Posts Tagged ‘International Civil Society Week (ICSW)’

International Civil Society Week: 3 human rights defenders engaging business

May 4, 2019

Sutharee Wannasiri (Thailand)

Sutharee Wannasiri

Sutharee has been supporting the 14 Myanmar workers that have denounced labour rights abuses at the Thammakaset Farm in Thailand. She has actively engaged in public advocacy to demand business accountability on labour rights abuses, and an end to the judicial harassment workers are facing in retaliation for reporting these. To date, Thammakaset Farm has filed more than 13 criminal and civil complaints against the workers and the local CSO staff from Migrant Worker Rights Network and the journalists supporting them, including her – many of them are ongoing. The majority of the cases have been dropped by the courts.

Sutharee said:

“It is also the responsibility of international brands that buy from Thailand to make sure the companies they are sourcing from are not engaged in judicial harassment that creates a chilling effect on whistleblowers and other defenders. They should establish mechanisms that allow workers and defenders to communicate with the brands directly and ensure that they are protected from any retaliation from suppliers during the investigation. The results should be made public and bring accountability for the abuses.”

 

Amanda Segnini (Brazil)

Amanda Segnini

The organization engajamundo focuses on youth empowerment in Brazil, with a particular focus on climate change. Its main goal is to make young people ware of their power to transform their communities. The organization is concerned about how civic freedoms will be negatively affected under the new government of President Jair Bolsonaro. Engajamundo is open to dialogue and ongoing engagement with companies if there is an alignment in values. Amanda believes that companies and civil society could engage more with one another if they find a shared purpose.

Amanda said:

It might be right for companies to say something in support of activists that are under attack – but only if they have been working with the community long-term and have an ongoing relationship with them: for example, if they work with local producers and source responsibly from them. If such a community is under attack, a brand should say or do something in their support. But if they only say something without having that relationship, it’s like they are just ‘riding on the wave’, taking advantage of the buzz. Companies also should not censor civil society they engage with. For example, once we were invited to take part in a corporate event, but they tried to censor what we wanted to say. We decided not to participate in the end.”

 

Sasa Uzelac (from Serbia)

Sasa Uzelac

Sasa is the Solidarity Center‘s Regional Coordinator for South East Europe. Solidarity Center was established by AFL-CIO, and is the biggest international organization supporting trade unions and associations working to protect labour rights in South East Europe. He says trade unions and workers’ associations are increasingly under attack from governments, companies, and far-right political organizations and movements. Sasa says the tide of far-right populism is creating additional problems for organizations and people advocating for labour rights. Workers’ rights are being endangered on a daily basis by “ruthless” employers and “mindless” government officials. Freedom of association, decent working conditions, and human rights in the field of work are at risk due to governments’ failure to sanction unlawful activities by employers.

Sasa said:

“The best thing brands can do is to introduce union practices from their country of origin, rather than exploiting the weaknesses of the local system and local practices in their operations. But sadly they are not doing that to a high enough standard in this region. When big international companies enter the market, they should also make sure that the health and safety standards are brought to the levels of their countries of origin.”

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/human-rights-defenders-discuss-engaging-with-business-at-international-civil-society-week-in-serbia

International Civil Society Week 2019: Keita speaks for the youth

May 3, 2019

This article bwas written in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW). It portrays Liberian youth activist Keita.

Youth activist Abraham M. Keita is the founder of the Liberia-based Giving Hope to Children Foundation. Credit: A D McKenzie/IPS

Abraham M. Keita says he was nine years old when a girl of thirteen was sexually assaulted and strangled in his home community in Liberia. The anger, outrage and sadness he felt would lead him to start advocating for children’s rights – participating in marches, organising protests and going up against the powerful, in a country where sexual abuse of children is among the worst in the world, according to United Nations figures. Keita will turn 20 years old later this month, and he says he has already spent half of his life as an activist for change. “I’ve been marching since I was 10,” he told IPS with a quiet smile. Keita, the 2015 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize, is also the founder of the Liberia-based Giving Hope to Children Foundation.

Keita is among a growing movement of youth activists who are fighting for the defence of civil liberties and demanding that government act on important issues such as protecting children from violence, ensuring sustainable development, and reducing global warming, according to ICSW organisers.

The youth engagement in ICSW in general is always extremely important to achieve the creation of partnerships among diverse groups and to continue raising awareness of the contributions young people offer to civil society spaces,” said Elisa Novoa, CIVICUS’ youth engagement coordinator. During the event, youth activists sent out a message calling for civil society to “open up the space” to diverse groups. “Civil society should understand the importance of sharing power and enabling inclusion in a meaningful and uplifting manner,” their statement said. “We as young people of diversity acknowledge and recognise the importance of having voices of vulnerability at the forefront of change. We need to redefine how we provide solutions and build togetherness.”

Activists also requested trust from donors, encouraging sponsors to be bold in funding organisations that are truly youth led. For many such groups, a central theme is protecting the vulnerable, a position that Keita has taken. He told IPS that he grew up among vulnerable children, living in poverty in a slum in the Liberian capital Monrovia with his mother and siblings – his father was killed before he was five years old, during Liberia’s brutal and long-lasting civil war. Different sides in the conflict used children as child soldiers and sexually abused many of them, as reports by the UN and other organisations have shown. That legacy continues, with a high number of girls and women being assaulted, while most of the rapists go unpunished. According to Liberian government figures, from January to September 2018, nearly 900 sexual and gender-based cases of violence were reported, including 500 rape cases of which 475 involved children. The statistics provide “alarming evidence that we are still not dealing with this problem in an effective manner”, said Liberia’s President George Weah last October, as quoted in local media.

Keita points out that since many incidents of sexual violence go unreported, the number of children affected is much higher than in official data. Furthermore, cases of sexual violence are not prosecuted quickly enough.

“Hundreds of cases are still in the courts, and the perpetrators are roaming freely,” he said. The problem is rooted in all levels of society and includes civil society as well as government representatives, with individuals responsible for protecting children being charged with sexual abuses.

In 2017, a Liberian lawmaker allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl, making her pregnant. Keita organised protests against the powerful individual and was himself arrested and charged with “criminal coercion”, he said. These charges were eventually dropped. The lawmaker meanwhile appeared in court, spent two days in jail, and since 2017, activists have not been able to locate the girl or her family, Keita told IPS. He and other advocates are still pushing for prosecution of the case, even if that may lead to their own detention, he added.

Arrests and smears are among the official tactics used to suppress youth advocates, similar to those used against human rights defenders in general, said ICSW delegates. Members of the public, too, sometimes think that youth activists are misguided and can tend to dismiss their work.

But as youth around the world join forces, their campaigns for rights and environmental action are becoming a growing force….

Along with their idealism, youth activists are aware of the risks they run. Keita told IPS that he sometimes felt a “little afraid”, and that his mother and family members worry too. “But whatever happens to me, I want to act so things will change, [and] not continue being the same,” he said.

Michel Forst addressed the International Civil Society Week 2019

May 3, 2019

For the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), held  in Belgrade from 8-12 April 2019,  (Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders) contributed through IPS the
following piece: “Human Rights Defenders Need to be Defended as Much as they Defend our Rights”:

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. Countless others were tortured, raped and threatened, also for the work they do protecting their, and others’ human rights.

In fact, 2018 was deadliest year for human rights defenders since the UN began monitoring the challenges they face through the establishment of a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. It shouldn’t be like this.

Last year we marked 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 20 since the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The latter Declaration provides for the practical support and protection of human rights defenders as they go about their work. It is addressed not just to states and to human rights defenders, but to everyone. It tells us that we all have a role to fulfil as human rights defenders and emphasises that there is a global human rights movement that involves us all. This is a task we are not performing well.

Human rights should not need defenders, and human rights defenders should not need protection from the might of oppressive governments, corrupt multinationals and crooked legal systems. But this is an imperfect, human world.

Since 2000, when we UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders began our monitoring work, much progress has been made. There has been extensive discussion on how these courageous people should be protected, and there is a Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in a limited number of countries. Sadly, it is often not properly implemented, or funded. It is impossible to canvass each defender’s particular treatment or mistreatment by the authorities they face, or even that of communities of defenders. There are, however, trends.

  • On 23 October last year, Julián Carrillo, an indigenous rights defender from Mexico’s state of Chihuahua told a friend by phone that he believed he was being watched and that he was going into hiding. On the evening of 25 October, his body was found. He had been shot several times.
  • On 22 August last year, Annaliza Dinopol Gallardo, a Filipina land rights defender known to her community as “Ate Liza”, was shot dead outside Sultan Kudarat State University in Tacurong City. She had four children.

Mr Carillo’s murder is indicative of the largest trend. More than two-thirds – a full 77% – of the total number of defenders killed were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects.

Ms Gallardo’s murder represents another trend – the number of attacks on women and girls who are defenders is increasing. In the recent report that I have presented to the UN Human Rights Council I have highlighted that, in addition to the threats experienced by their male colleagues, women human rights defenders face gendered and sexualised attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own human rights movements.

This includes smear campaigns questioning their commitment to their families; sexual assault and rape; militarised violence; and the harassment and targeting of their children.

Changing all this is our task for the future. Protection Mechanisms for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists need to be properly implemented and funded, at national level.

We need to empower defenders and increase the abilities of those who are responsible for their protection to keep them safe. We also need to improve the accountability mechanisms these officials operate under.

To properly defend the defenders, we also need to recognise their diversity, and that each one of them faces challenges particular to their individual circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to ensuring each defender is able to do their work unfettered.

We need to acknowledge that defenders, just like all of us, live in this modern, interconnected world.

Protecting them means covering all aspects of their safety: physical, psychological and digital. It means doing so with flexibility. It also means that our protection needs to extend to their families, and the groups and organisations they belong to. We need to speak to them about what they need to feel safe.

In recent years the world has taken a worrying turn away from respect for human rights. Increasingly, groups are becoming inward-looking, and nations nationalistic. We need human rights defenders now more than ever. They also need us.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/2019-international-civil-society-week/

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/human-rights-defenders-need-defended-much-defend-rights/

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…

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/