Posts Tagged ‘Civil society’

One year after the 2018 Human Rights Defenders World Summit

November 1, 2019

One year after the event, the Convening Group of the Summit are sharing the summary of the 2018 Human Rights Defenders World Summit and the Action Plan (https://protectdefenders.us13.list-manage.com/track/click?u=9aa81f2f4c2a51b302fe6d634&id=7ea733deea&e=7dd7df85bc). The Action Plan, in particular, is a key document that was adopted by hundreds of HRDs and organizations attending the Paris Summit, with a series of recommendations that need to be put into practice urgently. For more on this summit see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/human-rights-defenders-world-summit-2018/.

As we all know, HRDs continue to be discriminated, intimidated, harassed, criminalized and killed on an alarming scale and those suffering intersecting forms of discrimination are at an even higher risk. Action to tackle this scourge needs to be taken urgently and this is a powerful tool to address those with power: States, businesses, financial institutions, donors and intergovernmental organizations. Since the action plan was adopted, this document has already been presented to the United Nations General Assembly and has been regularly referred to in our advocacy work at the national level and in our work as international civil society organizations. We hope you agree that we need to keep this document alive and use it in our everyday activism and ensure that the right to defend human rights is upheld.

So, in this context, we urge you to for example:

  • Use it in your campaigns;
  • Refer to it in your interactions with State officials, companies, financial institutions, donors, INGOs;
  • Share it with other organizations, groups, and individuals who could not attend the Paris Summit;
  • Promote it in the media…

 

Carnegie paper: international community must redouble efforts to defend human rights defenders

October 22, 2019

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace pubished on 22 October 2019 a working paper by Saskia Brechenmacher and Thomas Carothers entitled “Democracy,Defending Civic Space: Is the International Community Stuck?”. It concludes that as space for civil society continues to close, the international community must redouble its efforts to defend the right of human rights defenders to hold governments around the world accountable. The Executive Summary:

Civic Space Continues to Close

Since the mid-2000s, civic space has come under attack in many countries around the world. To counter this trend, transnational actors that support civil society have responded in many ways—from exerting diplomatic pressure and building international norms to providing emergency funds for activists. Despite these efforts, governments continue to impose legal and extralegal restrictions amid a worsening larger political environment for civil society. Closing civic space now appears to be just one part of a much broader pattern of democratic recession and authoritarian resurgence. The international response seems stuck: some useful efforts have been undertaken, but they appear too limited, loosely focused, and reactive.

Areas of Progress in the International Response

  • Research and knowledge dissemination: Timely information about civil society restrictions and overall trends is now widely available. Funders, policymakers, and relevant multilateral organizations are generally more aware of the problem; some actors have carried out internal strategic reviews and trainings to strengthen their programmatic and policy responses.
  • Support for local resistance and adaptation: Major funders have established or expanded emergency funds for persecuted rights activists and organizations. Some have also initiated programs to help civic actors adapt to regulatory, political, and legal pressures, while some have examined ways to offer more flexible funding. Several new transnational coalitions and initiatives have been set up to share lessons and lead joint campaigns.
  • Diplomatic pressure and international policy changes: Western governments have sometimes applied pressure on countries that are closing civic space, and they have supported advocacy in international bodies such as the United Nations. Civil society advocates have successfully pushed for reforms to harmful counterterrorism regulations, and some have begun engaging private sector actors on the importance of protecting civic space.

Factors Limiting the International Response

  • Lack of conceptual and strategic clarity: Ongoing confusion over the root causes of closing civic space impedes efforts to develop a more unified strategy. Diverse actors disagree on whether tackling the challenge will require addressing the global political backlash against progressive causes or the overall global democratic recession, or whether a more focused approach would be more effective.
  • Countervailing interests: Most Western governments still do not strongly prioritize closing civic space in their foreign policy agendas. They often refrain from escalating diplomatic pressure on repressive governments for fear of damaging their geopolitical, security, or economic interests. The loss of U.S. leadership on the issue has been particularly damaging.
  • Closing space at home: Civic space is now under threat in many established democracies, and the international repercussions are profound. Western governments that lash out against domestic critics are less likely to speak out against civil society restrictions abroad, and they have less credibility when they do so. Their actions also set a negative example for leaders in other parts of the world.
  • Inadequate scale: The resources committed to fighting the problem have been insufficient. Funders have also generally failed to embed their responses into a broader strategic framework. Explanations include a weak appetite for political risk among funders, the cross-cutting nature of the problem, and a lack of clarity on what a large-scale response might look like.
  • Working in silos: Weak coordination and information sharing between different parts of the assistance community persist. Obstacles include the diverging policy and organizational interests within and between governments, as well as divisions in the wider funder community, including between human rights organizations and development and humanitarian actors.
  • Struggles to change aid practices: Implementing far-reaching changes in aid practices has proven difficult, due to bureaucratic inertia, risk aversion, and narrower methods of monitoring and evaluation.
  • Chasing a moving target: The problem of closing space continues to evolve quickly, which makes it difficult for the international community to anticipate new openings and threats. For example, international actors have been slow to react to the spread of new technological tools for restricting civic space online and offline.

Policy Recommendations

  • Develop a strategic framework that links closing civic space to other key foreign policy challenges, articulates a positive vision of civic space globally, and offers tailored tactical guidance. Such a strategy should differentiate short-, medium-, and long-term priorities and distinguish between different types of political contexts.
  • Improve foreign policy alignment by issuing specific guidance on defending civic space to embassies, systematically integrating the issue into diplomatic training and senior leadership briefings, designating a senior official to spearhead interagency coordination on civic space–related issues, and amplifying the voices of civil society actors, particularly in restrictive contexts.
  • Avoid setting negative precedents by ensuring that domestic legislation does not threaten civic space. Nongovernmental actors should build cross-border alliances to share knowledge and resources, engage lawmakers in established democracies who stigmatize civil society, and champion transparency and accountability in internal practices and external partnerships.
  • Bolster coordination among concerned transnational actors by evaluating existing mechanisms, investing in new platforms or tools for information sharing and institutional learning, expanding country-level networks, and forging new partnerships between governmental and private funders.
  • Adjust funding practices to ensure a balance between support for long-term institution- building and catalytic funding, and track how much funding goes directly to local organizations as core versus project support. Funders should continue to expand flexible funding strategies for hostile environments, work with intermediaries that can reach a wider range of partners, and reduce grantees’ administrative burdens.
  • Anticipate new opportunities and threats by, for example, monitoring and recognizing examples of positive reform, developing targeted roadmaps that identify opportunities and flashpoints in collaboration with embassies or local partners, and investing in technological know-how.

For the full text of this working paper, see: https://carnegieendowment.org/files/WP_Brechenmacker_Carothers_Civil_Space_FINAL.pdf

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/05/civil-society-and-human-rights-ngos-are-fighting-back-but-against-odds/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/21/amnesty-launches-report-on-laws-designed-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/

https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/10/22/defending-civic-space-is-international-community-stuck-pub-80110

Human Rights Watch sees a tiny light at the end of the Uzbek tunnel

October 13, 2019

UN High Commissioner to present her Human Rights Report 2018 to Civil Society

May 29, 2019

On 14 June 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Michelle Bachelet will present the UN Human Rights Report 2018 to Civil Society. The event wil take place from 14:00 to 15:00 on Friday, 14 June, in the Ground Floor Conference Room at Palais Wilson. Please note that the meeting is limited to NGOs holding annual accreditation with UNOG (confirm by 11 June to zghanem@ohchr.org).
However the electronic version of the Report is already available on the Office’s website: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/OHCHRreport2018.pdf

LGBTIQ human rights defenders in Asia-Pacific: vibrant in spite of restrictions

May 8, 2019

Ethiopia: a progress report by DefendDefenders made public on 7 May

May 7, 2019

In a new report launched 7 May 2019, Turning the Page: Rebuilding Civil Society in Ethiopia, the regional NGO DefendDefenders examines the challenges faced by Ethiopian human rights defenders amid the ongoing reform process and makes concrete recommendations for rebuilding a robust and inclusive civil society ahead of elections planned for 2020. Despite some positive developments, serious gaps remain, the report concludes and rights-based organisations in the country currently lack the capacity to keep pace with these developments. This report outlines several avenues donors and international organisations can use to help effectively rebuild civil society in Ethiopia, such as capacity-building activities, and areas of focus like psychosocial support.

I believe that the role of HRDs and civil society is prescient in ensuring that ideals of democracy and open civic space are not only achieved in Ethiopia, but offer a roadmap to other African countries,” says Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “This report should not only highlight the many achievements of Ethiopia in the last year, but also acknowledge the uneasy road ahead and make concrete recommendations to mitigate potentially negative outcomes.

After a 13-year crackdown on civil society (hundreds of killings and the arrest, arbitrary detention, and torture of thousands of peaceful protesters), amid internal pressure, Dr. Abiy Ahmed was appointed as the new Prime Minister In April 2018 and began a series of reforms aimed at opening political and civic space in the country. This has been accomplished by releasing thousands of political prisoners and granting them amnesty, and accepting previously banned groups back into the Ethiopian political mainstream, in addition to the appointment of prominent women to positions of power within the government. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/12/human-rights-defender-yared-hailemariam-back-in-his-homeland-ethiopia-after-13-years/]

However, concerns remain over the top-down nature of the reforms, as well as gaps in the economic, security, health, and legal sectors. This report also contains a detailed analysis of the new Civil Society Organisations Proclamation, with commentary on the provisions that mark an improvement, as well as remaining concerns.

Questions over how to achieve accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations remain, with concerns regarding civil society’s lack of capacity to effectively support such endeavors, as well as the state’s ability to constructively handle this process.

While the majority of the country’s media remains state-owned, small publications and online outlets have flourished since the reform process began. The ongoing liberalisation of the media sector raises concerns over the rise of online hate speech spurred by ethnic nationalism.

Women HRDs remain at risk in the country, with rigid social norms often preventing their active participation in public life or human rights organisations. Women also often lack access to justice, especially in cases of female genital mutilation and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as access to positions of power in the government.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexual minority (LGBT+) HRDs remain a critically unaddressed group within Ethiopia’s burgeoning human rights movement, partially rooted in the country’s religious and conservative value systems, in addition to lack of prior experience and sensitisation. Mainstreaming LGBT+ organisations into the wider rebuilding of Ethiopian civil society will be paramount to addressing these gaps.

Forthcoming elections scheduled for May 2020 offer a critical test for the country with questions over what role civil society will be ready to play ahead of, and during, a free and fair poll, and whether there is sufficient capacity to conduct effective democratic sensitisation campaigns and monitor polls.

A properly functioning national coalition of HRDs is paramount to effectively rebuild civil society, however, issues remain with regard to the inclusion of previously marginalised groups. If these efforts are successful, Addis Ababa also bears the potential to become an important Ubuntu Hub City for HRDs from across Africa, with welcoming policies regarding migration, refugee rights, and institutional support from international organisations and diplomatic missions. For more information, please contact communications@defenddefenders.org.

Turning the Page: Rebuilding Civil Society in Ethiopia

International Civil Society Week: counterterrorism used against human rights defenders

May 2, 2019

More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries took to the streets of Belgrade, Serbia in solidarity with those whose basic freedoms are at risk. They participated in the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which took place in Belgrade, April 8-12. I blogged about contributions to this meeting before [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/14/international-civil-society-week-2019-call-for-more-ngo-voice-in-the-un/]. Here another one: “Civil Society Under Attack in Name of Counterterrorism” b

Civil society has long played a crucial role in society, providing life-saving assistance and upholding human rights for all. However, counterterrorism measures, which are meant to protect civilians, are directly, and often intentionally, undermining such critical work. “Civil society is under increased assault in the name of countering terrorism,” Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism researcher Letta Tayler told IPS, pointing to a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions as among the culprits.

…..The newly approved Resolution 2462, passed at the end of March, requires member states to criminalise financial assistance to terrorist individuals or groups “for any purpose” even if the aid is indirect and provided “in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.” While the resolution does include some language on human rights protections, Tayler noted that it is not sufficient. “It is not sufficiently spelled out to make very clear to member states what they can and cannot do that might violate human rights on the ground,” she said…

Among the major issues concerning these resolutions is that there is no universal, legal definition of terrorism, allowing states to craft their own, usually broad, definitions. This has put civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) alike at risk of detention and left vulnerable populations without essential life-saving assistance. “I think it is irresponsible of the Security Council to pass binding resolutions that leave up to States to craft their own definitions of terrorism…that’s how you end up with counterterrorism laws that criminalise peaceful protest or criticising the state,” Tayler said.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Paul Scott echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The Security Council, by being overly broad, is just giving [governments] the tools to restrict civil society.”

According to Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organisation, 58 percent of its cases in 2018 saw HRDs charged under national security legislation.

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin .. noted that country’s counterterrorism laws are being used as a “shortcut to targeting democratic protest and dissent.”

…..

….The problem has only gotten worse since then, Paul noted. “The measures imposed by governments are unnecessarily broad and they prevent us from working in areas that are controlled by designated terrorist entities. What they have essentially done is criminalise humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Tayler highlighted the importance of the UN and civil society to monitor how counterterrorism resolutions such as Resolution 2462 are used on the ground. “While we would love to see amendments to this resolution, pragmatically the next best step is for all eyes—the eyes of civil society, the UN, regional organisations—to focus on just how states implement this resolution to make sure that overly broad language is not used by states to become a tool of repression,” she said…

Paul pointed to the need to educate both the public and policymakers on counterterrorism and its spillover effects as well as the importance of civil society in the global system.

Civil society is a key part of effective governance. We don’t get effective public services, we don’t get peace, we don’t get to move forward with the anti-poverty agenda if civil society actors aren’t strong and empowered,” he said…

Anne Gallagher new director-general of Commonwealth Foundation

April 24, 2019

Anne Gallagher
Anne Gallagher

The Commonwealth Foundation, which supports civil society organisations throughout the Commonwealth, has appointed Anne Gallagher as its next director general. Gallagher, president of the International Catholic Migration Commission, will relocate from Australia to take up the London-based role for an initial four-year term from June. She will succeed Vijay Krishnarayan, who is stepping down after completing the maximum of two terms.

Before joining the ICMG, Gallagher, a lawyer by training, worked at the United Nations in roles including special adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has also held positions including co-chair of the International Bar Association’s Presidential Task Force Against Human Trafficking and been a member of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration.

Gallagher said in a statement “As the civil society voice of the Commonwealth, the foundation has played a vital role in advancing core Commonwealth values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law…That role will continue to be critical as we move into a future where truly inclusive multilateral cooperation is becoming ever more urgent.

https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/anne-gallagher-appointed-director-general-commonwealth-foundation/management/article/1582715

International Civil Society Week 2019: call for more NGO voice in the UN

April 14, 2019

The International Civil Society Week 2019 has finished. During the this meeting in Belgrade, that brought together over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens from across the world, a large number of contribution were made and I will make reference to some of them in separate posts. Here one of the results:

A World Citizens’ Initiative as an instrument of citizen participation at the United Nations was promoted on 11th April 2019 at a plenary session of the International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW). Presenting the idea of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative (UNWCI), Caroline Vernaillen of Democracy International stressed that addressing the UN’s democratic deficit needs to be on the agenda, too. “The UN is a club of representatives of member states. There are no means for ordinary citizens to take influence and this has to change,” she said. The activist from Belgium stated that a UNWCI would help “create a citizen-based global political sphere.

Caroline Vernaillen and Andreas Bummel with CIVICUS’ Secretary-General Lysa John (middle)

According to Vernaillen, the instrument of a UNWCI would allow global citizens to gather support for specific proposals which then would have to be considered and acted upon by the UN General Assembly. She emphasized that a similar instrument already exists in the European Union, the European Citizens Initiative.

CIVICUS, Democracy International and Democracy Without Borders have started preparing an international campaign to promote a UNWCI and participants of the civil society week were invited to join their efforts. The UNWCI campaign is planned to be launched in September or October 2019 when the next session of the UN General Assembly begins.

Joe Mathews, a board member of Democracy International and Co-President of the Global Forum for Direct Democracy, commented on Twitter that a World Citizens’ Initiative was a “powerful new idea” in direct democracy, “open to people everywhere, to attack big problems and check global power.”

The UNWCI campaign will be launched with a view of the 75th anniversary of the UN in 2020. On 11th April 2019, one of the numerous sessions of the civil society week dealt with this topic. Jeffery Huffines of CIVICUS gave an overview of the UN’s preparations of a UN2020 summit (see also this recent article). He urged civil society representatives to engage with this process and proposed that NGOs should think about whether there should be a global civil society forum on the occasion of UN2020.

The new initiative Together First was represented at this session by Giovanna Marques Kuele. She said that the UN needed to become “more democratic, more representative and more transparent.” Together First plans to identify the most important reform proposals and push for them ahead of a UN summit in 2020.

Speaking at the ICSW, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, Fabrizio Hochschild, stated that on the occasion of 2020 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “will call for a global youth driven conversation on what kind of world we want 25 years from now, in 2045.

World Citizens’ Initiative promoted at international civil society week

CIVICUSat the 40th Human Rights Council: counter-terrorism, environmental defenders and more

February 28, 2019

During the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the NGO CIVICUS will be presenting research and conducting advocacy activities and is organising a number of side events, issuing advocacy statements and supporting our members engage in official proceedings, where they can inform government and UN officials on the state of civic space conditions in their countries.

Panel discussions CIVICUS will be co-organising:

Friday, 1 March, 13:00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | The Role of Counter-Terrorism Laws in the Closing of Civic Space | Civic Space Initiative (Article 19, CIVICUS, ECNL, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy)

This event will examine the misuse of counter-terrorism laws by States to target government critics and human rights defenders. The panel will look at how states are abusing security legislation to curtail civic freedoms. See full invitation. Speakers include:

Tuesday,  5 March, 13.00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | Escazú and Beyond: Strengthening the Global Normative Framework on Protecting Environmental Defenders | Article 19, Centre for Environmental Rights, CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Frontline Defenders, Global Witness, Ground Work, Human Rights Watch,  International Land Coalition

This side event will review State obligations for protecting the rights of environmental defenders and how the recently adopted Escazú Agreement can inform the work of the Human Rights Council. The panel will look at how the standards of the regional Escazú Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean can support global efforts to end the widespread attacks against environmental and land rights activists. See full invitation. Speakers include:

  • Leiria Vay, Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, CODECA Guatemala
  • Matome Kapa, Attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights, South Africa
  • Marcos Orellana, Director Human Rights and Environment Division, HRW
  • David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
  • Moderator: Natalia Gomez, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, CIVICUS

Other events that CIVICUS is co-sponsoring at the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, include:

  • 5 March (10:00-11:00) | The case for international action on Bahrain | Room XV
  • 6 March (11:00-12:00) | Women Human Rights Defenders: Local Realities & Shared Global Challenges | Room XXI
  • 8 March (12:00-13:00) | East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project – Human Rights in South Sudan | Room XXVII

CIVICUS will be live-streaming events through its Facebook page and posting updates on Twitter.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/3753-civicus-at-the-40th-human-rights-council