit of movements, and then tried to control it, bypassing the entire indigenous leadership from other countries. They did this so clumsily that even the groups that came in most convinced that in Bolivia there was an indigenous intercultural revolution underway, came out disillusioned. The government attempted to control them in the same way it has done with Bolivian indigenous organisations - they even accused them of having come to Bolivia to conspire to organise a coup, which made no sense.
In this context, the first thing we need from the international community is that they condemn the regression we have experienced in terms of fundamental rights. The legal framework established by Law No. 351 is rather suited to a dictatorship: a government requiring civil society to organise along its own objectives is completely unacceptable.
Second, we need a rapprochement with the civil societies of the countries in our region. In recent times, regional mafias have mobilised across borders, and we need common standards in order to fight them. Not only governments but also civil societies need to have an agenda beyond our own country’s borders, that is, with an international projection – regional to start with, and then global as well.
• The Centre of Information and Documentation Bolivia is one of Bolivia’s most prestigious and socially rooted civil society institutions. CEDIB administers one of the most important archives containing documents of major historical importance, and its research has great impact on public opinion.
• Get in touch with CEDIB through their Facebook page or website, or follow @cedib_com on Twitter
• Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘narrowed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor
CIVICUS speaks to Koffi Déla Frack Kepomey, the executive director of Concertation Nationale de la Société Civile du Togo (CNSC-Togo) concerning the recent closure of a television and radio station by the regulatory authority as well as the torture of a journalist.
1. Two independent media outlets, LCF television station and radio City FM, were closed by the media regulatory authority High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) on 6 February 2017. Can you detail these closures?
The High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) issued a communiqué on 19 September and 26 December 2016 respectively saying that it had informed media outlets LCF and City FM which are under the media group Sud Média, of irregularities and invited them to comply with the rules before 5 February 2017. A failure to comply would lead to the withdrawal of their licenses the HAAC said.
During a press conference convened by the president of the HAAC, Pitang Tchalla, on 3 February 2017, he declared that he was not aware of the existence of documents constituting a file of the Sud Média group and announced they will be closed after 5 February 2017.
The director of the Sud Média group, Luc Abaki, confirmed that the Sud Média group complied with the rules and that all documents had been provided to the then HAAC president Philippe Evegno.
Some questions remain to be clarified after the closure such as what exactly is the Sud Média group being blamed for? What are the underlying and unsaid reasons for this case?
Although it is the HAAC that attributes frequencies to radio and television stations, and gives authorisation to the written press, the HAAC also does not have the authority to cancel frequencies from those with legal existence. This power belongs to the justice arm of the state. Article 130, title IX of the Constitution states, among others that “… the HAAC has the competence to grant authorisations to new installations of private television and radio stations”. Additionally, article 24 of the Organic Law establishing the HAAC specifies that the HAAC has the competence to grant authorisations for the installation and operation of television and radio stations. Analysing these two situations shows clearly that the powers that be have decided to muzzle the press.
CNSC remains particularly concerned about the increasing restrictions for the freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Togo.
2. Journalist Robert Avotor was violently attacked on 7 February 2017 and tortured for two hours by security forces when reporting on a land dispute in Akato-Viépé. What happened?
The journalist Robert Avotor was carrying out his reporting work when he was arrested, handcuffed and tortured. This happened in Akato-Viépé, a suburb of Lomé, where he was reporting on a land dispute.
According to the journalist there is a land dispute in Akato-Viépé following a decision of the Supreme Court ruled that some buildings had to be demolished. Gendarmes came to force people from the area. There were about one hundred men in combat uniforms. Robert went there to do a report. He had his press vest and his press card. He descended from his motorcycle and approached the gendarmes and presented himself and requested to speak with the chief of the gendarmes.
Here are the facts as described by the journalist in his own words: “One of them asked me who I am and I repeated to him that I am a journalist. They responded that there was no chief among them, that they were all chiefs. After this, they asked me to show my press card, which I did. Afterwards they said: ‘We don’t eat cards here’. One of them ordered me to leave the premises. He had hardly finished saying that when he started to beat me. I ran but other gendarmes caught me and started clubbing me. They then handcuffed me, put me in a corner and walked away. Some minutes later, they came back and asked me for which press organisation I work for. I told them I came from L’Alternative. They asked me who the director was. I said it was Ferdinand Ayité. They responded, ‘This time, we have you. We always come across this name. We will make you feel what we are capable of. When you are in the crowd, you make noise. Today, it’s you alone.’ They left me in the corner. They handcuffed my hands behind my back. From time to time they came back to tighten my handcuffs. This hurt my wrists.
At a certain point, I felt the need to relieve myself. I asked them if they would permit me to urinate. They categorically refused. I then urinated in my pants and this amused them. They also brought in another person that they had discovered filming the eviction. I was there, handcuffed, for more than two hours. They then handcuffed us together (with the other person that had also been arrested), and we got into their vehicle. Once we arrived at the Gendarmerie of Sagbado, they erased all the images in our phones and on our devices. They gave us back our phones and asked us to leave. They took note of our identity numbers and we left around 14.30.”
According to Ferdinand Ayité, director of L’Alternative, journalist Robert Avotor has been subject to anonymous calls and harassment since the attack on 7 February. On the night of 19 February, while going home by motorcycle, he was followed by a car that sped up and hit the rear of his motorcycle, leading him to fall.
The Minister of Security, Yak Damehame, has received the journalist a couple of days later, together with the director of l’Alternative newspaper and other media actors, in which he reassured to take the necessary sanctions to those responsible.
3. How would you describe the situation of freedom of expression in Togo?
The closure of these two independent media described above and the attack on and torture of journalist Robert Avotor by security forces are incidents that bear a heavy cost for freedom of expression in Togo.
The mission of the High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) is “to guarantee and ensure the freedom and protection of the press and other ways of mass communication” and the first article of Organic Law 2004-021/PR of 15 December 2004 regulating the HAAC, modified by Organic Law 2009-029 of 22 December 2009 and Organic Law 2013-016 of 8 July 2013 says the HAAC is an “independent institution, independent of the administrative authorities, of all political power, of all associations and pressure groups”. The HAAC does not have the calling/ vocation to close media.
Togo has ratified international agreements, and in particular, it has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and also its Constitution does not permit torture.
These incidents constitute an obstacle to the exercise of the freedom of press and the freedom of expression, also protected by the Togolese Constitution and are an attack on human rights. They risk to annul all the efforts the government has implemented in that sense, and above all eligibility for different programmes of the Millenium Challenge Corporation.
4. How has Togolese civil society reacted to these developments?
Confronted with these events, civil society in Togo has mobilised to express their indignation through press statements, open letters and public marches. A public march was organised on 25 February in Lomé by CSOs and press organisations, joint by certain political parties, to condemn the closure of LCF and City FM. Although the march was authorised by municipal authorities, the crowd was dispersed by security forces using teargas grenades and batons, and chased protestors into the compound of the University of Lomé. CSOs and press organisations condemned strongly this violation of peaceful assembly.
Joint press statements were organised to denounce the violations of the freedom of expression, and open letters were written to government structures to use their influence to guarantee the freedom of expression. For example, CNSC has written to the MCA Cell, a structure put in place by the government to assist Togo to benefit from the Treshold and Compact of the Millenium Challenge Corporation.
5. Can you tell us some more about the environment for civil society in Togo?
At the moment we can say that there is a beginning of awareness within Togolese civil society in terms of mobilisation that needs to be encouraged. However, civic space is still under threat and there is need for more sensitisation and capacity enhancement to preserve civil society.
6. What support can international and regional groups offer to CNSC-Togo and other civil society organisations in the country?
Togolese CSOs not only need capacity enhancement for the effective preservation of civic space but also institutional support. There is a need to strengthen CSOs and activists on the preservation of civic space by accentuating the use of technology and including them in regional and international networks in order to share experiences and information.
Institutional support is a big need of CSOs in Togo, for them to achieve increased effectiveness and sustainability. Additionally regional and international groups must advocate, to the international community and the partners for Togo to respect regional and international instruments in practice.
Confronted with this situations, CNSC-Togo has addressed a communication to the Coordinator of the Cell MCA – Togo, a cell that was set up by the state to improve the indexes of development, freedom, corruption in order for Togo to benefit from the Millenium Challenge Corporation. We have asked the cell to use its influence to bring the president of the HAAC to reconsider its decision to withdraw the authorisation to close the LCF and City FM stations of the Sud Média group.
Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, the largest worker rights organisation based in the United States speaks to CIVICUS about challenges facing workers, Solidarity Center’s work and the response of professional NGOs to worker’s rights. Follow her on @Shawna_SolCntr
1. What do you see as the biggest challenges for workers in 2017? What are the key drivers behind these challenges?
Workers around the world are confronting serious challenges to whether they can exercise their rights and work with dignity. Among them are labour markets and systems that generate, rather than alleviate, poverty; and governments that fail to protect workers, either through omission or deliberate act. In addition, weak legal environments—national and international—tend to reward exploitative supply chains, permit human trafficking, allow discrimination to flourish and generally disenfranchise workers. Lastly, the toxic spread of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and fear marginalizes millions of migrant workers and refugees—further disenfranchising people whose jobs do not lift them from poverty, afford them safe workplaces or uphold their dignity.
I see four key drivers behind these challenges. One is downward pressure on wages along global supply chains combined with greater barriers to workers exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association—to organize and promote their issues, protect their wages from eroding and exercise their rights. Another driver is the increasing informalization of work and the gig economy, which limits wages, workplace protections and workers' ability to improve either, as well as strips workers of the benefits that come with full-time jobs. A third is the fact that governments around the world—to attract investment—are taking deliberate actions to weaken worker rights or simply not enforcing laws designed to protect workers. The last would be widening inequality coupled with resurgent authoritarianism, closing space for people to have a voice on the job and in their community, and curtailing worker and human rights.
2. How is the Solidarity Center and its network responding to these challenges?
The Solidarity Center stands with workers as they defend their right to freedom of association, supporting them as they organize, advocate and build worker voice. Our work is explicitly pro-equality, anti-racist, pro-migrant, class conscious and inclusive. We support freedom of association as a foundation of democracy and ensure the centrality of worker self-organizing and leadership across our efforts. In addition, we see justice and rule of law as an alternative to exploitation and arbitrariness—a leveler of inequality of power and wealth—and are putting greater emphasis on developing legal capacity among our partners and supporting innovative legal processes at the national, regional and international levels.
With our partners, we are building a grassroots movement for work with dignity and respect for workers’ human rights. We work with 400-plus labour unions, pro-worker nongovernmental organizations, legal-aid groups, human rights defenders, women’s associations, advocacy coalitions and others to support workers—in garment factories, home service, seafood processing, mining, agriculture, informal marketplaces, manufacturing, the public sector and beyond—as they exercise their rights, including organizing for safer work sites, demanding living wages and improving laws (and the enforcement of existing laws) that protect working people, and fighting exploitation and abuse. We are, quite deliberately, building broad alliances with other organizations fighting the forces of repression and all forms of discrimination and violence against people, communities and the environment.
Specifically, we provide training and technical expertise that can help workers take on societal ills such as child labour, human trafficking, unfair labour laws, infringement of women’s rights, dangerous workplaces and the exploitation of the vulnerable. We focus on supporting women as they challenge the systems and organizations that deny them voice. We also work to ensure that the rights of migrant workers and refugees of any category are respected, and help connect them to protective networks. In addition, we implement legal-assistance programs, including the training of paralegals, to help workers recover stolen wages or benefits illegally denied them, and we push to broaden legal norms, protections and cultural space for the freedom of association necessary to sustain a vibrant civil society
3. What are your thoughts on global protections for the rights to protest and strike?
The right to strike goes part and parcel with the rights to freedom of association and assembly. It also is established international law, supported by ILO core conventions and international human rights conventions, and specifically covered in the constitutions of at least 90 countries.
The right to strike is a collective mechanism through which workers speak truth to power, whether to rectify poor wages and working conditions at a factory, or to push back against government policies that perpetuate poverty, discrimination or persecution. In many cases, going on strike is one of the only ways workers can hold ruling or corporate elites accountable, protest injustice and serve as a check the concentration of power. It is a civil liberty that we all should strive to protect.
4. Are you satisfied with the response of professional NGOs (working on development and human rights matters) on workers’ rights issues? If not what could be done to improve the situation?
No. For a long time, worker rights and human rights have been seen as different issues, by both human rights NGOs and the global labour movement. Because of that, we are all far less effective in confronting the current global human rights crisis perpetuated by the resurgence of authoritarianism, the crackdown on the public sphere and the greatest expansion of multinational and investor rights in modern human history. These three trends have created a perfect storm for workers and citizens, greatly impeding their ability to stand up for their rights, improve their lives and livelihoods, and expand democracy.
An increasing number of human rights advocacy groups have begun to take on worker issues, looking to improve corporate respect for rights. Very often, however, NGOs fail to involve workers, the major stakeholder, in the process or leave worker rights, including freedom of association, off the table while focusing on a company’s “social responsibility.” At the same time, they fail to involve unions or labour advocates, who have 30 years of experience with corporate social responsibility efforts—including many mistakes—in campaigns. They could easily avoid some of the pitfalls the labour movement has already encountered.
Worker are up against powerful forces. And while they are the first line of defense against workplace exploitation, it will take a global network of worker rights defenders—NGOs, human right activists, trade unions—to oppose the stifling of civil society, staunch the erosion of workplace rights and protect human dignity and freedom.
5. Are there any particular mobilisation strategies that you are focusing on in light of current political trends when human rights and social justice concerns appear to be taking a back seat?
The Solidarity Center has joined with labour unions and women's rights activists to push for an end to gender-based violence at work. In addition, we are supporting safe migration policies and building networks to support migrant workers and refugees. We also are seeking out new ways to help informal-economy workers access and exercise their rights. And, of course, we will not rest until freedom of association for all workers is a given. That is our core challenge in this era of closing space for civil society.
6. What advice would you give to the CIVICUS alliance?
Worker rights activism and human rights activism must be linked if we are to push back the forces that drive inequality, poverty and injustice. There is no time like the present to begin.
CIVICUS interviews, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitations’ Fletcher Simwaka about the state of civic space in Malawi and the new NGO policy.
1. What is the state of human rights in Malawi at the moment?
There is a great sense of ambivalence on the human rights situation in the country. In some instances, one notices commendable steps government is taking in facilitating citizens’ progressive enjoyment of the various civil and political rights in the country. Remarkably, for instance, the President Professor Peter Mutharika signed the long-awaited Access to Information (ATI) Bill into law. This is a milestone as the law will enable citizens to access key and vital information held by the government. The ATI is an effective tool to entrench a culture of transparency and openness in government operations. In addition to the ATI, a major improvement on civic space is that the government is now relaxing its former restrictive stance on freedom of assembly. Concerned citizens and human rights activists are now able to conduct peaceful protests government without any undue legal hindrances.
On the other hand, however, the government has demonstrated vestiges of intolerance towards key human rights and freedoms, especially against critical human rights defenders and civil society. The current administration is resorting to a divide-and-rule tactic so as to weaken and isolate civil society in the country. The government does so by appointing some of the vocal human rights defenders into government positions. Moreover, government has taken a leading role in influencing elections of civil society leaders in civil society networks and platforms by supporting their stooges. Most unfortunately, government is resorting to the selective application of justice aimed at shielding ruling party loyalists. Only cases involving government critics are dealt with expeditiously. Civil society in Malawi has also expressed concerns over the very restrictive provisions in the NGO Act which are largely reflected in the draft NGO Policy.
2. What are the main civil society concerns over the NGO Policy?
The most fundamental civil society concern over the NGO Policy is that the draft policy formulation did not undergo meaningful consultations with the wider civil society community. The policy formulators only embarked on selective consultations with pro-government CSOs. Secondly, the draft Policy is almost silent on governance and human rights CSOs in its definition of civil society. It assumes all CSOs are community charitable organisations which are simply there to complement the service delivery work of the government. This is a deliberate and dangerous omission as it might systematically emasculate the equally important role of governance and human rights CSOs and activists in the country.
The Policy provides the relevant development planning structures with increased and unwarranted powers to approve projects developed by NGOs. The policy notes that “a project shall not be implemented unless it is approved by these structures.” While it is important that projects planned by NGOs are in line with development objectives, such broad powers prescribed by the policy and given to the planning structures, will infringe on the independence and privacy of NGOs.
In addition, the draft policy doesn’t mention the protection of NGOs and human rights defenders. These is supposed to be reflected in any NGO policy as it is one of the crucial areas that shape their day to day work. In fact, the policy should have also acknowledged the relevant role of NGOs as a watchdog in the exercise of political and legal authority by those in public office. In view of the above, the policy priority areas need to be expanded.
While the policy notes that this is aimed at ensuring that NGO are transparent and accountable, it will increase the administrative burden on NGOs and allow for bureaucratic discretion to reject requests for renewal of the registration of NGOs and to target NGOs that question the government. For example, this was the case in 2014 when the NGO Board threatened to close NGOs that were not registered with the Board, despite the fact that the NGO Act (2000) does not provide the Board with powers to close on NGO.
Again, the question of mandatory registration of NGOs with the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi (CONGOMA) and NGO board as indicated in the NGO Act of 2001 as a requirement to qualify or be recognised in the categorisation of the draft’s policy three categories of NGOs may be challenged at law considering the fact that it may be perceived as an infringement on freedom of association, and also considering that other NGOs register under Trustees Incorporation Act of 1966 and Companies Act.
3. Have there been any concerns over the years over the NGO Act?
CSOs in Malawi have always had misgivings concerning the NGO Act. Both in its originality and practice, the NGO Act is seen as tool to police and silence critical voices in civil society. For instance, section 23 of the NGO Act gives power to the NGO Board, the body appointed by the President, to deregister any NGO that does not operate within NGO guidelines. Some of the NGOs targeted for de-registration are those involved in and comment on political issues. Several voices within civil society have noted that this is aimed at targeting civil NGOs working on human rights and governance who are critical of the government. The provision has always been a source of the fractious relationship between civil society organisations focusing on human rights and the government.
4. How can international civil society support civil society in Malawi to improve civic space?
Support from international civil society is needed to build the capacity of local civil society to empower them to demand and promote and protect civic space in the country. There are also opportunities for international civil society groups to partner with local civil society to effect change.
5. What are three things that need to change to further improve the environment in which NGOs operate in Malawi?
i. The NGO Act needs to be reviewed and amended to reflect the spirit of constitutionalism.
ii. There is need for a robust, responsive and inclusive NGO Policy that will address the challenges faced by CSOs.
iii. Government must come up with a law that protects human rights defenders.
Civic space in Malawi is rated as Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor
Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan have both been working to improve women's rights in Egypt. They have campaigned to end violence against women, amongst many other campaigns, and are now wrongfully accused of receiving foreign funding against national interest and "irresponsible liberation" of women.
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At the recent summit of the African Union (AU), states adopted what appeared to be a plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the global body that prosecutes grave crimes and challenges impunity. This followed the announcement in 2016 by three states, Burundi, the Gambia and South Africa, that they would pull out of the Court, although the Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, subsequently reversed his country’s position. While the prospects could seem bleak for the ICC, Netsanet Belay, Africa Director, Research and Advocacy of Amnesty International, suggests that there are reasons to be more optimistic.
1. What is the current state of play on African withdrawal from the ICC?
Contrary to what many believe and what is being reported, 2016 saw a tempering of the rhetoric of African mass withdrawal from the ICC. While people expected a domino effect following last year’s decision of Burundi, the Gambia and South Africa to withdraw from the ICC, the outcome went in the opposite direction. Since the last Assembly of State Parties to the ICC in November 2016, many African states unequivocally rejected calls for mass withdrawal. A number of countries, including those who had been silent supporters, publicly affirmed their support of the ICC. This includes Botswana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia.
Building on this momentum, at the 28th AU Summit in January 2017, many African countries effectively refuted any myth of mass withdrawal. While the AU Summit adopted what is called a mass ‘withdrawal strategy’, it is actually nothing like this. To the contrary, the strategy sets out a roadmap for engagement with the ICC and other stakeholders. It makes clear that the concept of mass withdrawal is not recognised under international law and clarifies that if member states chose to withdraw, they should do so according to their domestic mechanisms. Further, many states - Cape Verde, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia and Zambia - made reservations on the decision. Others, notably Nigeria, opposed the adoption of this strategy.
What this is telling us is that what once looked like a trend of mass withdrawal by African nations is not there. Those countries that were silent before are now saying they will not stay silent any more and will support the ICC. The Gambia’s return is also a significant game-changer for a number of reasons: it was the only misfit in West Africa, a region that’s traditionally a staunch supporter of the ICC. The Gambia is also the human rights capital of Africa, given it is the seat of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Burundi and South Africa are left alone at the moment, and they need to use this opportunity to change their minds.
But despite the tampering of anti-ICC rhetoric in Africa, we should not downplay the legitimate concerns that African member states have about the ICC. The Court is a far from perfect institution. There are legitimate questions to be raised about why the ICC has not progressed on its preliminary investigations on non-African situations
The role of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the politicised nature of referrals is also a very important question that should be addressed – not by the ICC but by the UNSC itself. As we saw with the failures on Syria, South Sudan and elsewhere, the UNSC is in dire need of reform and needs to be engaged.
There are also legitimate reform proposals on the table with respect to the Rome Statue system that sets out the ICC’s rules and procedures. For instance, weeks before its decision to withdraw, the South African government tabled a proposal on the development of rules and procedures for consultation processes with ICC members, under Article 97 of the Rome Statute. One of South Africa’s concerns was the lack of a clear process on consulting with the ICC when the country was faced with a dilemma on whether to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir when he attended the AU Summit in South Africa in 2015. The government felt that the procedures were not clear enough and suggested clearer procedures. The organisation I represent, Amnesty International, agrees that there is a gap there that needs to be filled and has proposed recommendations on how this proposal should be taken forward.
2. Outside Africa, what are the current or emerging threats to the ICC?
The biggest threat approaching for the ICC and international justice globally seems to from powerful nations outside Africa, as the Court moves to undertake preliminary examinations and ultimately investigations on crimes committed in Afghanistan and Palestine. The ICC has been investigating crimes committed in Palestine by Israeli forces as well as Palestinian armed groups, and in Afghanistan, by members of the Taliban, Afghani forces and US nationals, including allegations of torture. If reports are correct, the ICC is very close to opening an investigation into crimes under international law committed in Afghanistan in particular, which could possibly result in some US nationals facing prosecutions. Even though the US is not a member state of the ICC, because the crimes were committed in Afghanistan, a member state, US citizens suspected of committing crimes there might face prosecution. This move is likely to face stiff political challenge and backlash from the US.
Already we see signs of countries putting pressure on the ICC about its examination on Palestine. Israel is lobbying a number of European governments. In a possible sign of things to come, at the last Assembly of States Parties session, the ICC was squeezed on its budget to its absolute limit by the Court’s key financial contributing states, including Canada, France, Germany, the UK and others.
So the next biggest threat to the ICC will come from outside Africa, from powerful nations in the global north. Hence all the more reason why the global south, including Africa, which has been demanding a balancing of ICC prosecutions, should strongly support the ICC at a time when it is becoming more courageous.
3. What other challenges does the current global context offer?
Broadly speaking, with the rise of toxic populist agendas in US and Europe, global accountability and human rights mechanisms are facing threats. We are increasingly seeing the US, for instance, threatening to withdraw its financial and political support to the UN. The deadlocks at the UNSC continue and can be expected to worsen, enabling mass atrocities to continue unabated. There is also the UK’s eventual withdrawal from the European Union, including from the European Human Rights Convention. All of these point to what I would call the normalisation of indifference in the face of mass atrocities. This indifference is growing. One possible outcome of this trend will be weakening of international accountability mechanisms, including the ICC. This is another reason why civil society needs to come together to stand in support of these mechanisms.
4. What can civil society in South Africa and Burundi do?
South Africa has a dynamic and engaged civil society and, amidst the threats, there are clear opportunities emerging to defend international justice. Despite the recent High Court decision that revoked the Government’s notification of withdrawal, there are concerns that the government might press on with its withdrawal agenda. The government has tabled a draft bill for the repeal of the Rome Statute Implementation Act, the act that domesticates the Rome Statute, and has also announced its intention to introduce a new draft Bill on International Crimes to replace it. As draft bills are opened for pubic consultation, civil society has an immediate task and responsibility to engage with these processes and engage the government and members of parliament in challenging the decision to withdraw from the ICC.
Beyond engagement with government, there is more pressing need for public awareness campaigns. Views are quite polarised in South Africa, as elsewhere, about the ICC: to some extent state propaganda has worked and quite a significant part of the population believes what the government is saying, that the ICC is a western, imperialist tool that is attacking Africa. Civil society’s starting point should be to demystify the facts from the myths and win people’s heart and minds. For example, not a lot of people know that the reason so many African cases have come before the ICC is because of self-referrals by African states. Civil society needs to explain why the ICC was created and how it operates, as a court of last resort. South Africans need to know the historic, moral and legal implications of withdrawal, including the fact that this nation stands to withdraw from one of the few international instruments that codifies apartheid as a crime against humanity. For a country that has lived through that experience and a nation that was born out of such crime, and as a nation that led the creation of the ICC to ensure that such a crime will not happen again anywhere in future, it cannot afford to withdraw. Now more than ever, South Africa leadership in promoting justice and human rights is needed in the global arena.
Burundi, on the other hand, is a very different context. It is quite a closed country, and there are hardly any spaces for people and civil society express dissent. The motive of the government for withdrawing from the ICC is partly self-serving: it is protecting itself from future prosecutions. This is a whole different challenge and civil society will not find it easy to engage with the government to shift thinking about that. I see more difficulties in Burundi than in South Africa.
5. What about regional alternatives?
Nobody, including civil society, is challenging the advantage and significance of having a regional accountability mechanism. In principle, it is to be welcomed, as an additional accountability mechanism where people can obtain redress and victims seek justice, and where African-specific contexts can be addressed. The Malabo Protocol – the AU’s agreement to extend the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and People’s rights – goes beyond the ICC’s four core crimes, of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crime of aggression, to criminalising transnational crimes such as corruption, illicit financial flows and terrorism. This shows a lot of potential.
The problem is that the proposal as it currently stands has several problematic legal and institutional implications. The fact that the Protocol stands to give immunity from prosecution to heads of state and senior government officials while they are still in power is a serious deviation from international standards on accountability, and also contrary to the AU’s own constitutive act, which champions a complete rejection of impunity. A deviation from this ideal is regressive. It would only embolden dictators who commit atrocities and human rights violations to remain in power. Secondly the definition of some of the transnational crimes is problematic and violates the international principle of legality. For example, terrorism is vaguely defined. The risk of peaceful dissent being criminalised as terrorism remains high. In Africa, there are so many living examples where peaceful dissent is being crushed as terrorism, so this is a huge risk.
Apart from legal standards, the second issue is the implication of adding a criminal jurisdiction to an already existing, heavily under-resourced and weak human rights court, given that the proposal is to expand the jurisdiction of the African Court. The new Court, if and when it becomes operational, would have a human rights mandate, a general affairs mandate and a criminal mandate. There is no such comparable model out there. It's a heavy and ambitious undertaking, and an expensive and complex venture. As such, it is highly doubtful that the continent will have the right political will and sufficient financial and other resources to enable this proposed Court to succeed.
The proposal also runs the risk of weakening the existing human rights mandate of the African Court. For instance, the number of judges currently proposed under the Malabo Protocol means a reduction in the number of judges that will be dealing with human rights issues. Already the current African Court is overloaded with casework, and reducing the number of judges will undoubtedly have a heavy impact on the capacity of the court to deliver on human rights protection needs in the continent. The proposal might also hamper or slow down future ratifications of the statues of the only existing human rights court in Africa. Member states may only be presented with the option to ratify and domesticate all of the successive amendments as outlined under the Malabo Protocol, and will not be able to pick and choose which instrument to adopt and ratify. As such, countries that do not want to commit to the expansion of the current court to have a criminal jurisdiction but want to strengthen the human rights jurisdiction of the exiting Court will not be able to do so easily.
So broadly, while in principle the decision to establish a regional criminal court is a good idea, there are a number of legal and institutional implications of the current proposal that may necessitate rethinking the model and discussing substantive amendments before member states rush to sign and ratify the Malabo Protocol. In any case, as a viable alternative to the ICC, and a permanent international justice mechanism, it is not there yet.
CIVICUS speaks to Carlos Andrés Santiago, spokesperson of CORDATEC, an organisation that defends water, the territory and the ecosystems of San Martín, in the Colombian region of Cesar. CORDATEC mobilises against oil extraction through fracking in the area.
1. Now that the peace accords with the FARC have finally been ratified, one would think that violence in Colombia is over. However, aggressions against social activists have not diminished. You and your colleagues at CORDATEC have reported numerous intimidations and threats. What are the causes of the on-going violence against human rights defenders?
The conflict between the FARC and the military has effectively de-escalated over the past several months, even before the peace treaty was signed, thanks to the bilateral ceasefire that was declared in August 2016. This is reflected in the information that President Santos provided a few days ago: at that time, a single wounded soldier was being treated at the Military Hospital, in contrast to very high figures just a year earlier.
In regions such as Cauca changes became apparent as a result of the ceasefire, the signing and ratification of the peace agreements, and more recently the establishment of “normalisation border zones” (zonas veredales de tránsito y normalización). These are areas in which the guerrillas will carry out the process of laying down their weapons, demobilising and reintegrating into civilian life. This, however, has also meant that in these regions a vacant space has remained that is now being occupied by new armed groups or criminal gangs.
In addition, we are witnessing a transition from a great conflict between two armed actors to a set of diverse conflicts around social issues, many of them linked to environmental causes. For instance, land use conflicts involving victims who demand the restitution of their land and struggles in defence of water and, particularly in communities like ours, mobilised against extractive projects.
The extinction of the conflict with the FARC, which yielded countless victims, therefore correlates with an increase in the number of murders of social and environmental activists and also the visibility of human rights defenders active in territories and communities.
2. What is CORDATEC’s role and aims in this context?
It is important to note that, as part of its post-conflict strategy, in December 2015 the Colombian government signed a contract with two multinational companies (ConocoPhillips and Canacol Energy) to explore and exploit hydrocarbons from unconventional deposits through fracking in three municipalities. One of them is ours: San Martín, in the department of Cesar.
So our community got organised and in early 2016 we formed the Corporation for the Defence of Water, Territory and Ecosystems, CORDATEC. We began to mobilise: we staged demonstrations, pot-banging protests, a civic strike and several marches. About 9,000 people took part in the most recent one, on 25 September 2016 – in a municipality that has 21 000 inhabitants. We also went to the media, resorted to strategic litigation and looked for allies in Congress. We even went along with CIVICUS to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
We seek to defend the most fundamental good which is water. By resorting to peaceful resistance, we are trying to prevent oil exploitation through fracking because we acknowledge the environmental and social impacts that it causes, and we are not willing to pay the costs. Among other impacts, fracking uses large amounts of water, contaminates underground and surface water sources, increases induced seismicity, causes serious damages to public health, changes the uses of agricultural land, and releases large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse effect gas.
3. What sort of restrictions on the exercise of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly have you faced as environmental and anti-fracking activists?
We face many. In retaliation for resisting fracking, the community of San Martín, and particularly CORDATEC members, have been subjected to harassment. It is clear that the municipal mayor, Saul Educardo Celis, has a strategy of intimidating all the people that are close to CORDATEC. For instance, CORDATEC members’ relatives have lost their jobs in the local administration. I have personally received death threats, and the comrades from the Workers Trade Union (Unión Sindical Obrera), who accompany us in our struggle, were threatened through a pamphlet just a few days ago.
The company ConocoPhillips has also attempted to file civil lawsuits, and through several letters to the municipal government they have requested that the conflict be judicialised, that is, that measures be taken to arrest and imprison the leaders of the mobilisation and protest actions, and that guarantees be provided so the company could start work in the Pico Plata 1 well, which they had so far been unable to do.
In the demands that they directed towards the government, the company appealed to the Criminal Code, according to which the obstruction of roads is a crime punishable with imprisonment. In response to these demands, the municipal government – in complicity with the Attorney General at the time and the national government – authorised the use of the ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, or Anti-Riot Squad), the unit of the National Police that is employed to control demonstrations and carry out evictions. Our fundamental right to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, enshrined in Article 37 of our Constitution, was therefore ignored.
Since then, the ESMAD has repressed the community of San Martín and our comrades from the department’s subdivision of Cuatro Bocas on three separate occasions, and several people have been injured. The ESMAD’s operations have resulted in numerous human rights violations, on top of the threats, intimidation, harassment and illegal surveillance that CORDATEC leaders have been subjected to. These events have been reported to the Office of the Attorney General, the Ombudsman Office, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, of the Organization of American States, among other instances. Nevertheless, the government has taken no measures to safeguard the lives and physical integrity of the environmental defenders under threat.
Ever since its first operation, on 19 October, the ESMAD has remained in San Martín. The camp and the entrances to the well are guarded by militarised police at all times. In other words, a significant number of military personnel have been assigned to guarding the interests of a multinational company instead of protecting the communities. In the context of a social state based on the rule of law, the communities should take priority – not a transnational corporation that has come to plunder those communities’ natural resources.
The same is happening in other regions of Colombia, which is not surprising given that there are currently 43 blocks assigned to fracking that would eventually affect more than 300 municipalities across the country. In seven of those blocks there are already signed contracts, most of them adjudicated to foreign companies. To make it worse, despite the pronouncements by the Comptroller General, two additional contracts are currently being processed.
Why is this happening? It’s fairly simple. The extractive industries create very strong economic interests that frequently involve politicians and government officials who receive bribes in exchange for facilitating contracts, granting environmental licences, providing congressional support or favouring the companies when under investigation. Corruption has pervaded this type of megaprojects: the Odebrecht case is a clear example of this. These are struggles led by small communities that are trying to defend themselves, like the Biblical David from a giant and corrupt Goliath that crushes whoever gets in their way. From their perspective, the end justifies whatever means.
A few months ago the Minister of the Environment acknowledged that 75% of current conflicts in Colombia are environmental conflicts. And the pattern of threats, intimidation and ESMAD use is replicated throughout the country. It is part of a familiar script that often ends with activists being murdered. We are used to life not being worthy enough; therefore, we see it as relatively normal when physical elimination is resorted to so as to remove from an obstacle from the way. In Colombia, defending water is costing us our lives.
4. Are there any civil society initiatives to overcome these limitations of civic space?
Due to the long-standing conflict that we have experienced, many organisations in Colombia have long specialised in human rights issues. Numerous Colombian civil society organisations as well as the international community follow and give accompaniment in this sort of situations and provide support to communities regarding self-protection, visibility and denunciation.
As the situation in San Martín unfolded, we have found allies willing to accompany the process. Along with trade unions and social and environmental organisations, we are in the process of forming the Alliance Colombia Free of Fracking as an arena in which to weave resistances, and we are moving forward from there.
But this does not happen in all regions of the country: many struggles are being quietly fought in very small and distant territories that are not easily reached and where access to media and technology is extremely limited. In those places, the law of fear continues to prevail, and whoever gets in the way is easily taken out of the equation.
5. What concrete actions should the Colombian government adopt in the short term to safeguard civic space and protect the rights of its citizens?
First of all, the government must stop stigmatising and criminalising environmental activists and human rights defenders, and particularly those who oppose extractive industries. The Mayor’s accusation that we are terrorists, for instance, lapidates us and undermines the legitimacy of human rights defenders’ struggles.
Secondly, the government must provide guarantees for the exercise of the constitutional rights to mobilise and protest, which is not presently the case. Third, it should stop relying on mining and fossil fuels, and instead reorient its development model towards alternative and sustainable energy sources that do not pollute the environment.
Fourth, it must channel the required resources towards the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP), which provides protection schemes to persons under threat. The capacity of the UNP is currently insufficient, and only one out of every six submitted applications receives a positive answer entailing the provision of some type of protective measure. This means that five out of six persons seeking protection are left unprotected. Many social leaders who submit applications are told that their risk level does not warrant the granting of security measures.
Recognising threat levels, however, does not automatically result in the adoption of timely and effective measures. For instance, on 29 November 2016 the Ombudsman’s Office – a human rights guarantor with no enforcement capacity – issued a report identifying several political groups and social organisations in various communities of Cesar, including CORDATEC, as facing imminent risk due to their work. On 1 December an early warning was issued for the authorities to guarantee these persons’ life and integrity. Protection however never came and one of those people – a member of the Community Board of Hatillo – was murdered a month later.
This situation is a reflection of a very unequal country, where congressional representatives, former presidents and various politicians enjoy very generous protection schemes, with many people assigned to their protection detail, while community leaders and human rights defenders are left exposed.
6. How connected is local civil society in Cesar with its counterparts in other parts of the world and how can external actors support activists and civil society organisations in Colombia?
Given the high profile of both the armed conflict and the peace negotiations in Colombia, the organisations that form the United Nations and the Inter-American system, as well as international cooperation agencies and various CSOs around the world have spoken out about what is happening.
Global Witness in its reports On Dangerous Ground and How Many More?, Front Line Defenders in its Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk 2016, and also CIVICUS in the report Against All Odds about the dangers of environmental activism, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with their strong statements to condemn the assassinations of land rights defenders, and Amnesty International in their 2016/2017 Report – they all converge in alerting the world about the serious risks faced by social and environmental leaders in Colombia. This has originated a very strong movement to repudiate the wave of assassinations, forcing the Colombian state to acknowledge the problem.
Concrete measures, however, are still very inadequate. That is why it is urgent for the international community to adopt a firmer position vis-à-vis the Colombian government. We need international actors to put more pressure on the Colombian state so it behaves more consistently.
Indeed, there are currently major contradictions and inconsistencies between what the national government says out there and what they do domestically. The Colombian state promotes and ratifies international commitments in defence of the environment and against climate change; it proclaims the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreements while within its own territory it implements fracking and mining projects that contradict those agreements for the protection of the environment and its inhabitants. Not only does it fail to fulfil its environmental commitments, but it also receives the Nobel Peace Prize while its mining-energy locomotive opens the way for the murder of social leaders. Somebody needs to call them to account.
Following reported violations on the press in Zambia that have included the closing of a newspaper and two radio stations, CIVICUS speaks to Wilson Pondamali a Zambian freelance investigative journalist and media activist to detail the situation
1. Describe Zambia’s media landscape?
Zambia is home to a plural media since the reintroduction of a political multiparty system in 1991 when veteran trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) ousted the liberation leader Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP).
2. Please explain recent violations of the press in Zambia?
The Post newspaper of late has been facing severe harassment. The Post newspaper, a forerunner to the Weekly Post, was one of the first independent newspapers and continued to champion democracy and good governance by holding government accountable. Incidentally, the harassment of The Post newspaper started way back but the previous leaders between 1990 and 2008 – Kaunda, Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa were tolerant of it.
Mwanawasa succeeded Chiluba in 2001 but died in office in 2008, being succeeded by Rupiah Banda who was later defeated by Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) in 2011. The suffocation of The Post newspaper which manifested in 2016 during the reign of Michael Sata’s successor and incumbent Edgar Lungu could have started under President Banda apparently because the tabloid showed open support for Sata from the first day Banda was nominated to contest the 2008 election, in which he narrowly defeated Sata.
The Post newspaper continued to be critical in the three-year reign of Banda while projecting Sata in the limelight. It is undisputable that the tabloid played a pivotal role in the PF’s 2011 victory. This can be supported by the large number of its staff who were offered jobs in the civil service thereafter. The managing editor, and Editor in Chief Fred M’membe’s right hand man Amos Malupenga, was appointed as permanent secretary, while M’membe’s deputy Sam Mujuda was appointed into foreign service as high commissioner. The news editor George Chellah became press aide at State house while many other journalists were appointed press attaches to Zambia’s foreign missions. Sata died after only three years in office and was succeeded by Edgar Lungu in a tight 2015 election, defeating closest rival UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema mainly with support from former President Banda. Lungu himself received fair criticism from The Post during and before the 2015 and 2016 elections.
It would be correct to speculate that Banda was still vindictive of The Post and wanted it closed as evidenced by his threatening statement made when he was still in office. Being a close ally of Lungu, the newspaper company is now being pursued over a disputed tax claim by the Zambia Revenue Authority, leading to the tax authority threatening to seize the company’s fleet of vehicles and the premises on 21 June 2016 leaving the newspapers workers and owners to operate outside.
But then that was not enough, some workers who claimed not to have been paid applied to the High court to have the newspaper liquidated and a long-time foe of M’membe, Lusaka lawyer Lewis Mosho was appointed liquidator on 1 September 2016. Mosho, of Lewis Nathan and partners immediately after assuming the liquidator role ‘fired’ M’membe and lawyers Mutembo and Nchima Nchito.
After The Post was closed down, the only media that remained as the strongest force was the privately owned Muvi TV with its sister company Komboni radio, both based in Lusaka but broadcasting to many parts of the country.
Zambian broadcast media, except the national broadcaster Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation – ZNBC are all regulated by the ‘not so independent’ Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) which was created by an Act of parliament. The IBA board and director general are appointed by the minister of information and its offices are located at the government owned mass media complex, housing ZNBC and another government media agency Zambia news and Information Services.
The IBA suspended the broadcasting licenses of Muvi TV, Komboni and Itezhitezhi radio stations a few days after the disputed re-election of Lungu in the August general election. They were accused of allegedly broadcasting statements that were a danger to national security. The three media outlets were never charged nor given a chance to be heard but were just served with suspension notices and switched off. Their premises were taken over by heavily armed police who denied workers any entry to the premises. The stations were then reinstated in an apparent ‘diluted’ form weeks after the election petition hearing had commenced and Lungu was sworn into office. In the process, Komboni executive director Lesa Kasoma Nyirenda was assaulted by police as she tried to gain entry into her premises after being reinstated.
3. Why are we witnessing a clamp down on media?
The Edgar Lungu led PF regime seems to be in a mode of not tolerating divergent views as can be witnessed by continued threats on any dissenting views. Some of the threats are in the party while others are external. He has kept a strong grip on the PF, as witnessed by the harsh treatment of past PF members who resigned and sought to rejoin. One such member is Miles Sampa who was given some conditions before he could be readmitted. Another possible challenger Chishimba Kambwili, was relieved of his influential position of youth chairman in the central committee and later stripped of his position as information minister.
To ensure he is in a safe haven, most media houses that have hosted people critic to his administration have been victimised by state machinery or even party cadres. In principle, the President seems not to tolerate criticism hence the clamp-down of critical media and journalists.
4. What was the situation of freedom of expression during last year’s election?
There was a serious and visible clamp-down on freedom of expression in the run up to the elections as evidenced by countless refusals by the authorities for the opposition to organise party meetings. The main victims were UPND cadres who also had their meetings disrupted by unruly PF cadres.
Radio stations that hosted the opposition members were also victimised by police or cadres themselves with impunity and no arrests were made. The scenario has continued as evidenced by the detention of and threats to journalists hosting opposition. Prime TV, Chipata TV, Mkushi radio and Radio Mano, to mention but a few have been victims.
The ongoing harassment of The Mast newspaper owned by Fred’s wife Mutinta Mazoka M’membe is yet another example of a clampdown on freedom of expression. This is what led me to stage a one-man protest at the M’membe’s residence on Sunday, 19 February 2017.
5. What is the way forward for media in Zambia
There is need for a very strong force of media rights activism in the nation, which must be backed by legal instruments to ensure that journalists are protected from both economic and professional manipulation. Most private media houses are paying about K1 000 (US$100) per month salaries and this exposes journalists to temptations of unethical conduct.
There is also need for effective retraining as some media houses are manned by unprofessional journalists, especially the community radio stations who form the majority of plural media. To date, the Media Institute for Southern Africa Zambia chapter is the only organisation that seems to champion media violations but over some time it has also not shown enough stamina hence receiving resentment and criticism from media practitioners. Today Zambian media is very highly polarised and there is a need to resolve this.
6. How can international CSOs assist in the situation?
As local CSOs remain threatened, international CSOs can help mitigate the situation by lobbying both the Zambian government and other governments to allow for freedom of expression. This could be done through interventions at international meetings that are being attended by Zambia’s leadership. There is also need for capacity building among the Zambian media practitioners and activists and lobbying for legal reforms such as the long-awaited but elusive Access to Information law. Exchange programmes and attachments of Zambians to other media outlets outside the country would help as well.
Wilson Pondamali is a freelance investigative journalist and media activist who has worked in print and electronic media, both in government and privately owned media. He is the founding editor of a community newspaper Kabwe Bulletin and currently sits on the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zambia chapter) board as membership committee chairperson. He is also chairing this year’s MISA Zambia media awards to be hosted in May. He holds various qualifications from the University of Zambia, Zambia Institute of Mass Communication, Institute for Advancement of Journalism (South Africa), Cavendish University Zambia and Fojo Media Institute of Sweden.
24 February 2017
Dr Angela Merkel
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Subject: Your visit to Cairo, 2-3 March 2017, amidst clampdown on human rights in Egypt
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
CIVICUS speaks to Ana Correa, a member of the organising group of #NiUnaMenos, a movement that has held massive protests against gender-based violence in Argentina. Correa holds a master’s degree in international relations and is also a political communication consultant.
1. What are the origins and context of the recent protests against gender-based violence in Argentina?
The first big march against gender-based violence, which took place on 3 June 2015 under the banner #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less), was born out of a succession of femicides in Argentina. Every 30 hours, a woman was killed just for being a woman. The femicide of 14-year-old Chiara Páez in Rufino, Santa Fe province, unleashed a wave of indignation at what appeared to be a total lack of public reaction to the succession of crimes against women. People were already fed up, so the tweet published by journalist Marcela Ojeda fell on fertile ground. The tweet read: “Women: they are killing us. Are we not going to do anything?” At that point an organising group was formed with the aim of holding a great mobilisation event, a loud call for attention from the citizenry that forced political, social and media actors to react. We wanted to send a strong message and at the same time we imagined this as a “turning-point moment” regarding demands for women’s rights. If gender-based violence affected us all, then it was important for all of us to join forces in order to make ourselves heard.
Raising our voices was necessary to say “enough”. But also in order to shake society and the political class a bit, so they could see what the concrete actions were that they were failing at, be it by mistake, inaction or omission.
2. What was your role in the process leading to the mobilisation? How much spontaneity and how much organisation was involved?
I was part of the organising group for the 3 June mobilisation. I think there was some degree of spontaneity, but there was also a lot of organisational work.
From the beginning we set out to do something massive. We saw this as the only way our goals could be achieved. This could not be just another march. That’s why we took initiatives that were disruptive at the time: for instance, we sought the support of “celebrities”, women and men, so they could help us disseminate the call for mobilisation as far and wide as possible. Let’s keep in mind that we didn’t have any budget to do this, and we did not want to accept help from the very same sectors we were addressing our demands to. We needed allies in the mass media and support from both women and men. We did not ask for seniority credentials within feminist movements, although we obviously did in set some boundaries.
On the other hand, the political dimension was very important. It was an electoral year in Argentina and political forces were very polarised. Over the previous few years there had been virtually no mobilisation encompassing all sectors; there was always someone on the opposing side. So while we were disseminating the call for our big march, we met with representatives from political parties, the government and the judiciary to make our message clear: we are not protesting against anyone in particular; we just want you to do well in your job in combatting gender-based violence. Everything pointed in the same direction: towards the generation of a movement around the defence of women’s rights cutting across all political, social and cultural forces. We wanted to build a sort of great movement committed to women’s rights, which as such had to include representatives or sympathisers of all political parties defending these rights. As we noticed during the weeks leading up to the mobilisation, however, most political forces promoting a presidential candidate, be it male or female, actually lacked a gender policy proposal.
3. In light of the experience with #NiUnaMenos, what is the potential of social media in terms of protest organisation, and what are the limitations?
#NiUnaMenos has demonstrated the importance of social media when it comes to making a massive call and disseminating a message without the mediation of political and media structures. We know of the enormous efforts made by women who have participated in civil society organisations, and also in political parties, for many years. The former face the challenge of finding spaces to disseminate their message; the latter find difficulties in the very structures of politics. We have a female quota system for legislative seats, but not for decision-making positions within political parties. The voice of women on these matters is seldom heard. Social media does not replace activism of any kind. The woman who devotes most of her time to her work, inside and outside the home, without support structures or any help, has an important limitation when it comes to participating in organisations of any kind. Social networks allow for and activate another form of activism, which adds up to the traditional ones. What matters is to rattle structures and open participation to all women - to each one in a form that is attainable for them.
The logic of social media also helped a lot when putting out a message. We defined a hashtag, #NiUnaMenos, that was backed up by a document that was read at the end of the rally on 3 June 2015, and which was the result of much joint work within the organising group as well as with other organisations. But the motto that made our demand compelling was summed up in just three words.
4. What protest tactics have been adopted, and why?
After the first mobilisation, the rapid reaction allowed by social media to set an agenda, make claims and demand answers remained activated. But that was evidently not enough. During 2016 two important things happened. The first one was that, as the one-year anniversary of the first mobilisation approached, women throughout the country started to summon one another to march again. Just as the first march required total dedication to get organised, we saw with satisfaction that #NiUnaMenos now belonged to all. The date – June 3rd – was then instituted as #NiUnaMenos day. I believe that the best thing that can happen to this movement is for it to turn into something latent that can be appropriated by every person, male or female, who wants to see women’s rights respected.
The other important thing took place as a result of an atrocious crime. Lucía Pérez, a 16-year-old girl, was found tortured, impaled and murdered in the coastal city of Mar del Plata. There was almost no reaction from political and judicial actors. So much so that in those days, in the same city where the crime occurred, Mar del Plata, a big meeting – the IDEA Colloquium - was being held between businesspeople and representatives of the federal and provincial governments, and nobody there seemed to be aware of the brutal crime that had just happened again. It was as if they had become accustomed to these horrible things happening over and over. That’s when the decision was made to call for a Black Wednesday mobilisation and a women's strike for 19th October. On that afternoon it was pouring rain, but thousands upon thousands of women dressed in black marched through the city. It was necessary – again – to shake the apathy in the face of a new atrocity.
An International Women's Strike is now being prepared for 8 March. As its organisation is being coordinated with groups in other countries, not all the details are ready yet. But the idea is for the seed that was planted on 3 June 2015 to continue to grow. From the first march onwards, #NiUnaMenos mobilisations were replicated in various countries across the region, which then converged with other mobilisations that were taking place in European countries, and eventually with the Women’s March in the United States.
5. How were protests reported? Were there any negative media coverage or reactions to mobilization?
Media coverage was another important reason why we were concerned with closing the political “gap” between those supporting the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president at the time, and those opposing it. When organising the first march, we wanted to make sure that the media aligned with each sector would provide nonpartisan coverage of the march. And right after the demonstration, for the first time in years, the front pages of all Argentine print media highlighted the same event, our march, as the most important of the day. It was a historic moment in that sense too.
6. How did the authorities react to the protest?
At first there was distrust on the part of political actors. However we were so firm in making it clear that they were not allowed to appropriate the march for their own purposes, although it was imperative for all of them to support it, that there were only a few isolated attempts to co-opt the movement. And then, on the evening before the march, both the then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco, publicly (and independently from one another) gave their support for the mobilisation. We did not see this as a problem; on the contrary, the fact that the highest representatives of the State were acknowledging the protest was perceived as a step forward.
Elections however were close (presidential and legislative elections were both held in October that year), and during the weeks leading up to the march various candidates had begun to see it as an advantage to have their photo taken holding the #NiUnaMenos banner. We did see that as a contradiction: it was too easy for a legislator or a candidate to just take a selfie to attract the female vote. We needed something more from them, so we asked them that if they took their picture, then they also needed to sign a five-point commitment that they would work to eradicate sexist violence.
7. What impacts have been achieved to date, and what potential impacts do you see in the medium term ahead?
The main impacts were that women’s rights were placed on the agenda and that a state of constant alertness and mobilisation around these issues was achieved. There were also small but concrete steps forward, such as the judiciary launching the first Femicides Registry, the newly appointed president of the Council for Women presenting an action plan to eradicate gender-based violence, and an attempt to lower the Council’s budget being reversed, actually resulting in an increase. There is still a lot to do. We are convinced that we can only achieve our aims by remaining active in reaching out with our demands. And one of these definitely needs to be the implementation of the attention protocol for non-criminalised abortions – which applies in cases such as rape, foetal non-viability or danger to the pregnant woman’s life – and progress towards the legalisation of abortion in Argentina. In between, there is a huge agenda both in Argentina and in the region. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States we are already seeing setbacks at the global level that we would never have imagined. The only way to do something about this is to remain united, attentive and mobilised. And to keep exploiting our creativity so that we can achieve the required impact even if politics, the media and the circumstances are not on our side.
• Civic space in Argentina is rated as “narrowed” in the CIVICUS Monitor.
• Get in touch with #NiUnaMenos through their website or Ana Correa’s Facebook page, or follow @niunamenos_ and @anaecorrea on Twitter.
CIVICUS interviews a human rights defender from Eritrea, who speaks about the nature of the government and its complete disregard for fundamental human rights. The human rights defender asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.
1. What is the overall state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea?
Unlike in the neighbouring countries, the regime in Eritrea is unique and arguably has no match in the world. It is the most repressive regime in the world, ruling the country with no Constitution and national assembly. There is no political pluralism and no elections have been organised since independence. The ruling party exists only in name with most of its leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are either languishing in unknown detention centres or have abandoned the party. Since 1994 the party has never held any congress or elected new leadership. Hence power has been concentrated in the hands of a single man, President Issias Afwerki, who rules the country alone and as he wishes.
The absolute power he enjoys combined with his sadistic, cruel and arrogant character has driven him to the extreme. His regime violates every aspect of human rights and inflicts unbearable suffering on the Eritrean people. The regime has no regard for human rights and international law. Almost the entire population of Eritrea has been subjected to indefinite national service, forced labour and slavery. Families have disintegrated and societies destroyed by migration as citizens seek to escape the repression. Those who escape the country are exposed to human trafficking, hostage taking for ransom, torture and other inhumane treatment.
The regime has made Eritrea a closed and an isolated country with no independent and foreign media outlets; civil society activities are banned in Eritrea thus there are no local CSOs or international NGOs of any kind in the country. In addition, the report of the UN Commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in June 2016 revealed that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea by the Eritrean regime.
2. What is the state of the media?
Between 1997 to 2001 private press in the form of print media operated in Eritrea but this was under a restrictive legal domestic framework. There were eight private newspapers until September 2001. In 2001 senior government officials known as “G-15” demanded democratic reforms and the enforcement of the 1997 ratified Constitution. In September 2001, the government clamped down on 11 members of the “G-15” accusing them of treason and said they were a threat to national security. The government proceeded to close private newspapers and imprisoned 18 journalists for providing platforms to the “G-15” to express their views. Since then both the political prisoners and journalists have been held incommunicado in secret prison facilities without charges. Many of the journalists and writers are believed to have died in detention. In effect, since September 2001 no private media has existed in Eritrea. Only state-owned and state-operated media exists in the country. These include TV, radio, and print outlets.
Freedom of expression, exchange of information and communication in public places such as tea shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, bus terminals, offices, schools and colleges, public, social and religious events are closely monitored by spys working for the regime. Even people who are out of the country are afraid to express themselves publicly for fear of reprisals against their relatives at home in Eritrea. Journalists who work for public media outlets and manage escape still fear that their families back home will be targeted as the Eritrean government punishes family members because of association.
3. How does the compulsory national military service exacerbate human rights violations in Eritrea?
According to the National Service Proclamation of 1995, Eritreans are required to serve 18 months of national service which includes six months of military training and 12 months of service in the army and civil service. The proclamation notes that military service is compulsory for males and females who are between 18 to 40 years old. However, contrary to the national proclamation, in reality the national service is indefinite. Those who were recruited in the first round, for example in 1994 have not been released up to now. The whole productive section of the society has been locked up in the national service without any pay, proper feeding or clothing. Even children are recruited into national service. All students have to go to the military training camp of Sawa to do their final year of education in the secondary level and complete military training. Conditions there are very miserable. The national service recruits are treated worse than slaves. They are deprived of opportunities to start families and from undertaking economic activities. They are deprived of moving freely, expressing themselves and from practicing the religion of their choice. In addition, those who desert and evade national service are detained, tortured or fined. Also women are used as sex objects by the military officers and work as house maids or slaves to provide forced services to the officers.
4. Tell us about the failure of the government to implement the 1997 Constitution
The government does not have any desire to implement the 1997 Constitution. In May 1998, one year after the ratification of the Constitution, the Eritrean government ignited a border war with Ethiopia. It developed into a full-fledged conflict that came to end in 2000 after the loss of about 100 000 lives on both sides and huge damages to properties and a huge humanitarian crisis and displacement. The Algeris agreement ended the war and a border commission was formed to delineate and demarcate the border but the border has not yet been demarcated. A “no war and peace state” prevails now. Although there are no links between the border and the Constitution, the Eritrean government claims that it is not implementing the Constitution because the border has to be demarcated first.
5. What are three things that need to change for democracy to take root in Eritrea?
For democracy to take root in Eritrea: there needs to be
Ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America, activists and civil society are mobilising protests against the new establishment. CIVICUS speaks to Nicole Barner, an activist who works on economic justice and is based in Washington D.C. Barner will take part in some of the inauguration day protests.
CIVICUS asked Nibal Salloum, program manager at the Syrian peace-building organisation Nuon, about the situation for civil society in Syria and the challenges faced working in a conflict area. Nuon is a Syrian civil society organisation that works on peace building from a human rights approach in Southern Syria and with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
CIVICUS speaks to Ugandan independent blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire (pictured). She speaks on the situation for journalists in Uganda, freedom of expression in the country and the relationship between the media and civil society in the country
1. What is the operating environment at the moment in Uganda for the media?
The past year 2016 has been particularly bad for media. There were been a record number of attacks due to elections that were held in February 2016. It was the 31st year of the President, Yoweri Museveni, being in power so it was a high-stakes game. The environment was hostile as the president felt really challenged. Many journalists who tried to cover opposition leaders were intimidated, attacked, harassed, restricted and pepper-sprayed. Over 80 journalists were violated in that month only by the state. Over 100 journalists were attacked by the state during the elections. For example, a huge case of intimidation was when a television journalist was arrested while broadcasting live and the police did not realise they were “live” and the nation got see there was no legitimate reason for his arrest. So it was not an easy year. Also some cases of violations were not publicly reported.
2. Social media and the Internet were cut off on election day. What happened?
On the day of voting, Internet, social media and access to mobile money services were cut off. We were also cut off on the day of the counting of votes. A few people were able to connect using other means such as VPN. The reason for the cut off was that government said there was a “national emergency” but they did not explain to us what sort of an emergency. The general view of the public is that the election was so tight so they needed the cover of darkness to prevent people from sharing of results from polling stations. Rigging is never done at polling stations but at the tabulation of results. So where people are not connected they could not share results of individual stations. The poll was highly fraudulent so cutting off social media was also to prevent people from mobilising to protests and to kill any planning of uprisings against the government. So you control the mood of the public and kill expectations by not having social media. The results were in favour of the opposition then suddenly overnight the results changed.
3. How are you as online media treated by the authorities?
The government is realising the power of online media. It was an independent blogger who exposed ghost voters on the voters roll. And this had not been identified by journalists. In terms of covering protests, we have the problem covering opposition rallies. We are generally able to cover protests but the more government feels threatened by protest, the more difficult it is to cover protests. Such as a few years ago, an army commander told journalists that their safety would not be guaranteed if they attended a particular protest. So journalists know protection is not a given.
4. Are members of the public free to express themselves in media?
Despite the challenges we face of shrinking civic space, Ugandans like to talk. We are able to talk in the media. We have over 200 radio stations. If you tune in, you hear people speak their minds. Off course government targets specific people. Members of public speak to media freely on the streets if their opinion is asked for. Even during Idi Amin’s time, we still expressed ourselves even though it was underground. Government has set up media Crimes Unit and people know they are being monitored but people are not afraid and use their real names even online even though we know we are being watched and have that discomfort of being watched, we still speak. Sometimes people are cautious but generally we express ourselves freely. Academics are able to also express their opinion, even those working at state universities. Although sometimes there is self-censorship on some topics as some people prefer not to speak about security or military or things to do with the first family.
However, of concern, the Uganda government has made requests to Facebook to access certain accounts. One example is an account called TVO which does some exposès and commentary on government workings. One Ugandan Robert Shaka was arrested because government thought he is behind the account.
5. Are journalists able to protect their sources and whistle-blowers?
No we’ve not had public cases of intimidation of members of the media to reveal sources in 2016. Whistle blowing is generally weak in Uganda. You can get leaked stuff here and there but it’s not common. But media houses have been closed over coverage of security issues and the journalists and editors at heart of those stories face enormous pressure.
6. What is the state of investigative reporting of both the private and public sector?
Investigative journalism has gone low this year I think. There’s maybe sense of resignation affecting the media after the electoral outcome as the same regime has been in power for so long and maybe fear as well plays a part. I think we still have great in-depth stories on issues but newsrooms do not have dedicated investigative desks that are fully functional. Sometimes media ownership also affects how much a journalist can dig deep because owner interest may also mean the owner has a larger business empire to protect so journalists don’t want to bite the hand feeding them. The media owner may have a big empire with media being a small part of that empire that may have interests in hotels and so on, so the media has to support the rest of the owner’s business empire. Also advertising is a lifeline for media so there’s no in-depth questioning of big companies as the media wants the advertising revenue. So economic crimes go unreported unless if it’s a matter before parliament.
7. What is the impact of terrorism on the work of journalists?
Terror reporting is expected to be in praise of government only. We also now have anti-terror laws and the recent case of journalist Joy Biira being charged with abetting terrorism is one such case where these laws are being used. Using terrorism and treason charges as a way to stifle journalism is huge. Another journalist after the 2010 bombings, Timothy Kalyegira, faced criminal libel charges for presenting a different narrative on who was behind the bombings and role of government. Another journalist was also remanded on treason charges.
The arrest of KTN television journalist Joy Biira in November 2016 and being charged of abetting terrorism is ridiculous and shows how far government is willing to go to intimidate journalists perceived to show their military actions in Kasese in good light. The government was trying to control a narrative on the Kasese massacre and once photos of dead bodies were leaked it was upset. These charges cannot even hold in a court of law.
8. How far reaching is political influence over the media in Uganda? What drives this?
You will find that most media attention goes to politicians and the elite and less on ordinary poor people. From time to time we have allegations of journalists being on “payrolls” of rich people but this is also employed as a tactic to smear journalists. The other problem is some politicians or their friends own media especially radio stations so there is that bias. Nonetheless, many good journalists continue to stand above the political interests and do their work well to deliver news to millions of Ugandans.
9. What is the relationship between the media and civil society in Uganda? How can it be improved?
It’s a bit of a loose relationship. Media covers civil society activities but perhaps media and civil society do not always realise and appreciate we are fighting for the same goal most times ─ public accountability.
We can improve the relationship by highlighting the young and upcoming young people in civil society using social media who are fighting for democracy and accountability. We have to identify these good voices in civil society and make good coalitions with media. Civil society and media can work in coalition on certain causes. For example, in Uganda, in recent months an association of female lawyers highlighted cases of women in the flower industry being exposed to chemicals and being denied leave benefits. A couple of television stations and newspapers picked up on the issue and put a spotlight on this and were backed by civil society. The outcome looks good and it is still ongoing and the responsible ministers have put together a committee to investigate safety standards on flower farm workers. This is a great example of media and civil society working together to fight for those underprivileged in our society. We are a long way and need more such partnerships.
Follow Rosebelle on Twitter on @RosebellK and read her blog on https://rosebellkagumire.com/
Human rights defender Cyriaque Nibitegeka speaks to CIVICUS about Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and the implications for human rights and victims of human rights abuses. Nibitegeka is one of the leaders of civil society in Burundi. He is also a lawyer and member of the Burundi Bar. He was a professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Burundi before being dismissed for his human rights activities.
CIVICUS interviews Mathew Jacob on the restrictions on freedom of association and attacks on civil society in India including laws on foreign funding. Jacob is the National Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA). HRDA is a national platform of human rights defenders for human rights defenders. Mathew is also a PhD scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Since assuming power in May 2016 Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has embarked on a controversial campaign against drugs in which over 3 000 people have been killed over three months in extra judicial killings for allegedly being drug peddlers or users. CIVICUS speaks to Roselle Rasay of Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), the largest umbrella body of civil society organisations in the Philippines. She speaks on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and those speaking out against the drug war
1. What have been the main impacts of the president’s anti-drug campaign on human rights?
The anti-drug campaign is a blatant attack on human rights as the President himself is “encouraging” through his statements “vigilante” actions and for citizens to take up arms to kill drug pushers or users. The president has taken the side of the police being investigated for abuse in the anti-drug campaign; he also badmouths and undermines the Commission on Human Rights and other nations and institutions calling for investigations of blatant human rights violations in the ant-drug campaign. He also personally attacks and encourages, if not orchestrates, an all-out attack by his Justice Secretary and allies in Congress against Senator Leila de Lima who led the Senate investigations on this drug war, all to apparently silence or undermine the opposition. The majority of those being killed are from the poorest communities who may not even be drug users. There are very few big names being caught up in this save for a mayor who was killed after he voluntarily submitted himself for investigation because the authorities were looking for him. He was killed right at the jail. The impression was that he has knowledge of who else has knowledge on drugs matters.
2. How is civil society responding to these actions to try uphold rights?
While civil society is largely divided in their opinion or position on the matter, there are still some quarters that have mustered courage to go public and have denounced the excesses of the present administration. This is being done in various ways such as mobilisation and other actions against extra judicial killings. Several human rights groups and peace groups, have condemned the campaign, including my organisation CODE-NGO, by way of issuing statements in traditional and social media condemning the extra judicial killings that are related to the drug war being waged by the government. In social media though, these statements usually receive nasty responses from supporters of President Duterte, many of whom appear to be funded trolls. Lawyers taking up cases are also being attacked in this way.
The CODE-NGO general assembly recently passed a resolution calling on government arms ─ the legislative, the executive and the judiciary ─ to uphold human rights in this anti-drug campaign. Discussions are also ongoing among CSOs about providing orientation to their partner communities on how to protect themselves and assert their rights against house searches or arrests without warrants by the police.
3. Has civil society’s work to uphold rights provoked a backlash from the authorities?
Recently, the President said he will also kill human rights advocates if the campaign against drugs is stopped because of them and the illegal drug problem gets worse. The Commission on Human Rights is also being attacked by the President. There is apparent inaction by police authorities on reported cases of extra judicial killings with all of them being lumped into “deaths under investigation”.
4. How do human rights defenders feel? Are they becoming scared of speaking out?
There are no physical attacks on human rights defenders speaking against the killings in the government’s anti-drug campaign that we know of to date. However, at a community level the threats are creating fear because the police are going from house to house asking people to write their names and if they use drugs. Some people wouldn’t know what these forms mean. They just submit their data depending on the situation in the community. It creates trouble within some communities because neighbours would point to each other – some people in the community can also write down names of people they do not like. Some of those using drugs will point to others. Among CSOs, some are very much against it and are emboldened in their work and are very vocal about their sentiments about the campaign. Others do not openly express their disagreement of the campaign because they are careful not to jeopardise other advocacies they are working out with government, such as the peace talks, agrarian reform and others.
5. What do you think is the impact that CODE NGO has in improving the situation of civic space?
Over the years CODE-NGO has provided venues for civil society to clarify and understand the various social and political issues affecting a particular sector of our society and/or the country in general. This has not only provided an opportunity to enhance knowledge but more so to consolidate civil society forces and efforts to address issues concerning the environment by which they are able to do their work.
In the past, we have been successful in improving policies related to the regulation of CSOs and in improving the public image and public support for CSOs. However, it is too early to tell if CODE-NGO and other CSOs can successfully defend and promote civic space given the President’s pronouncements and actions. We certainly hope we can.
Currently, CODE-NGO is trying to engage specific persons or offices in government who could have the influence to improve civic space situation or are more open to listening to CSOs such as the Office of the Vice President, Department of Interior and Local Government and the Office of the Cabinet Secretary.
As a national association of CSOs in Philippines, a large part of our work is in strengthening capacities of CSOs in the Philippines in being effective in their work, creating accountability in public institutions and showing that we’re also accountable. That adds to our legitimacy and making sure government will listen to us if we are legitimate. We have also been part of several policy advocacy processes in the past supporting the creation of local resources for local CSOs. We are advocating for policies for a more enabling regulatory environment for civil society. Given the current context, it is still too early – only six months into the new presidency, to tell how these will all turn out. But we must think about future steps and be vigilant to make sure that civic space is not constricted.
6. What do you think are the main challenges you are facing as a CSO network in improving civic space conditions?
A challenge has always been relating with government because of politics – the difficulty in the Philippines is that we have very good laws but implementation is poor depending on who is the leader. The level of participation by CSOs in governance changes and varies with who is in power. So we must always be aware of political realities.
There is also little funding for advocacy work. It is widely acknowledged that CSO networks perform important convening, capacity-building and advocacy roles, but sadly, there is not much support for this kind of infrastructural work. Sustainability of CSOs and their work have been challenged, especially those doing human rights campaigns and advocacy. Some other CSOs would have better access because they give very direct products and service. But it is difficult for advocacy groups and networks who focus on coalition building and capacity building of local CSOs; there is not much support for that kind of work.
7. What other challenges do civil society organisations and human rights defenders face in the country?
We have seen gains in the past years of opening up civic space. In the previous administration, there was a generally friendly environment for civil society. Currently, the environment is still quite open because we still have open media. There is no apparent suppression – the gains of fighting for democracy has not been affected. Although there is a feeling of creeping reintroduction of authoritarianism. While it is very open and safe, we’re worried that the space is constricting and can soon get tight.
Currently, it is still easy to register a CSO and run one. Cost-wise the fees are very low for setting up an organisation. Registering authorities require very basic documents. However, more recently, there have been stricter guidelines about CSOs accessing government funds, although very few CSOs actually access that money. The government made it stricter by requiring additional accreditation. These factors restrict the work of CSOs a bit. But this is not because of President Duterte. It was a policy from 2013 as a reaction of government to fake NGOs accessing the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or ‘pork barrel’ funds and implementing ghost projects. But we thought making CSO accreditation tougher after the PDAF scam was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of government; the scam came about so that some legislators and government officials could dip their hands into government’s coffers through these fake NGOs.
8. What could the international community and international civil society do to support civil society in the Philippines?
Statements of solidarity with local CSOs; independent investigations; support for human rights activists and sharing of successful campaigning models would be important.
On the attacks on human rights activists, solidarity messages from the rest of civil society from all over the world would be of help. Exchanges on campaigning, tips on how we can improve online campaigning would be useful because while CSOs have been quite active and able to advocate for policies, we’re worried about the changing environment and would like to learn how others have been successful in their campaigns.
Roselle Rasay is the Deputy Executive Director at Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO). CODE-NGO is the largest coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) working for social development in the Philippines, with its six national networks and six sub-national networks representing more than 1 600 development NGOs, people’s organisations and cooperatives nationwide. Contact CODE-NGO on their Facebook page or visit their website and follow them on Twitter @CODE_NGO
CIVICUS speaks to Angela Mudukuti about South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, the implications for human rights and justice and the work which the Southern Africa Litigation Centre is doing on this issue. Angela is a lawyer with the International Justice Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. Angela is involved in advocacy around international criminal justice issues and strategic litigation, including taking the South African government to court for failure to arrest President Bashir of Sudan
1. What do you think motivated South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
The state seems to advance a number of misplaced excuses for withdrawal in its legal papers and media statements. This includes the allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa, which is of course unfounded as evidenced by the number of self-referrals and the fact that the ICC has preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Iraq for example. The state also alleges that its commitments to the Rome Statute are a hindrance to peace and security efforts in Africa yet this too does not make any sense as South Africa has been engaged in peace and security initiatives for several years “despite” the obligations in terms of the Rome Statute. South Africa signed the Rome Statute in 1998 and ratified it in 2000 and not once has the Rome Statute been raised as a hindrance to peace-keeping efforts. It is only since the arrival of President Omar Al Bashir in 2015 that South Africa has had problems with the ICC. Thus it cannot really be about peace-keeping as South Africa does not have to host suspected perpetrators in South Africa to successfully conduct peace-keeping activities. They have been involved in mediation efforts since former President Thabo Mbeki’s time and not once have they needed to host President Bashir in South Africa. In fact they explicitly declined to do so in 2009 when President Bashir was expected to attend the 2009 inauguration of President Jacob Zuma. It was made publically clear that President Bashir would be arrested if he came to South Africa and as such he did not come to South Africa in 2009.
The arguments of the state seem to be labouring under the misconception that withdrawal will allow them to host President Bashir, yet as made clear by article 127 of the Rome Statute, the obligations of state party do not evaporate because it decides to leave the Rome Statute, thus South Africa is still duty bound to arrest President Bashir for as long as he is wanted by the ICC. The state has failed to provide justifiable and reasonable excuses for leaving the Rome Statute thus the only plausible explanation was an unfortunate political explanation that only the government itself could provide.
2. What do you think is motivating the antipathy of several African states towards the ICC?
The allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa is the main reason advanced by a number of African leaders. Yet as described above this is not factually accurate. In addition to the fact that this is because of a lack of understanding about the jurisdictional limits of the Court it is also an excuse that is conveniently used by politicians to further their political agenda instead of prioritising justice, accountability and the victims of international crimes. While the ICC is not a perfect institution, it requires support and critical yet constructive engagement from member states.
3. What are the likely implications on human rights and justice for victims of human rights violations?
South Africa leaving the ICC will have serious implications for justice and human rights. It sends the wrong message to the victims of crimes. It also shows that South Africa has chosen to support impunity given its failure to arrest President Bashir and the fact that they seek to abandon the only permanent international criminal court instead of constructively engaging with it. South Africa could potentially become a safe haven for suspected perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the government seeks to repeal the Implementation Act which domesticates the Rome Statute and includes a provision on universal jurisdiction. Should the Implementation Act be repealed a lacuna will be created which could be exploited by potential perpetrators of heinous crimes. In addition, if justice fails at the domestic level, there is no African Court with criminal jurisdiction and if South Africa successfully leaves the ICC, there will be no justice at the international level either. This creates an untenable situation which will leave the victims with nowhere to turn.
4. How is civil society in South Africa responding to the withdrawal?
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is actively involved in legally challenging the constitutionality of South Africa’s notice of withdrawal. The matter was heard in the High Court on December 5 and 6 and the court reserved judgment. SALC will also continue with advocacy to raise awareness and sensitise the general public on the importance of supporting international criminal justice as the move to repeal the Implementation Act should go through the parliamentary process which also includes a process of public participation. Hence it is vital that the general public understand the importance of supporting international criminal justice. Civil society is also actively supporting the development and improvement of domestic justice mechanism as the ICC was designed as a court of last resort and will only function as such if domestic systems are willing and able to deal with international crimes. Though the Rome Statute does not recognise regional courts, civil society are actively seeking to promote credible, impartial regional courts that will not provide immunity for heads of state or senior government officials as we see justice as a three-layer system where each layer functions in a complementary fashion.
5. What are three things South Africans need to know about the ICC as an institution of justice for victims of human rights violations?
a) South Africans need to know that the ICC is an impartial and independent court with limited jurisdiction.
b) They should also know that without the support of the African states, the court may not have come into existence in the first place and thus it is more constructive to work towards improving the ICC instead of simply abandoning it.
c) South Africans should also know that regionally there is no African court with criminal jurisdiction and thus if domestic justice fails it is the ordinary citizens who will have no access to justice.
Visit the Southern Africa Litigation website - http://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/
To commemorate International Human Rights Day, CIVICUS speaks to the Chair of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) - Advocate Faith Pansy Tlakula about the state of human rights in Africa. Advocate Tlakula is also the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
1. What in your view is the current state of human rights in Africa as we celebrate Human Rights Day?
The African continent has made progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, many countries hold regular elections and cases of peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leader after an election are increasing. The Gambia is the most recent example. Progress has also been made in areas such as the adoption of laws to criminalize torture, adoption of Access to Information laws, the abolition of the death penalty, with an increase in the number of countries observing a moratorium on the death penalty to give a few examples. Despite these positive developments, challenges remain. These include terrorism and violent extremism in a few countries, continued conflict and acts of armed groups in others which have had a detrimental effect on civilians. There are also cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition, violent protests and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies during peaceful protests and violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation.
2. Do women face the same human rights challenges as men and why?
Yes they do due to the patriarchal nature and continuing gender stereotypes in African societies. Although a number of countries have adopted legislative and other measures to advance the rights of women, the effective implementation of these measures remains a challenge, particularly in areas such as the economic empowerment of women, access to land, female genital mutilation, to mention a few.
3. What are some of the successes resulting from the ACHPR’s interventions in Africa?
We have witnessed the adoption of laws to criminalize child marriage, the recognition of the rights of indigenous populations in Africa, observation of a moratorium on the death penalty and the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in a number of countries. We have also experienced the opening of spaces for dialogue on sexual orientation, irrespective of the difficulty of the dialogue, the initiation, drafting and submission to the African Union for consideration of draft human rights instruments such as the draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the draft Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the draft Protocol on Specific Aspects of the Right to Nationality in Africa.
4. What is the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa?
Although the situation of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa is steadily improving in that there is an increase in the number of countries with Access to Information laws and a decrease in the number of murders of journalists, challenges remain. Very few countries have decriminalized laws that limit freedom of expression such as criminal defamation, insult laws, publication of false news and continue to use these laws to prosecute and harass journalists. The jamming of internet signals and the blocking of social media in the run up to and during elections and demonstrations in the name of protection of national security is a worrying and increasing trend on the continent.
5. Do you think civil society has engaged the ACHPR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adequately?
I believe so. The ACHPR in general and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa in particular would not have achieved what it has without the support of and engagement with civil society organizations. For example, CSO's have provided technical and other support to the Commission and its Special Mechanism in drafting standard setting documents such as the Model law on Access to Information in Africa, Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa, General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 .1 (a), (b) and (f) and Article 14.2 (a) i (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to mention a few.
6. What message to you have for Africans on this human rights day?
One of the paragraphs in the Preamble of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights recognizes freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples. We should always draw inspiration from these powerful words in our quest to improve the situation of human rights on our beloved continent.
To read this in Portugese, click here.
In this anonymous interview, CIVICUS speaks to a civil society activist in Mozambique concerning the environment for civil society and human rights defenders in the country. There is growing concern that killings and acts of intimidation against critical voices often go unpunished.
CIVICUS speaks to Asep Komarudin (pictured) of Legal Aid Institute for the Press concerning the cyber bullying amendment that was recently made to the Electronic Information and Transactions Bill. Human rights activists have complained that the amendment is being used to target them. Asep Komarudin also speaks of the impact of the law on LGBTI activists in the country.
Q: Please detail briefly the Electronic Information and Transactions cyber-bullying amendment
In 2008 the Indonesian government enacted a law related to the use of information technology, the Information and Electronic Transactions Act. The writing of this law began in 2003. In the process of formulation, two drafts were generated, namely the Utilization of Information Technology Bill and the Electronic Information and Electronic Transaction Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to respond to the development of information technology, which has implications in particular to the dimensions of the economy and trade, both nationally and globally. From March 2003, the Ministry of Communications and Information began designing the Information and Electronic Transactions Bill which was a broad spectrum law to regulate cyberspace in Indonesia. This Bill regulates the legality of electronic documents and signatures, the institutionalisation of electronic systems and the implementation of electronic certification, electronic transactions, domain names, intellectual property rights, and protection of the right to privacy among other issues.
Unfortunately, once it was enacted, this legislation caused much controversy. Problems with the Act include lack of recognition and protection of information, documents, signatures and electronic transactions, and a failure to deal with criminal threats online. There have also been problems raised in relation to Internet content and the threat to punish by defamation, the spread of hatred using the internet. The way provisions of the law have been set out is such that they are open to multiple interpretations and have serious implications in political and social life in Indonesia. There are also problems with the provision of cyber bullying in this law.
Q: What do you believe are the state’s real motivations in introducing the amendment?
At first our organisation, LBH Pers, and some other institutions filed a request for a judicial review to the Constitutional Court in 2009 after the Act was passed because parts of the law are problematic and would criminalise citizens on the Internet who criticise the government. This is especially the case with social media. Article 27 paragraph 3 of the law says insult and defamation on the Internet can result in an imprisonment of up to six years.
However, the judicial review application was rejected by the Constitutional Court which considered that article to be necessary because, the Internet distributes information very rapidly and is different to defaming someone offline. Then LBH Pers and other institutions continued to campaign on the dangers of the article arguing that it is in need of revision. There has been an increase in the number of ordinary people, activists and bloggers being prosecuted under the aforementioned article. Until now, more than 200 people have been charged and 90% of those laying charges are public officials or other people with power.
Later, the government agreed to revise the provision and lowered the possible sentence from six to four years but has refused to delete that article entirely. In early 2015, the government put a draft revision of the law to parliament with not too many substantive changes and these were ratified on October 27, 2016. It however also added several chapters that previously did not exist in the preliminary draft. We reject the draft revision proposed by the government as it does not answer the problems we raised and we also criticise the discussion process in parliament because it was not an open process and was very difficult to monitor.
Q: Can you explain what is of concern to civil society in the new cyber-bullying amendment
Cyber bullying as stipulated in Article 29 paragraph (4) is not well spelt out or defined. This has led to the misinterpretation and arbitrary use of “cyber-bullying” as a crime. Because there is no standard definition of cyber-bullying, even of bullying alone in other legal instruments, then the formula that is used to define cyber-bullying is flexible and results in a lot of interpretations leading to it becoming a “multipurpose Act” to suit any situation.
In such conditions, this criminal offence of cyber-bullying is prone to be misused by the enforcement authorities. This has opened a gap for the suppression of freedom of expression in cyberspace in Indonesia.
Q: Has there been any collaboration between civil society and the private sector concerning the cyber bullying amendment
Currently, there has been no collaboration between civil society and the private sector on cyber-bullying because this provision is entirely new. For now we can see that the bullying provision is not being used to protect children and teenage internet users or the general public but is only used to target civil society groups.
Q: What are the limitations in general that hinder Freedom of Expression in Indonesia?
In the context of internet regulation in Indonesia, the amendment law makes main reference to the regulation of internet content, although it must be admitted the regulation is still very limited. Content that is prohibited by the provisions of the law includes content believed to violate decency; content containing gambling; content containing insult and / or defamation; content that contains elements of extortion and / or constitutes threats and; content that spreads false news, causing loss of customers. Pornographic products are also prohibited on the basis of preserving public morals, public order, public security and the rights and reputations of others.
In general, the government can restrict content on the internet with a view to protecting the public interest and barring information deemed to disturb public order. However, there is no clarity on how rules will be enforced concerning such restrictions. We also found there is no discussion about the implications of restrictions in pertaining to the limitation of human rights. In addition, there is another problem of too broad a definition of what constitutes pornography, so it is an open space for the violation of the right to freedom of expression.
LBH Pers therefore holds that the amendment is a potential threat to freedom of expression. The criminal provisions of the law can be multi-interpreted and easily misused. Reducing the sentence for these, as done by the amendment, will not resolve the root of the problem.
The procedure to block the access to internet content is so easy and basic and may result in excessive abuse and misuse by the government.
The provision on the right to be forgotten on the internet, although welcome, also causes a problem in that government officials may want to censor and block out old news of their misdeeds of their past for political expediency.
Q: Lately there has been an increased attack on LGBTI activists and rights. What is the effect of this law amendment for LGBTI activists?
There are many problems posed by the amendment to the law including restrictions on human rights, particularly the criminal insult and defamation provisions.
There is also a problem concerning supervision of Internet content which has also has resulted in the blocking and filtering of certain webistes being done arbitrarily. There is no regulation on the procedure to be followed regarding blocking and filtering internet content. So we see a violation on the right to information, freedom of opinion and expression. Blocking is mainly supposed to be directed against the sites that are considered to have pornographic elements of content. However, in practice, some sites of organisations that fight for the rights of LGBTI persons, whose service was not intended to provide pornographic content, are getting caught up in this. Abuse of power is wide open when it comes to blocking and filtering internet content due to the absence of strict rules that guarantee and ensure transparency and accountability in the process.
Blocking and filtering was experienced by the site of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC.org), in February 2012. At least three service providers Indosat, Telkomsel and Lintas Arta are blocking such sites. In response to these actions, the human rights organisation in Indonesia sent a letter formally objecting to this practise. This letter was followed by unblocking by the three operators. A similar case was experienced by the site of the organisation fighting for the rights of LGBTI people, Our Voice, in April 2013. Our Voice (ourvoice.or.id) is blocked by one internet service provider in Indonesia (XL), so they are not accessible to the public. In addition to XL, other providers such as Indosat, 3, Axis and Smartfren are also suspected of participating in the blocking of the site. It is most likely that the blocking of websites that fight for LGBTI sexual rights in Indonesia is closely related to the use of words in block letters, such as “gay” or “lesbian”, which in Indonesia tend to be defined as deviant sexual behaviour.
Indonesia is listed in the 'obstructed' category of the CIVICUS Monitor.
CIVICUS spoke to a civil society leader based in Juba, South Sudan about why the government threatened and prevented human rights defenders from travelling to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for reviews on South Sudan and the general state of human rights and media freedoms in the country five years after the country became independent. The activist requested to remain anonymous for security purposes.
1. How and why did the authorities prevent human rights defenders from travelling to the UNHRC to participate in pre-Universal Periodic Review sessions?
The actions of government against civil society activists and human rights defenders have forced many to leave the country and abandon their participation in the UPR-pre sessions. After testifying in a meeting organised by the visiting United Nations Security Council delegation in Juba, the national security agents blacklisted all those who spoke about the human right situation in the country including those that called for justice and the need to expedite the establishment of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan. One activist was killed the next morning; others were being sought after while those who were fortunate managed to escape to neighboring countries. Just as the government tries to deny the flow of information on South Sudan they are quite aware that the pre-session would provide a platform to expose the unabated human right situation and probably demand for international intervention. Members of civil society whose invitations were leaked to the security agents received anonymous calls threatening to deny them return to South Sudan if they dare attended the UPR-pre session. Phone tapping of human rights defenders including accusing certain civil society organisation leaders of being collaborators with rebel groups is being commonly used to undermine the work of civil society.
Vice-President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), Penelope Faulkner, speaks to CIVICUS about the current challenges faced by civil society in Vietnam and the role of international solidarity networks in supporting the creation of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.
On 22 March 2016, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe (pictured), chairperson of the, Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) was assassinated at his home by two assailants who shot him eight times in the head. ACC, a South African community organisation has been subjected to sustained harassment from local authorities and a mining company, for its campaign to oppose titanium mining on the ancestral land of local communities in the pristine Eastern Cape Province. Prior to the assassination, Rhadebe had contacted other members of the organisation warning them of a hit list that his name was on. CIVICUS speaks to Mzamo Dlamini, deputy chairperson of the ACC.
1. Tell us more about the late Sikhosiphi Rhadebe
Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was born in 1965 to a very poor family. He only attended junior school and did not complete senior schooling. Around 1995 he went to Johannesburg to work as a labourer in a gold mine. He saved a bit of money and soon returned to Xolobeni and opened a small shop. Soon after he bought a van that he used to stock the shop, and also as a taxi for extra income. He was very hardworking and did not have the means to employ a driver so he drove the taxi himself. He was also a good mechanic and could fix broken down vehicles which allowed him an extra income. So he was a businessman and over the years his business grew and he had about 10-15 taxis and a scrapyard for repairing vehicles. He loved his family and his community. He was well-known for his friendliness.
CIVICUS speaks to Betre Yacob Getahun a journalist, writer, and human rights advocate and the founder and president of Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF). Getahun is also a co-author of Nipo Nipo Tu, a book which discusses the human rights and humanitarian problems in Ethiopia. He is exiled from Ethiopia after receiving several threats for his work.
1. Tell us about the Ethiopian Journalists Forum
The Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF) is an independent journalist association founded in January 2014. It was established by 40 journalists concerned about the deteriorating state of press freedom and freedom of speech in the country. And its objective was to protect the rights of journalists and promote freedom of speech and of the press.
Ethiopia is a repressive nation where no independent journalist associations exist. Those associations established earlier in the name of journalists are aligned with the government and are doing nothing for journalists.
Read the interview in Spanish.
José De Echave, co-founder of CooperAcción speaks to CIVICUS about the many challenges faced by civil society and disadvantaged populations in Peru from the activities of extractive industries. CooperAcción is a Peruvian civil society organisation that since 1997 promotes knowledge and exercise of social, environmental, political, cultural and economic rights; as well as a gender and intercultural approach to sustainable land management.
1. Can you tell us about the events in Tia Maria that have led to a Presidential decree suspending the constitutional rights for 60 days?
What is happening in the region of Tía María is an attempt by the Peruvian government and the Southern Copper company to impose a mining project on the people that has already been rejected by the vast majority of the population. The opposition is not new. It is something that had already emerged during the previous government, where there was public consultation, mobilization, and postponement of the project. Thus, this is a conflict that was waiting to happen.
Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia speaks to CIVICUS about civic space challenges in her country. The Human Rights Law Centre protects and promotes human rights in Australia and in Australian activities overseas through legal action, advocacy, research and capacity building.
1. How would you describe the state of civic space and the environment for civil society in Australia today?
In Australia there is a widening discrepancy between the government’s purported support for “freedoms” and the reality of laws and practices that stifle free speech, association and peaceful assembly.
For civil society, it has become more risky, and sometimes even unlawful, to publicly scrutinise or discuss some government action or to protest against the activities of vested corporate interests. Governments have introduced measures to stifle, silence and intimidate dissenting voices, to threaten whistle-blowers with prosecution, to restrict peaceful protest and assembly, and to diminish the advocacy potential of non-government organisations by imposing funding pressures.
Australia’s actions at home are inconsistent with our international rhetoric. Australia co-sponsored the 2013 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. That resolution recognised the critical importance of civil society organisations to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Mohamed Lofty of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) speaks to CIVICUS about the travel ban imposed on him on 2nd of June 2015 while he was travelling to Germany to conduct a series of advocacy visits parallel to President Al-Sisi’s visit. He highlights the challenges of being a human rights defender in Egypt’s repressed political environment.
Can you please tell us what happened on 2nd of June while you were travelling to Germany? What was the purpose of your trip?
On 2nd of June 2015, the police at the Cairo International Airport stopped me at passport control for 3 hours. I was presented to an officer in plain clothes whom I believe works for the National Security. During our interaction, he informed me that I won’t be able to board my flight due to “security reasons.” As I was in shock, I told the police officer that this is the first time I am experiencing such an incident. The response I got from the police officer was “God willing, this will be the last time.”
When I tried to figure out if I was actually on the travel ban list, the officer told me I will get more information in due time. I was also informed that I will receive an explanation later when the officers return my passport. The man in plain clothes also did not provide me any information about which government office he works for. When I raised this question with the police officer I merely received the response, “you will know in due time.” The officer asked me about my phone number, my home address which I provided to him. I was also inquired about my dual (Swiss) nationality.
Emina Nuredinoska (left) of the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation and Tanja Hafner Ademi (right) of the Balkan Civil Society Development Network speak to CIVICUS about ongoing protests against the Government and the current state of civil society in Macedonia.
Savaş Metin, the General Secretary of Kimse Yok Mu Association (KYM) in Turkey, speaks to CIVICUS about the ongoing judicial harassment of their organization and the Turkish government’s systematic crackdown on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Turkey.
1) How would you describe the overall operating environment for CSOs in Turkey? Can you please elaborate on current main challenges?
The number of civil society organizations has significantly increased in Turkey since the 2000s due to a series of legal reforms in line with EU accession plans and growing awareness of the role of CSOs in the democratization processes and in addressing humanitarian challenges. However, over the past few years there has been a backlash against many of the reforms which aimed to create a more enabling environment for CSOs. Sadly, the operating environment for CSOs has shrunk dramatically.
It must be noted that the current legal framework regulating fundraising activities for CSOs imposes a number of debilitating requirements through Law No. 2860: The Law on Collection of Aid. It is not clear to us why Turkey needs such a heavy handed legal framework for collecting donations when there is already the Turkish Penal Code that can be used to punish individuals who illegally utilize funds.
Abdel-Rahman El Mahdi, Director of the Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), speaks to CIVICUS about escalating restrictions on civil society and the prospect of engaging in a multi-stakeholder national dialogue to address pressing human rights issues in Sudan.
Ravi Nitesh of the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC) speaks to CIVICUS about the vicious cycle of judicial harassment Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila faces merely due to her peaceful resistance to India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, (AFSPA).
1. Can you tell us what AFSPA is, and how it has affected civic freedoms in India?
AFSPA is a special law passed by the Indian Parliament in 1958. It provides extraordinary powers to the armed forces in 'disturbed areas'. Currently, AFSPA is predominantly exercised in Jammu and Kashmir but is imposed in all 8 states of northeastern India except Sikkim.
AFSPA has not only negatively affected civic freedoms, but has also resulted in large scale, grave human rights violations, and has been detrimental to democracy in North East India. Of critical concern are the overly broad and extraordinary powers granted to security officials through AFSPA including the right to kill on mere suspicion of a disturbance of “public order”. Moreover, AFSPA grants impunity to armed forces as no charges can be brought against any security personal without the approval of the central government.
Over the past years, human rights organisations have documented incidents of murder, rape, looting, custodial killings and enforced disappearances by India’s security forces involved in counter-insurgency operations. Unfortunately, our understanding is that the judicial system as well as the security apparatus of the state is very well aware of the violations committed under AFSPA, but fail to undertake the necessary measures to address ongoing violations. The lack of accountability with the use of excessive force under AFSPA by security forces remains a glaring problem.
AFSPA is spreading a culture of fear and intimidation in North-East India, and its psychological affects on the local community are injurious. The presence of AFSPA is a major obstacle to expressing dissent, as a lot of human rights defenders are afraid of losing their life if they are engaged in any kind of advocacy calling for the repeal of the law.
Hussein Magdy of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) speaks to CIVICUS about how Egyptian civil society is dismayed at the ongoing crackdown on fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by Egypt’s national and international human rights obligations.
1. Given the intensified crackdown on peaceful dissent in Egypt, what are some current challenges faced by Egyptian civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) today?
Currently the overall operating environment for civil society in Egypt is dire. The current regime exercises full control over political liberties enjoyed in the public sphere and orchestrates an intensified crackdown on CSOs and HRDs. The authorities have institutionalized arbitrary restrictions on civil society operations by proposing legal provisions that contradict Egypt’s international human rights obligations. In the past months there have also been a considerable number of cases where authorities have threatened to close down CSOs. They have also issued harsh prison sentences and pecuniary fines on HRDs for their peaceful advocacy activities. In its current state, it is fair to say that Egyptian civil society is going through a severe human rights crisis.
Soliyana Gebremichael, founding member of the Zone9 bloggers collective and Coordinator of the Ethiopian Human Right Project, speaks to CIVICUS about the Ethiopian government's ongoing persecution of civil society and independent media in the run-up to general elections scheduled for May 2015.
1) Six members of the Zone9 Bloggers collective were imprisoned last April. Can you tell us why you believe they were arrested and share any recent developments in the case?
With nearly 20 journalists behind bars, Ethiopia maintains one of the most repressive environments in the world for freedom of expression. The arrest of six Zone9 Bloggers and three journalists in April 2014 is unquestionably symptomatic of the government’s growing intolerance of dissenting voices in the run-up to general elections scheduled for May 2015. Zone9, which was established nearly three years ago by a group of young, concerned activists in Ethiopia, was targeted in large part because we were mobilizing youth online to demand the rights endowed to us under the constitution.
During our first year, we operated largely unencumbered. However, the year preceding the arrest of the Zone9 bloggers was marked by routine harassment, including online surveillance and active monitoring and intimidation by security officers.
CIVICUS speaks to Ms. Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), about ongoing restrictions on civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Cambodia since general elections held in 2013.
1. Following contested general elections in July 2013 the government appeared to escalate repression of critical voices. How would you describe the overall environment for independent civil society in Cambodia today?
The overall environment for civil society in Cambodia remains critical, especially for grassroots organizations that work in the provinces. Throughout Cambodia, NGO representatives, human rights defenders and other activists continue to be threatened and harassed by local authorities and private security guards as a result of their work. Judicial harassment, including through the misuse of criminal charges as well as the abuse of provisional detention, also remains a serious concern and a challenge for independent civil society in Cambodia.
Turgut Gambar, founding member of NIDA Civic Movement, speaks to CIVICUS about the growing restrictions on civil society in Azerbaijan and the government’s ongoing judicial harassment of activists. NIDA supports democraticisation through non-violent means and is comprised of 400 members, many of whom are young individuals. Recently, nine members of NIDA were arrested on politically motivated charges.
The crackdown on independent dissent and human rights activism appears to have escalated in Azerbaijan in recent months. Can you give us a brief overview of the recent legislative and extra-legal restrictions imposed on activists and civil society in the country?
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has been problematic since the current regime came to power in the country in 2003. But the latest crackdown, which began in 2013 and has dramatically escalated in recent months, has been unprecedented in its magnitude and scope. Scores of people from different politically and socially active groups, including youth activists, political party leaders and members, NGO leaders, religious activists, journalists and bloggers have been subject to imprisonment and harassment. In addition to the escalating persecution of activists, the authorities have also adopted a number of restrictive laws to regulate the activities of NGOs.
Qamar Naseem of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN) speaks to CIVICUS about growing restrictions imposed on civil society organisations and the Pakistani government’s attempts to curb access to funding from international sources. Qamar is the recipient of the prestigious ‘No Peace without Justice’ Human Rights Award in 2014 and his work mostly focuses on advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan. He is also the co-chair of End Violence against Women and Girl Alliance (EVAW/KP and FATA).
1. Tell us about the controversial draft Foreign Contribution Act, 2014. How will its enactment affect civil society organizations in Pakistan?
In February 2014, The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) issued the draft Foreign Contributions Act, 2014 (FCA) under the chairmanship of the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Mr. Zahid Hamid. If enacted, the FCA will require CSOs to obtain prior government permission to utilize foreign funding. The proposed law will also require CSOs to use foreign funding only for the purposes or in locations permitted by the government.
Even though FCA is pending parliamentary review, in the interim the “Policy for Regulation of Organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions” approved by the ECC in November 2013 regulates and severely restricts the ability to seek, receive and utilize foreign funding.
Prominent Bangladeshi civil society activist and Secretary of Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan, speaks to CIVICUS about growing restriction on civil society in Bangladesh and his continued judicial harassment under the Cyber Crimes Tribunal.
1. Today marks one year since you and your colleague Mr ASM Nasiruddin Elan were charged with violating the widely contested Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act. Can you tell us why you believe these charges were brought against you and where the case stands today?
On June 11th 2013, our organisation Odhikar published a fact finding report documenting the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces which began in the capital, Dhaka at 2:00am on May 5th 2013. After this ‘operation’ the government only reported 11 fatal casualties during the two day demonstration.
Odhikar carried out its own fact finding mission after the incident and documented 61 deaths. When the Ministry of Information requested the names and addresses of the families of those killed, Odhikar, fearing state reprisals against the victims’ families, 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. At 10:20 pm on the night of August 10, 2013, I was picked up by men outside my home claiming to be from the Detective Branch of Police (DB) but they did not produce any identification or a warrant. Later, at the Detective Branches’ office, I was questioned about the fact-finding report, the list of deceased victims and Odhikar’s human rights defenders. I was sent to Kashimpur Jail-1 from DB remand on 13 August 2013, while my colleague Elan was sent to Kashimpur Jail-2 after he surrendered before the court in November 2013.