Posts Tagged ‘civil society organisations’

Civil Society and human rights NGOs are fighting back but against odds

May 5, 2019

This article by  (IPS) was published on 10 April 2019 in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), which took place  in Belgrade. Under the title “Civil Society, Once the “World’s New Superpower,” is Battling Against Heavy Odds” it describes how human rights NGOs have come under pressure in recent years

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once described civil society organizations (CSOs), as “the world’s new superpower” ..but that political glory has continued to diminish over the years against the backdrop of repressive regimes, hard right nationalist governments and far right extremist groups.

Perhaps the most virulent attacks on NGOs are on their attempts to provide protection and security to migrants and refugees in the “dangerous crossings,” from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea and the Mexico/US border. “There are now serious restrictions in civic space on every continent,” says the annual State of Civil Society Report 2019, released last week by the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS. And it singles out the Italian government’s decision to impose a hefty fine on one of the world’s best-known humanitarian organisations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while also freezing their assets, impounding their rescue vessel and investigating their staff for human trafficking…in retaliation for their efforts to save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. There were also instances of civil society activists being charged, tried and convicted in the United States for providing water supplies for migrants crossing the deadly Sonoran desert on the US/Mexico border. As these attacks continue, international institutions are “struggling” to help shore up these NGOs because these institutions, including the United Nations, are “hamstrung by the interests and alliances of powerful states.”

The report points out these institutions did little to respond to the great challenges of the day– failing to fight overwhelming inequality and also were largely silent on human rights abuses of states such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan while letting down the people of Syria and the Rohingyas of Myanmar, among many others.

Asked if there is a role either for the United Nations or its member states to protect CSOs under attack, Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, told IPS the UN is making some efforts to put the issues of attacks on CSOs and activists in the spotlight. In December last year, he said, the President of the UN General Assembly, in a symbolic event, awarded the UN human rights prize to three civil society activists and an organisation dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/20/human-rights-defenders-receive-their-2018-un-prizes/]

Recently, on March 21, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a first-of-its-kind resolution on the protection of environmental human rights defenders, said Tiwana. The UN Secretary General has a designated senior official to lead efforts within the UN system to address intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN system. And, he said, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women regularly champion the work of CSOs and women human rights defenders respectively. “However, in light of the growing restrictions on civic space, around the world, and even at the UN itself, these efforts are often not enough,” complained Tiwana. This is in part because the UN itself is also under pressure from (undemocratic) governments that restrict civil society at home, and wish to do so at the UN as well.

He said the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that measures civic freedoms finds that only 4% of the world’s population live in countries where the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are adequately protected…

“Our 2019 State of Civil Society Report points out, that the UN is hamstrung by the actions of powerful states that refuse to play by the rules including the US, China and Russia”. Tiwana said a number of rights repressing states are joining international bodies. In 2018, for example, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Eritrea, joined the UN Human Rights Council….

Second, states are withdrawing from international institutions and agreements, with the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate and undermining UN resolutions on Palestine and the Occupied Territories. Philippines has pulled out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a bid to avoid international accountability for widespread human rights violations including attacks on civil society. In 2018, the new Global Compact for Migration also saw a string of states with hardline migration policies pull out between the agreement of the deal and its signing.

Third, rogue leaders are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs, ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms, acting as unilateral strongmen or striking bilateral deals with other hardmen, undermining multilateralism and making it harder to scrutinise their actions, Tiwana noted. Potentially everything seems up for negotiation and nothing can be assured at the international level, even the 70-year-old international human rights norms that underpin civil society action, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifeen@ips.org

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/civil-society-worlds-new-superpower-battling-heavy-odds/

Lysa John of CIVICUS argues for new coalitions and open movements to defend human rights

April 26, 2019

This article is part of a series in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, and which took place in Belgrade, on 8 – 12 April 2019. Written bythe secretary-general of CIVICUS: “Grassroots Organising Points the way in Fight Against Rising Repression

.. 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. Thunberg’s school climate strike has inspired more than 1,500 climate strike events in more than 100 countries across the globe, from Argentina to New Zealand.

Lysa John – Credit: CIVICUS

…..The old approaches of working with governments, who are failing to serve their people’s interests, for incremental change, are not working anymore…

In this environment, citizen action is increasingly being organized into grassroots, social movements – mass-based, non-hierarchical groupings driven by people power, that are starting to prove successful in the fight for human rights and social justice.

The global #MeToo gender rights movement and the March for Our Lives American gun reform movement led by high school students – both still growing campaigns – provide encouraging lessons for the Climate School Strike movement on the power of this dynamic approach to activism.

So, how does civil society engage social movements in a way to harness the power of dynamic, new ways to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges?..

In order to build stronger, more resilient and effective civil society we need to re-connect with citizens. Across the world, we are seeing the emergence of diverse civic movements aimed at calling out injustices or achieving improvements in governance in local and national contexts.

Many of these are spontaneous, self-organised expressions of change – led by ordinary people who feel strongly about universal values of justice, integrity and solidarity. For formal civil society organisations (CSOs), there could not be a better time to lean into and strengthen approaches to community leadership for ‘glo-cal’ change. We have the passion and intellect to connect the action on the streets with the spaces where decisions must be taken; and to channel the local energies for change into strategies for long-term, globally-connected transformation.

At the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), a primary goal is for delegates to work together to understand and connect with people’s movements on the streets around the world, to build bridges that strengthen alliances and create solidarity and to identify steps to build and sustain collective impact. On every continent, forces seek to undo the advances made in our societies and communities. But around the world, brave citizens continue to risk their lives to stand up against repression and persecution.

The ICSW is all the more significant this year as civil society leaders, activists and innovators are gathering in a country in which a growing social movement has been demonstrating some of these very goals. For weeks now, there have been ongoing mass protests in the capital, Belgrade, calling for democratic reforms under the banner of a campaign known as “#OneinFiveMillion. The campaign is a live example of how civil society plays an instrumental role in fighting to protect and expand civic freedoms and democratic values in the Balkans and globally. The toppling of Macedonia’s government in 2017 by unprecedented civic action is another example of that fight back. Serbian civil society played a crucial role in the country’s transition to democracy. But not all parts of the country’s society are equally protected, with gay-rights activists and women human rights defenders, in particular, targets of attacks and threats. By hosting ICSW 2019 in Serbia, we will shine a spotlight on the region’s communities, help address their challenges and find ways to support them.

We will also examine the opportunities we have to forge new alliances and increase our collective impact by coming together to fight for common issues. Across the past year, we have civil society get better at transferring strategies and lessons for change across countries.

India’s legal win for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has, for instance, boosted efforts to repeal discriminatory laws in other countries, including Costa Rica and Portugal. In Argentina, Kenya and Ireland, we saw ordinary people take action to defend and advance abortion rights. Last, but not in the least, we will spend time reviewing the changes we need within civil society and the way we operate. We need greater accountability for our own actions and the way we engage those we are meant to serve and represent.

…..

Building a new generation of champions for social justice – in the way that Greta Thunberg has inspired millions of children and youth to take action for the climate – is the future we need to design together; our time in Belgrade offers us the opportunity to commit to doing this better and more actively together.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/grassroots-organising-points-way-fight-rising-repression/

Civil Society meets in Belgrade concerned by attacks on rights defenders and media

April 9, 2019

In the context of the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which is taking place in Belgrade, from 8 – 12 April April 2019, a number of interesting contributions were made public [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/09/belgrade-call-presses-governments-to-protect-rural-human-rights-defenders/]. This is one of them, mostly an interview with Mandeep Tiwana of CIVICUS:

Civil Society Leaders Meet Amid Protests, Attacks on Rights” bReprint

Under the theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, ICSW 2019 “seeks to generate deep conversations among civil society leaders, social justice advocates, development practitioners, members of the philanthropic community, diplomats and others on emerging global challenges and how civil society should be responding to these,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ chief programmes officer.

Defence of democratic values, civic space and participation, along with citizen action, will be among the topics of discussion,” he told IPS in an email interview while en route to Belgrade. “Our message to governments is that the right to peaceful protest is a basic human right enshrined in constitutional and international law. Governments have an inherent responsibility to enable the right to peaceful protest as an integral element of the defence of democracy,” he added…

In country after country, democracy is under attack, with populist and right-wing movements gaining ground and democratic regression being witnessed even in countries historically considered bastions of democracy,” CIVICUS says.

“This year’s event in Serbia comes at a critical and opportune time for civil society and the world’s citizens to realise the power of unified, collective action to challenge a global trend that threatens our fundamental freedoms,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS’ Secretary General………

 

Media workers, in fact, often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, caught amongst the security forces and protestors as they try to report on turbulent events. CIVICUS said that the role of the media and their relationship with civil society will be a key topic of discussion at ICSW, alongside the focus on protecting rights campaigners.

CIVICUS is working in several ways to stop attacks on members of the media and civil society activists targeted for exposing rights violations or speaking truth to power,” Tiwana said. “We engage with a broad range of civil society organisations that support press freedom using several approaches ranging from in-depth participatory research and analysis to raising awareness of attacks on the media, strategic coalition building, and directly engaging decision-makers at the national and international levels.”

…..Ahead of the meeting, Serbia and four other countries have been added to a global watchlist of countries that have seen an “escalation in serious threats to fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months”, according to CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the world. Citizens of all five countries (Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Venezuela are the others) are experiencing increasing rights violations that “include killings, attacks on protesters, media restrictions and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders”.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/civil-society-leaders-meet-amid-protests-attacks-rights/

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

Read the rest of this entry »

First MAJALAT Civic Forum launched in Brussels

November 16, 2018

Euromed Rights announced on 15 November 2018 that representatives from over 150 civil society organisations, the majority of which coming from the South of the Mediterranean region, will gather in Brussels on November 20-21 for the First Majalat Civic Forum in order to debate four regional themes: Good Governance; Security and Countering Violence; Migration; Economic Development and Social Dialogue.

After its launch in Jordan last September, Majalat will move to the heart of the European Union in order to initiate a three-year cycle of regional dialogues, in the presence of the Commissioner at the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn.

Majalat is thus the first civil society run process of this kind. The word itself stands for ‘spaces, opportunities, fields and domains’. Supported by the EU, the project aims at promoting structured dialogue between civil society in the South Mediterranean region and the EU institutions. It also aims at enhancing regional exchanges between civil society in the region.

The project has been coordinated and set up by six partner organisations: Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC), EuroMed Network France (REF), EuroMed Rights, Forum for Alternatives Morocco (FMAS) and SOLIDAR.

The whole process will be facilitated by an Interactive Digital Platform.

In addition to the six partners, six organisations with a regional scope are invited to sit in the Steering Committee: Arab Campaign for Education for All, Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Disabled People International, Maghreb Observatory on Migration Transparency International and Syrian Citizens’ League.

For the programme see: Programme

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/majalat-first-ever-eu-south-mediterranean-forum-with-civil-society-in-lead-to-be-launched-in-brussels-enarfr?e=1209ebd6d8

Nominations for the European Civil Society Prize 2018 closing soon

September 1, 2018

Although not a human rights award in the strict sense, I think that the current state of civil society in large parts of Europe does need a boost [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/04/europe-also-sees-shrinking-space-for-human-rights-defenders/]. So the EESC Civil Society Prize 2018 on identities, European values and cultural heritage in Europe is most welcome and human rights groups and defenders should apply.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) this year is promoting initiatives to do with European values, identities and cultural heritage. The deadline is 7 September 2018. The Civil Society Prize, now in its tenth edition, was launched by the EESC to reward and encourage by civil society organisations and/or individuals that have made a significant contribution to promoting the common values that bolster European cohesion and integration.

Prize money totals EUR 50 000 and will be awarded to a maximum of five winners and it will reward innovative initiatives which have made a significant contribution to:

  • raising awareness of the multiple layers and richness of European identities;
  • exploiting the full potential of Europe’s cultural wealth;
  • facilitating access to European cultural heritage; and
  • promoting European values such as respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.

The full list of requirements and the online application form are available on webpage – EESC Civil Society Prize 2018.

The EESC Civil Society Prize is open to all civil society organisations officially registered within the European Union and acting at local, national, regional or European level. It is also open to individuals.

The award ceremony will take place on 13 December 2018 in Brussels.

https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/press-releases/eesc-civil-society-prize-2018-applications-closing-soon

China, Russia and Pakistan in UN fail at attempt to muzzle human rights defenders (for now)

July 7, 2018

On 6 July 2018 Stephanie Nebehay reported for Reuters that China, Russia and Pakistan lost their bid on Friday to weaken a U.N. resolution upholding the crucial rule of human rights defenders. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on all states to protect civil society groups from threats and intimidation, and prosecute reprisals against them. Chile presented the resolution text on behalf of more than 50 countries on the final day of a three-week session. Amendments proposed by China, Pakistan and Russia – declaring that civil society groups must respect “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” and that their funding must be “legal and transparent” – were soundly defeated. So, in spite of increasing retaliation against human right defenders and pressure on civil society in many countries [see recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/ ], the UN is still able to resist some of the more blatant attempt to silence critics.

China and Russia are often the least tolerant of civil society at home. They are now seeking to introduce similar restrictions at the international level,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told Reuters. Their attempts to place national sovereignty above international human rights law “would turn guarantees of peaceful assembly and association on their heads”.

“These amendments were a swing and a miss for China and its allies on the Council,” Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights told Reuters, using an American baseball term. “Their efforts to limit civil society’s independence and shut down civil society voices were rebuffed by a strong message – from member states across the globe – about the importance of keeping defenders’ voices at the table”.

[At the current session, China tried unsuccessfully to block the accreditation of Uighur activist Dolkun Isa, U.N. sources said. China’s delegation publicly challenged activists speaking on behalf of Uighur and Tibetan ethnic minorities. Council president Vojislav Suc, Slovenia’s ambassador, said allegations of intimidation and reprisals had emerged during the session and urged “all necessary measures” to prevent such acts.]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights/china-russia-fail-to-curb-activists-role-at-u-n-rights-forum-campaigners-idUSKBN1JW2EM

Human Rights NGOs in Europe no longer the standard to follow!

January 27, 2018

In January 2018 the EU Fundamental Rights Agcncy (FRA) published a Report “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU“. Its conclusion is that the situation is getting more difficult. Also, on 26 January 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published an interview with Michel Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders said that the EU are setting a bad example by allowing some of its members to stifle human rights groups, which is encouraging crackdowns elsewhere in the world.

In the interview done by Umberto Bacchi, Michel Forst said that the EU has historically done a good job supporting and protecting rights advocates worldwide but the bloc’s authority is now being undermined from within. Officials in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and other countries pointed at recent laws in Hungary and Poland to justify their own regulations which may curb the independence of non-governmental organisations.

There is a need for European countries to be more coherent … not to teach human rights outside of Europe and then not respecting human rights inside Europe,” said Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. Charities in dozens of countries, from Angola to India and Tajikistan have faced restrictions targeting their funding and operations over the past two years, according to an EU report. The trend is part of a global backlash on civil society that has seen rights activists in some parts of the world criminalised or branded as troublemakers, Forst stated.

Last year, Hungary introduced a measure requiring NGOs that get money from abroad to register with the state, a bill that NGOs say stigmatizes them and is intended to stifle independent voices. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/]. Poland instead introduced legislation to set up a centralised authority controlling charities’ funding. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/02/backsliding-on-civic-space-in-democracies-important-side-event-on-3-march-in-geneva/%5D. As countermeasure, the EU should boost direct funding of rights groups operating within its borders, Forst said. “What is absurd for me is that the EU is funding organisations in Latin America, in Africa – which is good – but there is no more funding for EU NGOs,” he said. Money should be allocated from a dedicated fund and not channelled through governments, he said.

Besides Europe, Forst also singled out Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers held in offshore camps, adding it was “not a safe place” for human rights defenders due to pressure from the government. A December report by Pro Bono Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, two rights groups, found Australian NGOs were often pressured into “self-silencing” their advocacy work fearing funding cuts and political retribution.

(Global civil society) space is shrinking because it is shrinking in Europe, because it is shrinking in the Americas, in Australia,” said Forst.

—-

The FRA’s report finds that civil society organisations in the European Union play a crucial role in promoting fundamental rights, but it has become harder for them to do so – due to both legal and practical restrictions. This report looks at the different types and patterns of challenges faced by civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU. While challenges exist in all EU Member States, their exact nature and extent vary. Data and research on this issue – including comparative research – are generally lacking. The report also highlights promising practices that can counteract these worrying patterns.

The ‘new normal’: rising attacks on human rights defenders

December 4, 2017

Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer for the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS published the following piece in the context of International Civil Society Week (4-5 December 2017 in Suva, Fiji): Are Rising Attacks On Human Rights Defenders The ‘New Normal’? In the piece the author makes some excellent points on how to try and counter this development, in short:

  1. civil society leaders and their supporters need to proactively challenge the misinformation.
  2. collecting comparable and accumulated data on violations of civil society rights is critical. 
  3. dedicated focus on demonstrable and impeccable internal accountability to counter unwarranted criticism of civil society 
  4. there is a pressing need to have more civil society champions in academia, the media and among business leaders
  5. standing together helps.

Read the rest of this entry »