Elections test Africa’s democracy

By David Kode,  advocacy and campaigns lead for CIVICUS

Once again, the state of democracy on the continent will be tested as millions of Africans go to the polls this year to decide who will lead them for the next few years. The recent ruling by the Constitutional Court in Malawi annulling the results of the disputed 2019 presidential elections may offer a ray of hope to many of those who will be voting in 2020, in that the judiciary can be a final arbiter when there is evidence of electoral malpractice.

Read on: Mail & Guardian


Smeared and vilified by Duterte, activists in the Philippines are fighting back

By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

One tactic that CIVICUS has seen increasingly being used by the government to target activists and NGOs is to label them as “terrorists” or “communist fronts”, particularly those who have been critical of Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Such a process, known as “red-tagging” in the Philippines, often puts activists at grave risk of being targeted by the state and pro-government militias.

Undermining groups that are critical of the government has had serious repercussions in the Philippines. In June 2019 four left-wing activists died in a spate of killings perpetrated by unidentified gunmen. Prior to that, government officials had accused leftist groups that operate openly and legally of being “communists”. No one has been brought to justice for these killings.

Read on: New Naratif


Alpha Condé wants a third term in Guinea. The AU must stop him

By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead 

President Ramaphosa and the AU have a crucial role in aiding the continuation of Guinea's democracy. Guinea’s nascent democracy hangs in the balance as current President Alpha Condé’s resolve to defy the constitution and stand for a third term in office threatens to plunge the country into violence. Under the current constitution, President Conde is only allowed to serve two five-year terms. The only way he can change the presidential limit is through a new constitution, which requires a referendum.

Read on: The Africa Report 


The Republic at 71: faced with an unbending government, Indians continue to speak out

By Lysa John Berna, Secretary-General of CIVICUS and Mandeep Singh Tiwana Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

A respected woman social activist and political leader beaten and kicked in the stomach at a police station for recording a public protest. A human rights lawyer arbitrarily detained and given electric shocks by police officers. A journalist covering public demonstrations for a prominent national newspaper taken to a police station, subjected to obscene slurs by the police while witnessing a social activist being badly beaten-up.

Police stand by as an organised mob of masked goons attack students of a premier Left-leaning university in the dead of the night. Blanket institution of highly questionable criminal cases, indiscriminate arrests, caning and use of live ammunition with lethal effect on protestors. This is not the image of their country that Indians at home and abroad want to project to the world.

Read on: The Wire


Counter-terrorism laws provide a smokescreen for civil society restrictions

By Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva Office at CIVICUS

In all regions of the world, spontaneous people’s movements are demanding better governance, rule of law and justice. At this very moment, concerned citizens are coming out in the streets of Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong, and Egypt, among others. Yet, as more and more people seek to exercise their democratic rights, arbitrary detentions and crackdowns—including the use of unjustified and often lethal force against dissenters and protesters—are quickly being normalized from Russia to Rwanda.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an index of civic freedoms in 196 countries, shows that only 4% of the world’s population live in countries that adequately protect civic freedoms fully. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, 66% of all communications sent to the mandate as part of monitoring human rights abuses are related to States use of counter-terrorism, or broadly defined security measures to restrict civil society.

Read on: Open Global Rights


Here’s how civil society can push rising hate back to the fringes

By Andrew Firmin, editor-in-chief of CIVICUS

Our efforts as civil society will work best when paired with mass mobilisations that demonstrate popular support for rights and defiance in the face of those who seek to deny rights, including by counter-protesting when anti-rights forces seek to claim public space and dominate public discourse. Such mobilisations were a key part of how Argentinian groups won the argument.

What we have seen, around the world, is that civil society is not lapsing into despair, but is committing to the struggle for fundamental rights. There are many responses available to civil society, but they all involve outreach, the making of new connections, the ability to listen and hold unusual conversations, and creative communications skills. Through such responses, as civil society we are able to prove that we are the mainstream and push the forces of hatred back to the fringes where they belong.

Read on: Equal Times


2019 Was a Dark Year for Civic Freedoms in Asia

By Josef Benedict, civic space research officer at CIVICUS

The assault on fundamental freedoms and civil society is escalating across the globe. Over the last decade we have seen governments use various tactics to silence dissent and target their critics. Protest movements seeking political reforms or challenging dire economic conditions were met with brutal force by security forces while civil society organizations have been denied funding or faced smear campaigns. 2019 has sadly not been very different, as we saw ongoing violations of civic freedoms, particularly the censorship of the media and online spaces, as well as the judicial harassment of activists and journalists, especially in Asia.

Read on: The Diplomat 


Burundi: A president “chosen by God” and those who disagree

By Paul Mulindwa, advocacy and campaigns officer at CIVICUS

Four years after Burundi’s crisis began, 300,000 people have fled the country for safety. A further 116,000 are internally displaced and almost 1.8 million need humanitarian assistance. Civil and political rights are under attack, while activists and opposition leaders have been killed in mysterious circumstances.

The media has also been silenced, with media houses being shut down and journalists  arbitrarily detained. This October, Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi from Iwacu, one of the few remaining private media organisations in Burundi, were arrested. Their colleague Jean Bigirimana, who went missing in July 2016, remains unaccounted for.

Read on: African Arguments


Fiji’s review at the Human Rights Council highlights lack of progress on civic freedoms

By Josef Benedict, civic space research officer at CIVICUS

This November in Geneva, the United Nations examined Fiji’s human rights record for the third time. Every state must undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every four years to take its turn to be scrutinised by other UN member states on their progress in promoting and protecting human rights, and to assess a range of recommendations for improvement.

In its report to the Human Rights Council ahead of the session, the Fiji government reaffirmed its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as its constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press. However, research by the CIVICUS Monitor – a global tool tracking civic space – shows that democratic freedoms are under attack in Fiji. While the country enjoys a positive image on the international stage, for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but.

Read on: DevPolicy


Out in the cold: The plight of the UWC 143

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund lead at CIVICUS and Lundi Mazizi, co-ordinator of the UWC Ex-Workers Movement

So much can happen in 900 days. Presidents can be removed from office and new ones installed. Regimes can change across the world. Economic crises can cripple livelihood strategies for the working class when coupled with large-scale exposés of endemic corruption. Protests erupt, tires burn and people become casualties in the crossfire of bullets.

Caught in the ebbs and flows of a rapidly changing socioeconomic climate are those such as the 143 workers dismissed from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), who have been worst affected by the #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing protests. Dismissed on 13 January 2017, these 143 workers have been campaigning for justice for three years and have watched in dismay as workers have been insourced at some universities, or at a minimum granted amnesty for participating in strike action under calls from students involved in #FeesMustFall protests.

Read on: The Daily Maverick


The UN at 75: Time to Give Citizens a Voice

By Andreas Bummel the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Lysa John Secretary-General of CIVICUS and Bruno Kaufmann is co-president of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy and board member of Democracy International

Next year the United Nations will commemorate its 75th anniversary. The General Assembly determined that all the UN’s activities in 2020 shall be guided by the theme “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism”.

The UN Charter begins with the words: “We the Peoples”. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights clearly states in article 21.1. that everyone has the right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.Thus, it should not come as a surprise that this right to participation will now also extend to the forthcoming “global conversation”, as the UN has stated that anybody who wishes to, will be able to join.

Read on: Inter Press Service News


The Rapid Decline in Civic Freedoms: 5 Countries to Keep an Eye on

By Ine Van Severen, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

2019 has been a year of protest. From Algeria, to Chile, to Hong Kong, ordinary people have taken to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction with governance systems. Their causes are as diverse as the people pouring into the streets. Public grievances range from corruption, anti-austerity measures, and electoral irregularities. The reasons for the mass mobilisations may differ, but the response by those in power are becoming alarmingly similar.

In far too many countries, the response has been to shut down the space for people to organise and to persecute those calling for change. The new civic space watchlist by the CIVICUS Monitor shines a spotlight on Hong Kong, Colombia, Egypt, Guinea and Kazakhstan where there are escalating rights violations against activists, journalists and civil society groups.

Read on: Inter Press Service 


Donors aren't investing in a resilient civil society in Latin America, but philanthropy bodies stand out

By Clara Bosco, civil society resourcing advisor at CIVICUS

These last years have marked the tipping point of a growing disconnect between citizens and public institutions in Latin America. There is a wide array of reasons for this: almost 65% of Latin Americans live in poverty or vulnerability with inequality rising in the region. In the meantime, education, health care and justice institutions, to mention a few, are weakening, deteriorating basic social services; corruption remains a big challenge and extremist and anti-rights movements are gaining power.

Popular discontent has manifested in massive social mobilizations and unrest, with citizens, activists and civil society organizations (CSOs) leading the charge to challenge unequal and repressive public policy, hold governments accountable and bring about real, positive social change. Many of these groups are now the target of repressive governments and non-state actors who oppose their goals.

Read on: Philanthropy in Focus


Vibrant Civil Society Essential for Sustainable Development in Iran

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead at CIVICUS & Sohrab Razzaghi is Executive Director of Volunteer Activists Institute 

2019 has not been a good year for Iranian human rights activists. At a time where civic space had completely closed, many watched in disbelief as the regime mounted even more restrictions on civil society. Over recent months, many activists have been arrested, like Noushin Javari (a photographer), Marzieh Amiri (a journalist), and Javad Lal Mohammadi (teacher).

As the UN Third Committee prepares to meet in October 2019, it will be worth following whether the General Assembly will take proactive steps to respond to the crisis in Iran or continue to avert its eyes in the face of complicated global politics that have emboldened President Rouhani in his regressive anti-western crackdown on civil society.

Read on: Inter Press Service


Interview with AfricaNews: Concern over human rights violations in Egypt

In an interview with Africa News, David Kode our Advocacy and Campaigns lead spoke about the alleged crackdown on people in Egypt, large scale arrests and heightened security in Cairo and other major cities signal another low moment for human rights in the north African country.

Watch the full interview on: Africa News


Exposing human rights violations through sport in Eritrea — is anyone taking notice?

By David Kode, advocacy and campaigns lead at CIVICUS

Sport is a major unifier among all nations and the plight of Eritrean athletes should be enough to force the international community, particularly states that now host many Eritreans, to exert pressure on President Isaias Afwerki to implement reforms, 26 years after taking power.

Read on: Daily Maverick


Khashoggi paid the price for being a 'different Saudi'

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead at CIVICUS

Since Jamal Khashoggi disappeared on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi authorities have continuously changed their narrative of what happened. From claiming that he left alive and well, through asserting he got into a "fistfight", to insisting he was the victim of a "rogue operation", Riyadh has been unable to present a convincing, coherent explanation of what exactly happened that day in the consulate.

Read on: Al Jazeera


A seat at the table for civil society

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS & Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

2019 may well be remembered as the year in which ordinary citizens finally lost patience with incremental changes and called for the bold and urgent actions we need to address the challenges we face. To date, we have witnessed citizen-led protests from Bolivia to Hong Kong, Sudan to the United Kingdom, as well as school strikes in over 100 countries as young people demand decisive action to combat climate change across.

Read on: Together First


Listen to the future – how 26 youth-led organizations are supercharging the UN's Global Goals

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS

From gun control marches in the United States to impassioned climate change speeches on the global stage of the UN, youth are leading the charge to hold governments accountable and address our biggest challenges. Despite the magnitude of this responsibility, however, they remain optimistic. The Gates Foundation found young people (ages 12-24) are in fact more optimistic about their personal and political futures than their elders – and optimism is highest among youth from lower- and middle-income countries.

Read on: World Economic Forum


Co-creating grassroots resourcing alternatives: shifting from theory to practice!

By Clara Bosco, senior advisor on civil society at CIVICUS

In recent years, inspiring funders and grassroots movements have experimented with different funding and organising models to better support smaller, local, spontaneous and less formal groups, and to make themselves more accountable to these. Feminist funds and community philanthropy organisations have led this effort and new approaches in resourcing citizen action are becoming integral parts of resourcing strategies of big coalitions such as Greenpeace.

Read on: Alliance Magazine


Lysa John: “Attacks on civil society mask the failure of governments”

*Interview with CIVICUS SG, Lysa John. 

Our ambition is not to stand up (only) for established organisations, "Lysa John emphasizes. “We stand up for everyone's right to speak out and be heard, and for the right to organise with others to stand up for your own ideas or interests.” Gie Goris spoke to Lysa John, secretary -general of CIVICUS, possibly the largest alliance of civil society organisations.

*Interview is in Dutch

Read more: MO* Magazine


What a Dhaka slum fire and the Rohingya crisis tell us about enforced disappearances in Bangladesh

By Dominic Perera, CIVICUS Monitor Project Officer at CIVICUS

Earlier this month, Bangladesh captured international headlines as an enormous fire ripped through an informal settlement in Dhaka’s Mirpur area. Thousands of people became homeless overnight. Already, questions are beginning to be asked about the circumstances surrounding the blaze and the control pro-government groups exerted over the settlement, charging residents disproportionately high sums of money to provide them with illegal electricity and water connections.

Even as groups like these have helped Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League to consolidate power over their ten-year reign, Bangladesh has been hailed as a welcoming host for Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

Read on: Scroll.in


Asia's Disappearing Activists

By Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

Since June 2019, over a million people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong on a weekly basis to demonstrate. Protesters have faced attacks and injuries as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to quell protests.

The original target of the protests was a proposed change to Hong Kong’s extradition law. Hong Kongers’ fear of the bill is justifiable. Amendments to the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill would allow individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society activists, to be sent to mainland China to face trial, even if the person was outside the mainland when the crime was committed. China’s justice system is notorious for its lack of independence from the government, and the Chinese Communist Party has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and fabricating legal cases against activists and journalists.

Read on: The Diplomat


What other African protesters can learn from Sudan

By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS

Exactly four months after former President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan was pushed out of power, and a few weeks after the military rulers and civilians signed a peace deal to thrash out the political transition, ordinary Sudanese continue to pay a heavy price. The latest known casualties were four activists brutally killed by paramilitary forces in the city of Omdurman. The victims were participating in a million-man-march in protest against the killing of five schoolchildren - who were themselves demonstrating against rising costs of living in the city of Al-Obeid, North Kordofan.

Aside from the four children killed, 60 others were wounded in the same incident.  While the month of June registered some of the heaviest casualties from the Rapid Response Forces, the trigger-happy paramilitary organisation responsible for the worst of the violence, it is hard to provide exact figures — and there is no sign yet that the violence will stop, despite the agreement of a new deal between the military and protestors on 4 August.

And yet, ordinary Sudanese continue to protest...

Read on: Mail & Guardian


Your life or your freedom? The ultimate price to defend the environment

By Natalia Gomez Peña, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, Vuka! Secretariat

For the family of indigenous Guatemalan activist Jorge Juc, the announcement last week by US President Donald Trump of an agreement declaring Guatemala a “safe third country” could not be more bitterly ironic.
The deal requires central American migrants who cross into Guatemala on their way to the US to apply for protections in Guatemala instead of at the US border – a move immigration advocates have called cruel and unlawful.

Read on: Inter Press Service


Success in Sudan

By Paul Mulindwa, an advocacy and campaigns officer with CIVICUS.

Mediating a deadlocked political dispute is difficult work in the best of times. Mediating the conflict in Sudan between military rulers and opposition demonstrators – following the dramatic ouster of an autocratic leader, and against a background of widespread (violently suppressed) protests – was supposed to be nearly impossible. Yet the African Union has managed to do it.

After weeks of tense negotiations, AU negotiators, led by Special Envoy Mohamed el Hacen Lebatt of Mauritania and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, managed to secure a power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s ruling military council and civilian opposition leaders. It is a major step toward ending the political crisis that has gripped Sudan for more than six months.

The crisis began last December, when street protests erupted in response to cuts in bread and fuel subsidies. The economy was near collapse, following years of US sanctions (mostly lifted in 2017) and the loss of oil revenues following South Sudan’s independence in 2011, and the protests quickly grew into large-scale demonstrations against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s brutal three-decade-long dictatorship.

Read on: Project Syndicate 


Narendra Modi Has Five Years to Change His Track Record on Democratic Values

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

Recent raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the homes and offices of human rights lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising are deeply worrying. Together with their organisation, Lawyer’s Collective formed in 1981, Grover and Jaising have frequently used India’s courts to seek justice for victims of major rights violations such as the Union Carbide Bhopal gas leak, 1984 Delhi riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Lawyer’s Collective has also played a key role in the passing of legislation to address violence against women and sexual harassment at the workplace.

This is not the first time that outspoken rights advocates and their organisations have been targeted in India. Nonetheless, for the country’s premier investigation agency to go after Lawyer’s Collective for alleged violations of the discretion riddled Foreign Contributions  Regulation Act (FCRA) which has been discredited by UN experts, might be a step too far in a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

Read on: The Wire 


Tanzania continues clampdown with new restrictive laws that undermine development

By Paul Mulindwa, an advocacy and campaigns officer with CIVICUS.

'Tanzania's human rights comes in the form of sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament last week, that places new punitive restrictions on civil society organisations and tourism', writes Paul Mulindwa.

While the government of Tanzania trumpets its Vision 2025 – a lofty plan to become a middle-income country within the next six years through sustainable development – it continues to thwart real development with its ongoing campaign to clampdown on fundamental freedoms in the country.

Its latest attack on human rights comes in the form of sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament last week, that places new punitive restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs) and tourism in Tanzania. 

Read on: News24


Youth movements and funders need to learn to understand each other better

By Gioel Gioacchino, research consultant with CIVICUS

As a keynote speaker at a global gathering of a thousand activists and NGO workers in Belgrade in April, the host of a popular Serbian television spoof news show, Zoran Kesic performed 24 minutes of brilliant (and cathartic) satire.

He took aim at a range of subjects, including politics in his country and region. And he did not spare his hosts either.

During Kesic’s piece, the image of a red stapler flashed on a screen behind him. “Say you need a stapler”, he started, “you might think of going to the store and buying one”.

Kesic offered instructions that he thought this crowd might need for such a purchase:

"Make sure you put in the budget a tender for the purchase of the stapler. Include the cost of transporting the stapler from the store to the office, and don’t forget to add extra costs for purchasing a little table where we will keep the stapler. And, of course, the carpet on which the table will stand.

“The worst thing of all,” he concluded, “is you will then keep the receipt of the stapler for months.”

I burst into laughter, but I also thought that starting the conference, International Civil Society Week, by poking fun at each other was an invitation to address the structural problems that we are facing as a civil society ‘sect’, as Zoran Kesic called our field. He joked that civil society organizations have to budget for every little thing and picked on the way the sect(or) is overall failing to question the status quo and instead replicates the same structural absurdities of our society.

For the last four and a half years I have worked with youth-led civil society groups, researching how they resource themselves (or struggle to do so), and ways of understanding and achieving social transformation. I have learned that many young people experience a tension between the vitality and fluidity that emerges in their work and the rigid modus operandi required to budget for Kesic’s red stapler.

But the problem is not only that there are many powerful youth-led groups and movements and comparatively little funding to sustain their work. Neither is it that the type of funding available often comes with tedious requirements and is mostly allocated to deliver narrow projects, without investments in the organizational strengthening necessary for the organisation to keep up the work.

I have learned that behind their struggle is a mismatch in values between donors and youth-led groups and a lack of meaningful understanding of each other.

For the last five months, as part of trend analysis on resourcing youth-led groups in Latin America and Africa conducted by global civil society alliance, CIVIUCS, I have asked more than 20 youth activists to think back to the most positive relationship they had with a donor. What did they do to make the relationship positive? What did the donor do?

I organized the feedback in a mind map and found myself in front of what looked like a list of tips on effective dating. The best relationships are ones in which the non-profit was able to communicate openly and transparently, nourish a close connection, and ask for help when faced with challenges or complex decisions. ‘Good donors’ are relatable, flexible, enthusiastic, present, mindful of the operational context, and non-judgemental. As one of my interviewees put it, the relationship works when both parties can say “We enjoy each other’s company and have real conversations”.

In other words, the collaboration can flourish when donors and grantees are able to listen to each other. Seems like common sense but the problem is that listening can be extremely difficult, given the way donor-grantee relationships unfold. One challenge, for example, is that communication is mediated by jargon. And the jargon can feel imposed, it can be misunderstood and misused, especially when translated across different cultural context.

This issue became evident recently as I facilitated a day-long dialogue between donors and representatives of youth-led groups. The discussions were attended by a group of 20 people who rarely get the chance to share the same space. Imagine a room with social entrepreneurs, activists, NGO directors, representatives of informal movements from Ghana to Brazil, with a range of conservative and progressive institutions.    

In designing the workshop, I wanted to make sure to prevent people from getting into a space of formality and serial buzz-wording. My strategy was to loosen things up and get to the heart of the communication issue. I brought a series of paintings and asked participants, arranged in groups of three, to sit back-to-back with one acting as observer. One partner was asked to describe the painting to the other, who had to re-create it. To make things more interesting, the painter was not allowed to ask questions at first. The observers were also given a shot at painting.

During the debrief of the exercise, I asked participants how the exercise related to their work experiences. The conversation cracked open like an egg: they shared how challenging it was to use clear language and to communicate without being able to see each other or ask questions. The activists talked about the way the pace of communication constrained their work, the challenge of asking the right questions and how language can be so easily misinterpreted.

This reflection naturally led to a discussion on donor relations. When a donor puts out a request for grant proposals, youth-led groups often feel they are applying without a clear understanding of the call or being able to read between the lines of the call. Plus, as many of the interviewees stressed, applications often feel akin to throwing a football in the dark. The only feedback some donors give is that the application was unsuccessful, without saying why or where it fell short. Others won’t respond at all.

One interviewee likened a grant application to going on a first date and then having your date ghost you – just vanish without any explanation why.

When I shared grantee organisations’ frustration with the lack of meaningful feedback on grant applications, donors explained they are also under-resourced and have the constraints of limited staff time.

In fact, this conflict is superficial. To understand resourcing patterns, we need to look at a much broader ecosystem of actors interacting dynamically with each other. To visualize this, I facilitated a presencing theatre exercise.

The image we created by embodying different actors and forces present in our ecosystem was a messy knot of powerful actors such as private companies, government and INGOS, in contact with each other. One side of the knot was surrounded by a range of grassroots actors, standing disconnected from each other. Young people were not even represented in this scene until I pointed it out. It seemed to reflect the often-tokenistic nature of youth engagement. The message here was that resourcing of youth-led work won’t happen if young people aren’t meaningfully included in the picture.

What emerged also was that the agents of social transformation are very fragmented. Why? One answer is structural – competition for resources. Civil society organizations compete for the same resources – a twisted dynamic that diminishes the transformative power of each actor.

In my experience, people working at the grassroots level are more likely to allow their whole self into their work – this leaves more space for authenticity but also more room for bruised egos and for differences to be amplified. Or maybe we simply lack a common vision?

In any case, we also realized that youth-led groups and movements are not effectively listening to each other. Plus, civil society groups often strive for independence. Yet resourcing connects or separates groups - the need for resourcing is a constant reminder of our interdependence.

What does this all mean? Like many of the groups I interviewed, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Maybe we need to find new geometries of collaborating that doesn’t look like the awkward funding chains we are used to.

And yet, working together in an open way requires relationships that feel more genuine and real. We need to support each other to grow the skills for nourishing relationships across differences that might feel messy and sticky and require us accepting each other more fully and letting emotions flow.


Gioel Gioacchino is a civil society practitioner and an action researcher. Currently a PhD candidate at the Institute for Development Studies, her research explores how different funding models affect organisational culture as well as the quality of social organisations’ internal and external relationships. She is a research consultant at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

Listen to the summary of her research and some case studies here.

Read on: Alliance Magazine



Time to act: Sustainable Goals

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.

The year 2019 is already proving to be one in which ordinary citizens are demonstrating an increased impatience with incremental changes that do not lend themselves to the bold and urgent actions needed to support structural and transformative change.

We have witnessed it in the street protests in Zimbabwe and Sudan and in the thousands of school strikes that have seen young people demand decisive action to combat climate change across more than 100 countries.

Since such change requires fundamental shifts in the way power and resources are traditionally organised, it is hardly surprising that the places where these efforts for change are located are outside the spaces dominated by established development actors.

Read on: United Nations Association – UK


"Born a refugee, I dream of a place called home"

By Mohammed Eid

This story was facilitated by CIVICUS. 

I am a refugee, born to a refugee family. I was granted that status on the day I came into this world. I was not aware of what had happened before then. I did not fight any battle, I did not threaten anyone. I did not even choose my own race or ethnicity. I just came to this world to find myself a displaced person.

Being a refugee means I am a stranger on every spot on this planet. Some see me as a burden on the people of the hosting country. I drink their water, I eat their food, and I breathe their air. Day after day, their resources are less and less because of me, the alien person who came from outside. Maybe that explains why I never had access to education or healthcare, and I will never have access to work in the future.

Read on: Open Democracy


Civic space is shrinking, yet civil society is not the enemy

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN member states in 2015, represent an ambitious, but achievable, agenda to make the world better. Importantly, they are a reminder that world leaders have agreed on common goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. In a remarkable shift in international public policy, they have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ in this effort, thereby committing themselves not just to work together, but also to work for the benefit of all people irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

The values that underpin our ability to generate an internationally co-ordinated response to the sustainable development challenge are, however, increasingly being questioned, undermined and even overruled by leaders who promote narrow, self-serving interpretations of national interest. Report after report from civil society organisations across the globe highlight what we have called in our State of Civil Society report this year a trend towards “presidential sovereignty” that aims to undermine or override the mandate of constitutions, national rights preserving institutions and international agreements.

Read on: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Opinion: Government attacks on humanitarian organisations and human rights rising

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.

There are now serious restrictions in civic space on every continent, but yet even as they grab more power, we find the world’s leaders are apparently incapable of responding to the great challenges of the day. They are failing to fight overwhelming inequality, remaining silent on the human rights abuses of states such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan, and letting down the people of Syria and the Rohingya people of Myanmar, among many others.

From Brazil to India, deeply divisive political agendas are seen to have gained national prominence by harnessing public anger toward fundamental economic and governance failures. The promise of anti-establishment change has helped authoritarian leaders win elections by joining groups of people together on the basis of what they oppose, but without tangible evidence of change that addresses the failures behind people’s anger.

Read on: Devex


Women Human Rights Defenders Face Greater Risks Because of their Gender

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead with CIVICUS.

The rallying calls of #SudanUprising, have been led by Sudanese women who are teachers, stay-at-home-mothers, doctors, students and lawyers. And yet, when President Al Bashir stepped down on April 11, the names of the women who spearheaded this political shift, were largely missing from the headlines. This erasure is not uncommon. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are often erased or slandered in efforts to intimidate them into quitting continuing their human rights work. In Egypt, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Uganda or the Philippines they are often called agents of international interests.

Read on: Inter Press Service


Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

Read on: Inter Press Service


LGBTQI Rights in the Balkans: A Perpetual Struggle

By Mawethu Nkosana, Crisis Response Fund Administrator at CIVICUS

Romanian Adrian Coman and his American-born partner Clai Hamilton had two major reasons to celebrate when they tied the knot last June. One of course, was their marriage. The other was the historic legal victory they scored when their case before Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) led to the recognition of same sex marriage for the purpose of freedom of movement in the European Union (EU). The case, challenging current law, represented a significant victory for LGBTQI rights, in particular in Eastern Europe.

Read on: Inter Press Service



Hard Battle Ahead for Independent Arab Media

By Mouna Ben Garga, Innovation Officer CIVICUS

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

Sometimes a peak into the future reminds us just how stuck we are in the past and present.

It was the talk of the Middle East’s largest annual media industry gathering: a robot journalist – the region’s first – that wowed some 3,000 industry leaders and practitioners at the Arab Media Forum (AMF) in Dubai recently.

In an address titled “Future News Anchors”, the robot, known as A20-50, waxed lyrical about robots that would report ‘tirelessly’ all day, every day and be programmed to do any task.

Read on: Inter Press Service



Shining a Spotlight on the Strengths & Challenges of Civil Society in the Balkans

By Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General 

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

It is an incredible privilege to welcome you all to the ‘International Civil Society Week’. I am going to remind us of the reasons that make it so important for us to be here in Belgrade this week.

This is our 16th global convening of civil leaders and 4th edition of the International Civil Society Week in particular – following on from events held in South Africa, Colombia and Fiji.

Read on: Inter Press Service 


Attacks on Media in the Balkans Sound Alarm Bells for Democracy

By Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva, CIVICUS 

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)
Anti-government protesters invading Serbia’s state-owned television station, demanding that their voices be heard. Journalism bodies writing to the Albanian prime minister over plans to censor online media outlets. A Belgrade corruption-busting reporter forced to flee his house that had been torched; a Montenegrin investigative journalist shot in the leg outside her home.


Rise in Cyberlaws Across Southeast Asia Spell Bad News for Human Rights & Democracy

By Josef Benedict Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS

This article is part of a series on the state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week

Around the globe, cyberspace has become the new battleground in the fight for the heart and soul of democracy. And Southeast Asia is fast becoming one of the global hotspots where the screws are being tightened on freedom of expression online.

Read on: Inter Press Service 


In Diverse Southeast Asia, Growing Ethnic & Religious Intolerance Pose Serious Threat to Stability


By Josef Benedict Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW). 

 When the one-year anniversary of Malaysia’s historic presidential election outcome rolls around in early May, the wave of euphoria that followed it will be all but a wistful memory.

The surprise outcome that ended 61 years of interrupted rule by the Barisan Nasional coalition party, brought with it fresh hope that winning Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) party would bring the “New Malaysia” – as it became known – the positive change many yearned for.

Read on: Inter Press Service


Beyond Venezuela’s bad news headlines, success stories of people power shine through

By Marianna Belalba Barreto Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS and Felipe Caicedo Otero Researcher, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD)

Search the keyword “Venezuela” online or check out news coverage of events in the South American country and you’re sure to be hit with headlines about a nation in the grips of a catastrophic crisisMillions of stricken citizens without food, cash, or rights fleeing to the border or languishing in hopelessness at home.

This spotlight – highlighting stories of state repression, media censorship and attacks on human rights defenders – has shone on this oil-rich nation for years now, capturing the world’s attention.

Read on: Open Democracy 


UN Declaration defends peasant farmers, but will it help stop attacks and human rights abuses?

By Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy & Engagement Officer

This article is has been produced in partnership with CIVICUS in the context of the International Civil Society Week conference 2019, held this year in Belgrade, Serbia.

The old cliché “action speaks louder than words” has a deadly ring for campesino (peasant farmers) activists contemplating a historic international pledge to do better to protect them from state-sponsored attacks. One of the toughest, deadliest years for campesino (peasant farmers) activists in Latin America ended in December with a historic United Nations declaration to ensure their wellbeing and prosperity.


Human Rights Defenders Need to be Defended as Much as they Defend our Rights

By Micahel Frost, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and a speaker at the International Civil Society Week, 8-12 April 2019, in Belgrade, Serbia

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

 They are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, brothers, friends. But for me they are extraordinary people – the ones who have the courage to stand up for everyone else’s rights. They are the human rights defenders.

Last year, according to reliable sources, 321 of them were killed, in 27 countries. Their murders were directly caused by the work they do to ensure the rest of us enjoy the rights we claim as purely because we are human.

Read on: Inter Press Service 


Grassroots Organising Points the way in Fight Against Rising Repression

By Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), scheduled to take place in Belgrade, April 8-12. 

“I never thought it would get so big and I think it is amazing.”

The words of a 16-year-old Swedish teenager who skipped school to protest outside her government’s inaction on climate change. Greta Thunberg is marvelling at how, in just a few short months, her solitary protests outside Sweden’s parliament, have inspired and united hundreds of thousands of young people and others across the globe into a powerful, growing grassroots movement for climate change action.

Read on: Inter Press Service


Egypt hosting the African Commission to cover human rights abuses?

By David Kode, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Lead 

The timing could not have been more perfect for Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. His country will host the next session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) scheduled to take place from 24 April to 14 May 2019 at a time when Egypt ranks as one of the worst violators of human rights in Africa.

Read on: Open Democracy


Human Rights, Participation and the 2030 Agenda

By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer 

This January, the UN organised a much-needed dialogue in Geneva on the link between human rights and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The discussion’s timeliness is brought home by the actions of right wing populists and authoritarian leaders who together with regressive anti-rights movements are seeking to roll back the clock on human rights progress.

Read on: Oxford Human Rights Hub


Civil society accountability in times of declining trust: CIVICUS’s journey

By Merle Rutz CIVICUS Impact and Accountability Coordinator & Tamryn-Lee Fourie Impact and Accountability Lead (article on page 76)

Under attack about their legitimacy and accountability, CSOs defending citizens’ rights have to maintain credibility among their constituency and the wider public. Tamryn-Lee Fourie and Merle Rutz from CIVICUS guide us through the organisation’s journey to ensure strong accountability and transparency to its members, beneficiaries and donors.

Read on: European Civic Forum


Right-Wing nationalism threatens democratic norms, human rights & press freedom

By Thalif Deen, Director & Senior Editor, UN Bureau, Inter Press Service interview  with Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General 

The steady decline in multilateralism—accompanied by a rise in unilateralism– is beginning to threaten democratic norms, including press freedom, global governance, civic participation and human rights across Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. 

Read on: Inter Press Service


We need to reimagine democracy to create a better life for all

By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer

As 2019 gets going, it’s a time for many of us to reflect on the year past, consider our current situation and to contemplate resolutions for change in the future. If we were to do this exercise for the state of our communities and reimagine the kind of democracy we live in and the way we experience democracy, what would it look and be like? This was the question researchers at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, put to thought leaders and activists from nearly 80 countries across the globe in the course of a year-long initiative.

Read on: Equal Times 




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