CIVICUS interviews a human rights defender from Eritrea, who speaks about the nature of the government and its complete disregard for fundamental human rights. The human rights defender asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.
1. What is the overall state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea?
Unlike in the neighbouring countries, the regime in Eritrea is unique and arguably has no match in the world. It is the most repressive regime in the world, ruling the country with no Constitution and national assembly. There is no political pluralism and no elections have been organised since independence. The ruling party exists only in name with most of its leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are either languishing in unknown detention centres or have abandoned the party. Since 1994 the party has never held any congress or elected new leadership. Hence power has been concentrated in the hands of a single man, President Issias Afwerki, who rules the country alone and as he wishes.
The absolute power he enjoys combined with his sadistic, cruel and arrogant character has driven him to the extreme. His regime violates every aspect of human rights and inflicts unbearable suffering on the Eritrean people. The regime has no regard for human rights and international law. Almost the entire population of Eritrea has been subjected to indefinite national service, forced labour and slavery. Families have disintegrated and societies destroyed by migration as citizens seek to escape the repression. Those who escape the country are exposed to human trafficking, hostage taking for ransom, torture and other inhumane treatment.
The regime has made Eritrea a closed and an isolated country with no independent and foreign media outlets; civil society activities are banned in Eritrea thus there are no local CSOs or international NGOs of any kind in the country. In addition, the report of the UN Commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in June 2016 revealed that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea by the Eritrean regime.
2. What is the state of the media?
Between 1997 to 2001 private press in the form of print media operated in Eritrea but this was under a restrictive legal domestic framework. There were eight private newspapers until September 2001. In 2001 senior government officials known as “G-15” demanded democratic reforms and the enforcement of the 1997 ratified Constitution. In September 2001, the government clamped down on 11 members of the “G-15” accusing them of treason and said they were a threat to national security. The government proceeded to close private newspapers and imprisoned 18 journalists for providing platforms to the “G-15” to express their views. Since then both the political prisoners and journalists have been held incommunicado in secret prison facilities without charges. Many of the journalists and writers are believed to have died in detention. In effect, since September 2001 no private media has existed in Eritrea. Only state-owned and state-operated media exists in the country. These include TV, radio, and print outlets.
Freedom of expression, exchange of information and communication in public places such as tea shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, bus terminals, offices, schools and colleges, public, social and religious events are closely monitored by spys working for the regime. Even people who are out of the country are afraid to express themselves publicly for fear of reprisals against their relatives at home in Eritrea. Journalists who work for public media outlets and manage escape still fear that their families back home will be targeted as the Eritrean government punishes family members because of association.
3. How does the compulsory national military service exacerbate human rights violations in Eritrea?
According to the National Service Proclamation of 1995, Eritreans are required to serve 18 months of national service which includes six months of military training and 12 months of service in the army and civil service. The proclamation notes that military service is compulsory for males and females who are between 18 to 40 years old. However, contrary to the national proclamation, in reality the national service is indefinite. Those who were recruited in the first round, for example in 1994 have not been released up to now. The whole productive section of the society has been locked up in the national service without any pay, proper feeding or clothing. Even children are recruited into national service. All students have to go to the military training camp of Sawa to do their final year of education in the secondary level and complete military training. Conditions there are very miserable. The national service recruits are treated worse than slaves. They are deprived of opportunities to start families and from undertaking economic activities. They are deprived of moving freely, expressing themselves and from practicing the religion of their choice. In addition, those who desert and evade national service are detained, tortured or fined. Also women are used as sex objects by the military officers and work as house maids or slaves to provide forced services to the officers.
4. Tell us about the failure of the government to implement the 1997 Constitution
The government does not have any desire to implement the 1997 Constitution. In May 1998, one year after the ratification of the Constitution, the Eritrean government ignited a border war with Ethiopia. It developed into a full-fledged conflict that came to end in 2000 after the loss of about 100 000 lives on both sides and huge damages to properties and a huge humanitarian crisis and displacement. The Algeris agreement ended the war and a border commission was formed to delineate and demarcate the border but the border has not yet been demarcated. A “no war and peace state” prevails now. Although there are no links between the border and the Constitution, the Eritrean government claims that it is not implementing the Constitution because the border has to be demarcated first.
5. What are three things that need to change for democracy to take root in Eritrea?
For democracy to take root in Eritrea: there needs to be
Ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America, activists and civil society are mobilising protests against the new establishment. CIVICUS speaks to Nicole Barner, an activist who works on economic justice and is based in Washington D.C. Barner will take part in some of the inauguration day protests.
CIVICUS asked Nibal Salloum, program manager at the Syrian peace-building organisation Nuon, about the situation for civil society in Syria and the challenges faced working in a conflict area. Nuon is a Syrian civil society organisation that works on peace building from a human rights approach in Southern Syria and with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
CIVICUS speaks to Ugandan independent blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire (pictured). She speaks on the situation for journalists in Uganda, freedom of expression in the country and the relationship between the media and civil society in the country
1. What is the operating environment at the moment in Uganda for the media?
The past year 2016 has been particularly bad for media. There were been a record number of attacks due to elections that were held in February 2016. It was the 31st year of the President, Yoweri Museveni, being in power so it was a high-stakes game. The environment was hostile as the president felt really challenged. Many journalists who tried to cover opposition leaders were intimidated, attacked, harassed, restricted and pepper-sprayed. Over 80 journalists were violated in that month only by the state. Over 100 journalists were attacked by the state during the elections. For example, a huge case of intimidation was when a television journalist was arrested while broadcasting live and the police did not realise they were “live” and the nation got see there was no legitimate reason for his arrest. So it was not an easy year. Also some cases of violations were not publicly reported.
2. Social media and the Internet were cut off on election day. What happened?
On the day of voting, Internet, social media and access to mobile money services were cut off. We were also cut off on the day of the counting of votes. A few people were able to connect using other means such as VPN. The reason for the cut off was that government said there was a “national emergency” but they did not explain to us what sort of an emergency. The general view of the public is that the election was so tight so they needed the cover of darkness to prevent people from sharing of results from polling stations. Rigging is never done at polling stations but at the tabulation of results. So where people are not connected they could not share results of individual stations. The poll was highly fraudulent so cutting off social media was also to prevent people from mobilising to protests and to kill any planning of uprisings against the government. So you control the mood of the public and kill expectations by not having social media. The results were in favour of the opposition then suddenly overnight the results changed.
3. How are you as online media treated by the authorities?
The government is realising the power of online media. It was an independent blogger who exposed ghost voters on the voters roll. And this had not been identified by journalists. In terms of covering protests, we have the problem covering opposition rallies. We are generally able to cover protests but the more government feels threatened by protest, the more difficult it is to cover protests. Such as a few years ago, an army commander told journalists that their safety would not be guaranteed if they attended a particular protest. So journalists know protection is not a given.
4. Are members of the public free to express themselves in media?
Despite the challenges we face of shrinking civic space, Ugandans like to talk. We are able to talk in the media. We have over 200 radio stations. If you tune in, you hear people speak their minds. Off course government targets specific people. Members of public speak to media freely on the streets if their opinion is asked for. Even during Idi Amin’s time, we still expressed ourselves even though it was underground. Government has set up media Crimes Unit and people know they are being monitored but people are not afraid and use their real names even online even though we know we are being watched and have that discomfort of being watched, we still speak. Sometimes people are cautious but generally we express ourselves freely. Academics are able to also express their opinion, even those working at state universities. Although sometimes there is self-censorship on some topics as some people prefer not to speak about security or military or things to do with the first family.
However, of concern, the Uganda government has made requests to Facebook to access certain accounts. One example is an account called TVO which does some exposès and commentary on government workings. One Ugandan Robert Shaka was arrested because government thought he is behind the account.
5. Are journalists able to protect their sources and whistle-blowers?
No we’ve not had public cases of intimidation of members of the media to reveal sources in 2016. Whistle blowing is generally weak in Uganda. You can get leaked stuff here and there but it’s not common. But media houses have been closed over coverage of security issues and the journalists and editors at heart of those stories face enormous pressure.
6. What is the state of investigative reporting of both the private and public sector?
Investigative journalism has gone low this year I think. There’s maybe sense of resignation affecting the media after the electoral outcome as the same regime has been in power for so long and maybe fear as well plays a part. I think we still have great in-depth stories on issues but newsrooms do not have dedicated investigative desks that are fully functional. Sometimes media ownership also affects how much a journalist can dig deep because owner interest may also mean the owner has a larger business empire to protect so journalists don’t want to bite the hand feeding them. The media owner may have a big empire with media being a small part of that empire that may have interests in hotels and so on, so the media has to support the rest of the owner’s business empire. Also advertising is a lifeline for media so there’s no in-depth questioning of big companies as the media wants the advertising revenue. So economic crimes go unreported unless if it’s a matter before parliament.
7. What is the impact of terrorism on the work of journalists?
Terror reporting is expected to be in praise of government only. We also now have anti-terror laws and the recent case of journalist Joy Biira being charged with abetting terrorism is one such case where these laws are being used. Using terrorism and treason charges as a way to stifle journalism is huge. Another journalist after the 2010 bombings, Timothy Kalyegira, faced criminal libel charges for presenting a different narrative on who was behind the bombings and role of government. Another journalist was also remanded on treason charges.
The arrest of KTN television journalist Joy Biira in November 2016 and being charged of abetting terrorism is ridiculous and shows how far government is willing to go to intimidate journalists perceived to show their military actions in Kasese in good light. The government was trying to control a narrative on the Kasese massacre and once photos of dead bodies were leaked it was upset. These charges cannot even hold in a court of law.
8. How far reaching is political influence over the media in Uganda? What drives this?
You will find that most media attention goes to politicians and the elite and less on ordinary poor people. From time to time we have allegations of journalists being on “payrolls” of rich people but this is also employed as a tactic to smear journalists. The other problem is some politicians or their friends own media especially radio stations so there is that bias. Nonetheless, many good journalists continue to stand above the political interests and do their work well to deliver news to millions of Ugandans.
9. What is the relationship between the media and civil society in Uganda? How can it be improved?
It’s a bit of a loose relationship. Media covers civil society activities but perhaps media and civil society do not always realise and appreciate we are fighting for the same goal most times ─ public accountability.
We can improve the relationship by highlighting the young and upcoming young people in civil society using social media who are fighting for democracy and accountability. We have to identify these good voices in civil society and make good coalitions with media. Civil society and media can work in coalition on certain causes. For example, in Uganda, in recent months an association of female lawyers highlighted cases of women in the flower industry being exposed to chemicals and being denied leave benefits. A couple of television stations and newspapers picked up on the issue and put a spotlight on this and were backed by civil society. The outcome looks good and it is still ongoing and the responsible ministers have put together a committee to investigate safety standards on flower farm workers. This is a great example of media and civil society working together to fight for those underprivileged in our society. We are a long way and need more such partnerships.
Follow Rosebelle on Twitter on @RosebellK and read her blog on https://rosebellkagumire.com/
Human rights defender Cyriaque Nibitegeka speaks to CIVICUS about Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and the implications for human rights and victims of human rights abuses. Nibitegeka is one of the leaders of civil society in Burundi. He is also a lawyer and member of the Burundi Bar. He was a professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Burundi before being dismissed for his human rights activities.
CIVICUS interviews Mathew Jacob on the restrictions on freedom of association and attacks on civil society in India including laws on foreign funding. Jacob is the National Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA). HRDA is a national platform of human rights defenders for human rights defenders. Mathew is also a PhD scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Since assuming power in May 2016 Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has embarked on a controversial campaign against drugs in which over 3 000 people have been killed over three months in extra judicial killings for allegedly being drug peddlers or users. CIVICUS speaks to Roselle Rasay of Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), the largest umbrella body of civil society organisations in the Philippines. She speaks on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and those speaking out against the drug war
1. What have been the main impacts of the president’s anti-drug campaign on human rights?
The anti-drug campaign is a blatant attack on human rights as the President himself is “encouraging” through his statements “vigilante” actions and for citizens to take up arms to kill drug pushers or users. The president has taken the side of the police being investigated for abuse in the anti-drug campaign; he also badmouths and undermines the Commission on Human Rights and other nations and institutions calling for investigations of blatant human rights violations in the ant-drug campaign. He also personally attacks and encourages, if not orchestrates, an all-out attack by his Justice Secretary and allies in Congress against Senator Leila de Lima who led the Senate investigations on this drug war, all to apparently silence or undermine the opposition. The majority of those being killed are from the poorest communities who may not even be drug users. There are very few big names being caught up in this save for a mayor who was killed after he voluntarily submitted himself for investigation because the authorities were looking for him. He was killed right at the jail. The impression was that he has knowledge of who else has knowledge on drugs matters.
2. How is civil society responding to these actions to try uphold rights?
While civil society is largely divided in their opinion or position on the matter, there are still some quarters that have mustered courage to go public and have denounced the excesses of the present administration. This is being done in various ways such as mobilisation and other actions against extra judicial killings. Several human rights groups and peace groups, have condemned the campaign, including my organisation CODE-NGO, by way of issuing statements in traditional and social media condemning the extra judicial killings that are related to the drug war being waged by the government. In social media though, these statements usually receive nasty responses from supporters of President Duterte, many of whom appear to be funded trolls. Lawyers taking up cases are also being attacked in this way.
The CODE-NGO general assembly recently passed a resolution calling on government arms ─ the legislative, the executive and the judiciary ─ to uphold human rights in this anti-drug campaign. Discussions are also ongoing among CSOs about providing orientation to their partner communities on how to protect themselves and assert their rights against house searches or arrests without warrants by the police.
3. Has civil society’s work to uphold rights provoked a backlash from the authorities?
Recently, the President said he will also kill human rights advocates if the campaign against drugs is stopped because of them and the illegal drug problem gets worse. The Commission on Human Rights is also being attacked by the President. There is apparent inaction by police authorities on reported cases of extra judicial killings with all of them being lumped into “deaths under investigation”.
4. How do human rights defenders feel? Are they becoming scared of speaking out?
There are no physical attacks on human rights defenders speaking against the killings in the government’s anti-drug campaign that we know of to date. However, at a community level the threats are creating fear because the police are going from house to house asking people to write their names and if they use drugs. Some people wouldn’t know what these forms mean. They just submit their data depending on the situation in the community. It creates trouble within some communities because neighbours would point to each other – some people in the community can also write down names of people they do not like. Some of those using drugs will point to others. Among CSOs, some are very much against it and are emboldened in their work and are very vocal about their sentiments about the campaign. Others do not openly express their disagreement of the campaign because they are careful not to jeopardise other advocacies they are working out with government, such as the peace talks, agrarian reform and others.
5. What do you think is the impact that CODE NGO has in improving the situation of civic space?
Over the years CODE-NGO has provided venues for civil society to clarify and understand the various social and political issues affecting a particular sector of our society and/or the country in general. This has not only provided an opportunity to enhance knowledge but more so to consolidate civil society forces and efforts to address issues concerning the environment by which they are able to do their work.
In the past, we have been successful in improving policies related to the regulation of CSOs and in improving the public image and public support for CSOs. However, it is too early to tell if CODE-NGO and other CSOs can successfully defend and promote civic space given the President’s pronouncements and actions. We certainly hope we can.
Currently, CODE-NGO is trying to engage specific persons or offices in government who could have the influence to improve civic space situation or are more open to listening to CSOs such as the Office of the Vice President, Department of Interior and Local Government and the Office of the Cabinet Secretary.
As a national association of CSOs in Philippines, a large part of our work is in strengthening capacities of CSOs in the Philippines in being effective in their work, creating accountability in public institutions and showing that we’re also accountable. That adds to our legitimacy and making sure government will listen to us if we are legitimate. We have also been part of several policy advocacy processes in the past supporting the creation of local resources for local CSOs. We are advocating for policies for a more enabling regulatory environment for civil society. Given the current context, it is still too early – only six months into the new presidency, to tell how these will all turn out. But we must think about future steps and be vigilant to make sure that civic space is not constricted.
6. What do you think are the main challenges you are facing as a CSO network in improving civic space conditions?
A challenge has always been relating with government because of politics – the difficulty in the Philippines is that we have very good laws but implementation is poor depending on who is the leader. The level of participation by CSOs in governance changes and varies with who is in power. So we must always be aware of political realities.
There is also little funding for advocacy work. It is widely acknowledged that CSO networks perform important convening, capacity-building and advocacy roles, but sadly, there is not much support for this kind of infrastructural work. Sustainability of CSOs and their work have been challenged, especially those doing human rights campaigns and advocacy. Some other CSOs would have better access because they give very direct products and service. But it is difficult for advocacy groups and networks who focus on coalition building and capacity building of local CSOs; there is not much support for that kind of work.
7. What other challenges do civil society organisations and human rights defenders face in the country?
We have seen gains in the past years of opening up civic space. In the previous administration, there was a generally friendly environment for civil society. Currently, the environment is still quite open because we still have open media. There is no apparent suppression – the gains of fighting for democracy has not been affected. Although there is a feeling of creeping reintroduction of authoritarianism. While it is very open and safe, we’re worried that the space is constricting and can soon get tight.
Currently, it is still easy to register a CSO and run one. Cost-wise the fees are very low for setting up an organisation. Registering authorities require very basic documents. However, more recently, there have been stricter guidelines about CSOs accessing government funds, although very few CSOs actually access that money. The government made it stricter by requiring additional accreditation. These factors restrict the work of CSOs a bit. But this is not because of President Duterte. It was a policy from 2013 as a reaction of government to fake NGOs accessing the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or ‘pork barrel’ funds and implementing ghost projects. But we thought making CSO accreditation tougher after the PDAF scam was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of government; the scam came about so that some legislators and government officials could dip their hands into government’s coffers through these fake NGOs.
8. What could the international community and international civil society do to support civil society in the Philippines?
Statements of solidarity with local CSOs; independent investigations; support for human rights activists and sharing of successful campaigning models would be important.
On the attacks on human rights activists, solidarity messages from the rest of civil society from all over the world would be of help. Exchanges on campaigning, tips on how we can improve online campaigning would be useful because while CSOs have been quite active and able to advocate for policies, we’re worried about the changing environment and would like to learn how others have been successful in their campaigns.
Roselle Rasay is the Deputy Executive Director at Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO). CODE-NGO is the largest coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) working for social development in the Philippines, with its six national networks and six sub-national networks representing more than 1 600 development NGOs, people’s organisations and cooperatives nationwide. Contact CODE-NGO on their Facebook page or visit their website and follow them on Twitter @CODE_NGO
CIVICUS speaks to Angela Mudukuti about South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, the implications for human rights and justice and the work which the Southern Africa Litigation Centre is doing on this issue. Angela is a lawyer with the International Justice Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. Angela is involved in advocacy around international criminal justice issues and strategic litigation, including taking the South African government to court for failure to arrest President Bashir of Sudan
1. What do you think motivated South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
The state seems to advance a number of misplaced excuses for withdrawal in its legal papers and media statements. This includes the allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa, which is of course unfounded as evidenced by the number of self-referrals and the fact that the ICC has preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Iraq for example. The state also alleges that its commitments to the Rome Statute are a hindrance to peace and security efforts in Africa yet this too does not make any sense as South Africa has been engaged in peace and security initiatives for several years “despite” the obligations in terms of the Rome Statute. South Africa signed the Rome Statute in 1998 and ratified it in 2000 and not once has the Rome Statute been raised as a hindrance to peace-keeping efforts. It is only since the arrival of President Omar Al Bashir in 2015 that South Africa has had problems with the ICC. Thus it cannot really be about peace-keeping as South Africa does not have to host suspected perpetrators in South Africa to successfully conduct peace-keeping activities. They have been involved in mediation efforts since former President Thabo Mbeki’s time and not once have they needed to host President Bashir in South Africa. In fact they explicitly declined to do so in 2009 when President Bashir was expected to attend the 2009 inauguration of President Jacob Zuma. It was made publically clear that President Bashir would be arrested if he came to South Africa and as such he did not come to South Africa in 2009.
The arguments of the state seem to be labouring under the misconception that withdrawal will allow them to host President Bashir, yet as made clear by article 127 of the Rome Statute, the obligations of state party do not evaporate because it decides to leave the Rome Statute, thus South Africa is still duty bound to arrest President Bashir for as long as he is wanted by the ICC. The state has failed to provide justifiable and reasonable excuses for leaving the Rome Statute thus the only plausible explanation was an unfortunate political explanation that only the government itself could provide.
2. What do you think is motivating the antipathy of several African states towards the ICC?
The allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa is the main reason advanced by a number of African leaders. Yet as described above this is not factually accurate. In addition to the fact that this is because of a lack of understanding about the jurisdictional limits of the Court it is also an excuse that is conveniently used by politicians to further their political agenda instead of prioritising justice, accountability and the victims of international crimes. While the ICC is not a perfect institution, it requires support and critical yet constructive engagement from member states.
3. What are the likely implications on human rights and justice for victims of human rights violations?
South Africa leaving the ICC will have serious implications for justice and human rights. It sends the wrong message to the victims of crimes. It also shows that South Africa has chosen to support impunity given its failure to arrest President Bashir and the fact that they seek to abandon the only permanent international criminal court instead of constructively engaging with it. South Africa could potentially become a safe haven for suspected perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the government seeks to repeal the Implementation Act which domesticates the Rome Statute and includes a provision on universal jurisdiction. Should the Implementation Act be repealed a lacuna will be created which could be exploited by potential perpetrators of heinous crimes. In addition, if justice fails at the domestic level, there is no African Court with criminal jurisdiction and if South Africa successfully leaves the ICC, there will be no justice at the international level either. This creates an untenable situation which will leave the victims with nowhere to turn.
4. How is civil society in South Africa responding to the withdrawal?
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is actively involved in legally challenging the constitutionality of South Africa’s notice of withdrawal. The matter was heard in the High Court on December 5 and 6 and the court reserved judgment. SALC will also continue with advocacy to raise awareness and sensitise the general public on the importance of supporting international criminal justice as the move to repeal the Implementation Act should go through the parliamentary process which also includes a process of public participation. Hence it is vital that the general public understand the importance of supporting international criminal justice. Civil society is also actively supporting the development and improvement of domestic justice mechanism as the ICC was designed as a court of last resort and will only function as such if domestic systems are willing and able to deal with international crimes. Though the Rome Statute does not recognise regional courts, civil society are actively seeking to promote credible, impartial regional courts that will not provide immunity for heads of state or senior government officials as we see justice as a three-layer system where each layer functions in a complementary fashion.
5. What are three things South Africans need to know about the ICC as an institution of justice for victims of human rights violations?
a) South Africans need to know that the ICC is an impartial and independent court with limited jurisdiction.
b) They should also know that without the support of the African states, the court may not have come into existence in the first place and thus it is more constructive to work towards improving the ICC instead of simply abandoning it.
c) South Africans should also know that regionally there is no African court with criminal jurisdiction and thus if domestic justice fails it is the ordinary citizens who will have no access to justice.
Visit the Southern Africa Litigation website - http://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/
To commemorate International Human Rights Day, CIVICUS speaks to the Chair of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) - Advocate Faith Pansy Tlakula about the state of human rights in Africa. Advocate Tlakula is also the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
1. What in your view is the current state of human rights in Africa as we celebrate Human Rights Day?
The African continent has made progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, many countries hold regular elections and cases of peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leader after an election are increasing. The Gambia is the most recent example. Progress has also been made in areas such as the adoption of laws to criminalize torture, adoption of Access to Information laws, the abolition of the death penalty, with an increase in the number of countries observing a moratorium on the death penalty to give a few examples. Despite these positive developments, challenges remain. These include terrorism and violent extremism in a few countries, continued conflict and acts of armed groups in others which have had a detrimental effect on civilians. There are also cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition, violent protests and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies during peaceful protests and violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation.
2. Do women face the same human rights challenges as men and why?
Yes they do due to the patriarchal nature and continuing gender stereotypes in African societies. Although a number of countries have adopted legislative and other measures to advance the rights of women, the effective implementation of these measures remains a challenge, particularly in areas such as the economic empowerment of women, access to land, female genital mutilation, to mention a few.
3. What are some of the successes resulting from the ACHPR’s interventions in Africa?
We have witnessed the adoption of laws to criminalize child marriage, the recognition of the rights of indigenous populations in Africa, observation of a moratorium on the death penalty and the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in a number of countries. We have also experienced the opening of spaces for dialogue on sexual orientation, irrespective of the difficulty of the dialogue, the initiation, drafting and submission to the African Union for consideration of draft human rights instruments such as the draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the draft Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the draft Protocol on Specific Aspects of the Right to Nationality in Africa.
4. What is the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa?
Although the situation of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa is steadily improving in that there is an increase in the number of countries with Access to Information laws and a decrease in the number of murders of journalists, challenges remain. Very few countries have decriminalized laws that limit freedom of expression such as criminal defamation, insult laws, publication of false news and continue to use these laws to prosecute and harass journalists. The jamming of internet signals and the blocking of social media in the run up to and during elections and demonstrations in the name of protection of national security is a worrying and increasing trend on the continent.
5. Do you think civil society has engaged the ACHPR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adequately?
I believe so. The ACHPR in general and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa in particular would not have achieved what it has without the support of and engagement with civil society organizations. For example, CSO's have provided technical and other support to the Commission and its Special Mechanism in drafting standard setting documents such as the Model law on Access to Information in Africa, Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa, General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 .1 (a), (b) and (f) and Article 14.2 (a) i (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to mention a few.
6. What message to you have for Africans on this human rights day?
One of the paragraphs in the Preamble of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights recognizes freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples. We should always draw inspiration from these powerful words in our quest to improve the situation of human rights on our beloved continent.
To read this in Portugese, click here.
In this anonymous interview, CIVICUS speaks to a civil society activist in Mozambique concerning the environment for civil society and human rights defenders in the country. There is growing concern that killings and acts of intimidation against critical voices often go unpunished.
CIVICUS speaks to Asep Komarudin (pictured) of Legal Aid Institute for the Press concerning the cyber bullying amendment that was recently made to the Electronic Information and Transactions Bill. Human rights activists have complained that the amendment is being used to target them. Asep Komarudin also speaks of the impact of the law on LGBTI activists in the country.
Q: Please detail briefly the Electronic Information and Transactions cyber-bullying amendment
In 2008 the Indonesian government enacted a law related to the use of information technology, the Information and Electronic Transactions Act. The writing of this law began in 2003. In the process of formulation, two drafts were generated, namely the Utilization of Information Technology Bill and the Electronic Information and Electronic Transaction Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to respond to the development of information technology, which has implications in particular to the dimensions of the economy and trade, both nationally and globally. From March 2003, the Ministry of Communications and Information began designing the Information and Electronic Transactions Bill which was a broad spectrum law to regulate cyberspace in Indonesia. This Bill regulates the legality of electronic documents and signatures, the institutionalisation of electronic systems and the implementation of electronic certification, electronic transactions, domain names, intellectual property rights, and protection of the right to privacy among other issues.
Unfortunately, once it was enacted, this legislation caused much controversy. Problems with the Act include lack of recognition and protection of information, documents, signatures and electronic transactions, and a failure to deal with criminal threats online. There have also been problems raised in relation to Internet content and the threat to punish by defamation, the spread of hatred using the internet. The way provisions of the law have been set out is such that they are open to multiple interpretations and have serious implications in political and social life in Indonesia. There are also problems with the provision of cyber bullying in this law.
Q: What do you believe are the state’s real motivations in introducing the amendment?
At first our organisation, LBH Pers, and some other institutions filed a request for a judicial review to the Constitutional Court in 2009 after the Act was passed because parts of the law are problematic and would criminalise citizens on the Internet who criticise the government. This is especially the case with social media. Article 27 paragraph 3 of the law says insult and defamation on the Internet can result in an imprisonment of up to six years.
However, the judicial review application was rejected by the Constitutional Court which considered that article to be necessary because, the Internet distributes information very rapidly and is different to defaming someone offline. Then LBH Pers and other institutions continued to campaign on the dangers of the article arguing that it is in need of revision. There has been an increase in the number of ordinary people, activists and bloggers being prosecuted under the aforementioned article. Until now, more than 200 people have been charged and 90% of those laying charges are public officials or other people with power.
Later, the government agreed to revise the provision and lowered the possible sentence from six to four years but has refused to delete that article entirely. In early 2015, the government put a draft revision of the law to parliament with not too many substantive changes and these were ratified on October 27, 2016. It however also added several chapters that previously did not exist in the preliminary draft. We reject the draft revision proposed by the government as it does not answer the problems we raised and we also criticise the discussion process in parliament because it was not an open process and was very difficult to monitor.
Q: Can you explain what is of concern to civil society in the new cyber-bullying amendment
Cyber bullying as stipulated in Article 29 paragraph (4) is not well spelt out or defined. This has led to the misinterpretation and arbitrary use of “cyber-bullying” as a crime. Because there is no standard definition of cyber-bullying, even of bullying alone in other legal instruments, then the formula that is used to define cyber-bullying is flexible and results in a lot of interpretations leading to it becoming a “multipurpose Act” to suit any situation.
In such conditions, this criminal offence of cyber-bullying is prone to be misused by the enforcement authorities. This has opened a gap for the suppression of freedom of expression in cyberspace in Indonesia.
Q: Has there been any collaboration between civil society and the private sector concerning the cyber bullying amendment
Currently, there has been no collaboration between civil society and the private sector on cyber-bullying because this provision is entirely new. For now we can see that the bullying provision is not being used to protect children and teenage internet users or the general public but is only used to target civil society groups.
Q: What are the limitations in general that hinder Freedom of Expression in Indonesia?
In the context of internet regulation in Indonesia, the amendment law makes main reference to the regulation of internet content, although it must be admitted the regulation is still very limited. Content that is prohibited by the provisions of the law includes content believed to violate decency; content containing gambling; content containing insult and / or defamation; content that contains elements of extortion and / or constitutes threats and; content that spreads false news, causing loss of customers. Pornographic products are also prohibited on the basis of preserving public morals, public order, public security and the rights and reputations of others.
In general, the government can restrict content on the internet with a view to protecting the public interest and barring information deemed to disturb public order. However, there is no clarity on how rules will be enforced concerning such restrictions. We also found there is no discussion about the implications of restrictions in pertaining to the limitation of human rights. In addition, there is another problem of too broad a definition of what constitutes pornography, so it is an open space for the violation of the right to freedom of expression.
LBH Pers therefore holds that the amendment is a potential threat to freedom of expression. The criminal provisions of the law can be multi-interpreted and easily misused. Reducing the sentence for these, as done by the amendment, will not resolve the root of the problem.
The procedure to block the access to internet content is so easy and basic and may result in excessive abuse and misuse by the government.
The provision on the right to be forgotten on the internet, although welcome, also causes a problem in that government officials may want to censor and block out old news of their misdeeds of their past for political expediency.
Q: Lately there has been an increased attack on LGBTI activists and rights. What is the effect of this law amendment for LGBTI activists?
There are many problems posed by the amendment to the law including restrictions on human rights, particularly the criminal insult and defamation provisions.
There is also a problem concerning supervision of Internet content which has also has resulted in the blocking and filtering of certain webistes being done arbitrarily. There is no regulation on the procedure to be followed regarding blocking and filtering internet content. So we see a violation on the right to information, freedom of opinion and expression. Blocking is mainly supposed to be directed against the sites that are considered to have pornographic elements of content. However, in practice, some sites of organisations that fight for the rights of LGBTI persons, whose service was not intended to provide pornographic content, are getting caught up in this. Abuse of power is wide open when it comes to blocking and filtering internet content due to the absence of strict rules that guarantee and ensure transparency and accountability in the process.
Blocking and filtering was experienced by the site of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC.org), in February 2012. At least three service providers Indosat, Telkomsel and Lintas Arta are blocking such sites. In response to these actions, the human rights organisation in Indonesia sent a letter formally objecting to this practise. This letter was followed by unblocking by the three operators. A similar case was experienced by the site of the organisation fighting for the rights of LGBTI people, Our Voice, in April 2013. Our Voice (ourvoice.or.id) is blocked by one internet service provider in Indonesia (XL), so they are not accessible to the public. In addition to XL, other providers such as Indosat, 3, Axis and Smartfren are also suspected of participating in the blocking of the site. It is most likely that the blocking of websites that fight for LGBTI sexual rights in Indonesia is closely related to the use of words in block letters, such as “gay” or “lesbian”, which in Indonesia tend to be defined as deviant sexual behaviour.
Indonesia is listed in the 'obstructed' category of the CIVICUS Monitor.
CIVICUS spoke to a civil society leader based in Juba, South Sudan about why the government threatened and prevented human rights defenders from travelling to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for reviews on South Sudan and the general state of human rights and media freedoms in the country five years after the country became independent. The activist requested to remain anonymous for security purposes.
1. How and why did the authorities prevent human rights defenders from travelling to the UNHRC to participate in pre-Universal Periodic Review sessions?
The actions of government against civil society activists and human rights defenders have forced many to leave the country and abandon their participation in the UPR-pre sessions. After testifying in a meeting organised by the visiting United Nations Security Council delegation in Juba, the national security agents blacklisted all those who spoke about the human right situation in the country including those that called for justice and the need to expedite the establishment of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan. One activist was killed the next morning; others were being sought after while those who were fortunate managed to escape to neighboring countries. Just as the government tries to deny the flow of information on South Sudan they are quite aware that the pre-session would provide a platform to expose the unabated human right situation and probably demand for international intervention. Members of civil society whose invitations were leaked to the security agents received anonymous calls threatening to deny them return to South Sudan if they dare attended the UPR-pre session. Phone tapping of human rights defenders including accusing certain civil society organisation leaders of being collaborators with rebel groups is being commonly used to undermine the work of civil society.
Awa Ndah is the Founder and Executive Director of Impact Creators, a youth educational and professional development organisation based in Cameroon. He is also the co- founder and country coordinator of the African Trainer's Network. In the past he has played numerous roles in various local and international advocacy events and campaigns as a trainer, facilitator, team leader and presenter. Lastly, he works with AIESEC in Cameroon as an alumnus coach/ trainer and sponsor.
Given the wide variety of challenges that youth in Africa face, socio-economic instability through the lack of employment appears to be common amongst all states. What are some of the current major repercussions of this challenge for African youth, and what are common debates held by African leaders to curb it?
Unemployment is a current global challenge and its repercussions leave no one indifferent. The global economic crisis affected Africa's economy and it's slow but steady rebound struck a serious blow during and after the Arab Spring. North African youths are the highest of those hit in Africa. ILO's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013, states that North Africa "has a youth unemployment rate as high as 23.7 per cent in 2012" while the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils - Youth Unemployment Visualization 2013 pits unemployment rates in North Africa at 27.9% and in Sub-Saharan Africa at 11.5%. Undoubtedly and regrettably, Africa has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Unemployment is therefore blighting a whole generation of youngsters in Africa. The socio-economic, political and psychosocial repercussions of unemployment are far-reaching particularly to the man [or woman] on the street. In the face of economic stagnation and downturn, financial uncertainty crowned by skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment, the future of the African youth leaves little or nothing to ride home with, all whilst populations just keep increasing. African Economic Outlook (AEO) estimates that there are "almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 and that Africa has the youngest population in the world." This number according to AEO "...will double by 2045."
Dagnachew B. Wakene is a researcher from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, specialising in studies of inclusive development, human rights and law. As a person with disability, Dagnachew currently works as a part-time Research Associate at World Enabled – a disability and youth focused initiative based in Berkeley, California. He is also a Board Member and Youth Representative at the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (SADPD), as well as an active participant in ongoing regional and global deliberations on the ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda,’ representing the cause of inclusive development and continent.
The term impoverished is often used to describe all groups of society that are victims of poverty. How do impoverished persons with disabilities experience poverty differently or in comparison to persons without disability?
Needless to say, numerous studies over the past decade or two have increasingly reported an alarming rate of disability among individuals living in poverty, affirming the peculiar bi-directional/vicious link between poverty and disability. One is both the cause and consequence of the other such that poverty causes disabilities (through, for instance, poor living conditions, health endangering employment, malnutrition, poor access to healthcare and education opportunities etc.);while disability, on the other hand, results in severe poverty. This means that the most pressing issue faced globally by persons with disabilities is not their specific disability but their lack of equitable access to education, employment, health care and the social and legal support systems. The World Disability Report (2011) stated, in no ambiguous terms, that persons with disabilities comprise 15 to 20 percent of the poorest individuals in developing countries and are often relegated to the margins of society, where they are a perceived as being a 'burden', instead of potential and capable contributors to family and national economic activities.
Kiara Worth is one of the Organising Partners for the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). The MGCY is the official youth constituency for sustainable development negotiations, including the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Her role as Organising Partner involves facilitation and advancement of the participation of young people within these processes, including policy amendments and youth activism. In the past, she has engaged with thousands of youth across the globe fostering dialogue, collaboration, participation and unity and diversity amongst young people, and mobilising them to act. She also works as an independent consultant for sustainable development, focusing on rural resource management and communications. She applies alternative forms of social development that use the creative arts and theatre as a means of enabling social transformation. Her publications, dramatic performances and community theatre have focused on environmental integrity and sustainable living. Her work has been featured at numerous panel events at the UNCSD and related events.
How has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework enhanced the voices of children and youth globally since its inception in 2000?
The MDG framework has helped to raise a number of key concerns and issues affecting children and youth globally, and has attempted to enhance their voice to overcome these challenges. Increasingly, youth are recognised as key participants in decision-making and development, yet capacity building of and creating sustained partnerships with young people in achieving the MDGs have yet to be realised.
Youth have been involved directly in the MDGs and have had a variety of platforms to promote their participation. While this has been extremely positive, there is continuous need for successful models of youth participation to be adapted and replicated to specific political and socio-economic realities, taking into consideration the challenges facing youth-led and youth-serving organisations. More support needs to be given to children and youth organisations to further enhance their real participation, and the MGCY is hopeful that the post-2015 agenda will do this.
Matt Simmonds is the liaison officer for the platform of civil society organisations that sits in the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP- Eff), BetterAid in Paris. He is housed in the office of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), where his responsibilities include facilitating and strengthening the advocacy work of the platform primarily through liaising on a regular basis with the OECD secretariat and other stakeholders of the WP- Eff. Prior to this role, he worked at the United Nations office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), where, in his capacity as policy associate, he followed several UN processes such as the UN Financing for Development Process. He holds a Master's Degree in International Development from the New School in New York.
To what extent has the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework influenced the international community towards improving liveable and workable conditions for workers in marginalised areas of the world?
The MDGs, as originally developed in 2000, very much overlooked the employment dimension when trying to address poverty under MDG 1. No surprises then that, also overlooked, were conditions of employment and the challenges workers face the world over especially in those parts of the world where they are most marginalised. So it is safe to say that at least from the very outset, the MDG framework would not have had much influence on the international community in addressing the challenges faced by workers.
However, at the point when the MDG review process began, it was clear that issues around employment and decent work needed to be addressed head on if progress was to be made against MDG 1. So in 2008 the sub target (1b) to Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people was integrated into the MDG Framework, along with a number of indicators to measure progress on this sub target.
Arjan Van Houwelingen of the World Society for the Protection of Animals Netherlands shares why the Post-2015 Agenda needs to include animal welfare and detailed targets for international cooperation towards sustainable development.
Have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) served as a strong framework for encouraging corporations to prioritise climate change and environmental sustainability? Please elaborate.
While this question is slightly outside of the scope of the work of WSPA, my reaction would be that the MDG process has done very little to encourage the private sector towards environmental sustainable practices. Increasing attention to the issue of climate change may have encouraged the 'greening' of corporate brands but the likelihood of a continued absence of strong international agreement on mitigation will encourage the private sector to continue to postpone real action in this area.
Leo Williams in the International Coordinator of the Beyond 2015 campaign, which brings together over 260 civil society organisations from more than 60 countries that work together to influence the creation of the Post- 2015 Development Framework. Prior to this role, Mr Williams worked as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Officer for Bond, the UK membership organisation for NGOs working in international development, and the Scotland Malawi Partnership, a large network of organisations and individuals working between Scotland and Malawi. Having studied Arabic, he also worked to promote peace and justice between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel together with the Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives.
How has the establishment of the MDGs framework enhanced the voices of CSOs in the global South since its inception in 2000? Please elaborate on whether or not there was a significant increase of involvement from global South actors during the past 13 years, in a way that was lacking at the creation of the MDGs.
I have certainly seen a marked increase in the engagement of actors from the global south in the Beyond 2015 campaign. For example, in late 2010, the majority of governments, UN departments and CSOs were of the opinion that it was too early to start talking about 'post-MDGs' for fear that it would mean less focus on achieving the MDGs before the 2015 deadline. Relatively quickly this became an untenable position as CSOs started to realise that it had taken governments over a decade of 'summitteering' to agree the Millennium Declaration which led to the MDGs. In 2010 and 2011 we did not have the luxury of a decade – we needed to ensure that these conversations started as soon as possible, to ensure the process to develop the next framework was participatory, inclusive and responsive to the voices of those most affected by poverty and injustice – rather than to have been written by a small group of UN insiders.
Ivana Savic is a Policy Officer at Change Mob and Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development Studies. She serves as a board member to the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) at CIVICUS. Prior to these roles, she served as Junior Advisor at the Gender Equality Department to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia. Since 2009 she served as the representative for the Child Rights Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, which was an Organizing Partner for the Major Group on Children and Youth at the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil last year.
How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework assisted in the development of youth organizations, capacities and livelihoods since its inception in 2000?
MDGs have been important in advancing the livelihoods and capacities of young people, but also mobilizing young people to be involved in the implementation and progress reporting of the MDGs. However, Beyond 2015 goals should have at least one goal committed to youth and one committed to human development governance, particularly issues pertaining participation in decision making.
What are some of the key issues facing youth throughout the world today, which should be prioritised in a Post-2015 Agenda?
People all over the world, especially young people, are faced with increasing environmental degradation, human rights violations and economic crises and those issues should be prioritised in the Post-2015 Agenda. A clean, safe, healthy, adequate and sustainable environment is a prerequisite for life, survival and development. It also bares consequences for the fulfilment of human rights. Unfortunately, however, the environment is not an indefinite resource and its degradation negatively influences human health and life as well as the future and the lives of future generations. Furthermore, human rights, especially rights such as right to life, survival and development, right to adequate standard of living, right to health, right to work and social security, freedom from violence; and also the right to participation should be emphasised in the post MDGs agenda. It would be better to say that protection, fulfilment and advancement of human rights should be a foundation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. After all, development goals could be perceived as efforts made toward fulfilling the vision of a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
Uchita de Zoysa is the Chairman of Global Sustainability Solutions (GLOSS), the Executive Director of the Centre for Environment and Development, and Initiator of the People's Sustainability Treaties. He is the author of several books and international reports, and has played a leading role in the formulation of global independent sector collective agreements such as The NGO Alternative Treaties and the Oslo Declaration on Sustainable Consumption. Prior to these roles, Mr de Zoysa created and led the largest environment and development NGO in Sri Lanka, the Public Campaign on Environment & Development. In addition, he has also held numerous international posts including Advisory Board Member and Head of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption for SC.Asia.
To what extent has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000, promoted the issues of sustainability and responsibility amongst corporations within global production and consumption practices?
The MDG's had no doubt helped create awareness on sustainability and responsibility amongst all critical stakeholders including business and industry.
Richard Morgan is the Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the Post- 2015 Agenda. He is a member of the UN Secretary- General's Task Team on the Post- 2015 Agenda and has chaired various UN inter agency groups on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the past. Prior to this, Mr Morgan served as UNICEF's Director of Policy, UNICEF in Africa and for the Government of Botswana during the 1970-1990s. His focus lies within the areas of how rights based, normative approaches can be effectively applied to international development1. Source2
To what extent have governments increased commitment to child and gender sensitive policies after the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000?
This is not easy to answer rigorously, and would depend on careful, comparative cross-country analysis of national policies between 2000 and 2012. Certainly there have been a number of individual advances in national child- and gender-sensitive policies, both across sectors and in specific areas such as juvenile justice reform and legislation designed to prevent violence against children and women. However, much more remains to be done in terms of policies, legislation, administrative measures, pro-child budgets and programmes.
Dr. Changyong Rhee is the Chief Economics and spokesperson on economic forecasts, trends at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). He has over 20 years of professional experience in government and academia and served as the Secretary General of the Presidential Committee for the G- 20 Summit where he played a role in shaping and advancing the agenda for the 2010 G- 20 Seoul Summit. In previous years, Dr. Rhee also served as Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Commission of the Republic of Korea and played an instrumental role in developing strategic policy responses to the 2008 global economic crisis. In the private sector, Dr. Rhee advised the Shinhan Bank and Woori Investment and was also the director of the financial market think tank, the Korea Fixed Income Research Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University.
How have the Asian and Pacific regions changed since the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework in 2000?
Asia has been experiencing fast growth, contributing to the shift of global gravity to the region. The GDP growth rate of 8.3% averaged over 2000-2011 is faster than any other region in the world and has helped lift almost 300 million Asians out of extreme poverty.
Felix Dodds is an independent consultant focusing on stakeholder engagement in the sustainable development process. He is also a current Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. Prior to these roles, he served as Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future and has been active at the UN since 1990, having attended a myriad of World Summits. He has also participated in all UN Commissions for Sustainable Development and UNEP Governing Councils; and has chaired the 64th UN DPI NGO Conference on Sustainable Development. Additionally, he is a member of a number of advisory boards such as the Great Transition.
1. How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) assisted in creating an environment conducive to the actions of civil society since its inception in 2000?
It should be remembered that unlike Agenda 21 there was little stakeholder involvement in the development of the MDGs. They by and large came from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (DAC OECD) targets so there was considerable opposition by stakeholders to the MDGs to begin with. From the sustainable development world, who had mostly bypassed the MDG Summit to focus on the World Summit on Sustainable Development, there was little in MDG7 to be happy with. MDG7 was slightly strengthened by the addition of a sanitation target. It is clear in the years since 2000 that development funding refocused around the MDGs and climate change and therefore so did much stakeholder involvement and actions.
Catherine Pearce is the Campaign Manager for Future Justice [www.futurejustice.org] at the World Future Council, which campaigns for the interests of future generations to be taken into account in policy-making. Catherine has almost a decade's experience in the area of climate and energy policy, having worked with the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, where she convened mayors and advisors on reducing emissions and energy use in some of the world's largest cities. She also coordinated the climate campaign for Friends of the Earth International and the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group in Westminster, UK.
What do you feel were the high and low points of the Rio+20 processes?
In the face of the enormity of our environmental and economic crises, Rio+20 offered a critical moment to seize new, visionary ideas and commit to ambitious, long-term action to secure the safekeeping of the planet and our very wellbeing.
Back in 2010, the Rio+20 Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, said, "There has never been a more urgent time to drive political will and action to make our societies more economically strong and socially and environmentally sustainable. We need to reinvigorate support here and now." Yet as Rio+20 neared, government positions became clear. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned them to resist the prioritisation of narrow national interests over the opportunity to take a new path to address the needs of the billions without, and safeguard the very sources of life on which we all depend.
These loaded statements were accompanied by inspiring civil society actions and campaigns, a high point perhaps, and stark warnings from the scientific community, all pointing in the same direction of what was required and expected of leaders in Rio.
The summit was never going to match its famous predecessor in Rio de Janeiro 20 years earlier. But while new legislation or new conventions were not a realistic part of the Rio+20 predicted outcome, some innovative new ideas were. The World Future Council had been actively promoting one such idea: to establish Ombudspersons for Future Generations. These would be independent guardians appointed at global, national and local levels whose job would be to help safeguard environmental and social conditions by speaking up authoritatively for future generations in all areas of policy-making.
CIVICUS speaks to Dr Sabina Anokye-Mensah from Voice of African Mothers (VAM) on her expectations for Rio+20. As a civil society organisation and organising partner for the conference's Women Major Group, VAM advocates for women's education and empowerment in the African continent. She speaks about the challenges that arise from the concept of the green economy concept, and the tensions that currently face governments in the adoption of a rights-based approach.
What are your expectations from Rio+20?
The results of Rio+20 are expected to guide the actions of governments and the UN regarding the issue of sustainable development in the following years. Following from the conference I expect a cordial and improved relationship between governments, civil society, major groups, private sector and all stakeholders, so that the collaboration will provide a system of economic and environmental activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, which create the opportunity for men, women, boys and girls to live in harmony with nature and be treated equally. Rio+20 results should strengthen sectoral linkages between agencies to ensure the use of the green economy as one of the means toward the achievement of the three pillars of sustainable development.
CIVICUS Director of Outreach, Henri Valot, interviews Nikhil Seth, Director, UN Division of Sustainable Development and Head of the Rio+20 Secretariat*
HENRI: What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?
NIKHIL: My hopes and aspirations for Rio+20 are very high. First, I think it's going to be a very important convening of over 60,000 game-changers and people who have a deep impact on national policy. Representatives of civil society bring expertise in a wide range of areas, so it's not only a political governmental conference, but the ability to convene the largest UN conference in history, and the communities we will bring together at Rio will produce not one outcome which everyone focuses on - the political outcome - but thousands of outcomes, which bring together different communities of expertise, which has the potential for nurturing and brokering new partnerships. It has the potential of civil society engaging with different civil society from different parts of the world, so it's a mammoth assembly of people, and people forget that sometimes. So my hope is that in both the political outcome and in these other outcomes that I talk about that we will get real traction for the "future we want".
HENRI: In your opinion, what are the major challenges that the UN or member states are facing in establishing a concrete or ambitious outcome agreement? I know the problem on the Zero Draft and the negotiations that are happening. What are, for you, the main challenges?
NIKHIL: I think we are living in very difficult times. To start, news from all around the world is not good. The politics are kind of shot up globally, the economics are shot up globally, and people see only dark clouds in the global political, social and economic situation, so we are meeting in very difficult times, and meeting at such times, people wonder that groups will renege from the promises of the past, because the difficult situations mean difficulties for example, in financial resources. It means difficulties in various other commitments that have been made over the last twenty years, so the major worry is that other groups and countries might step back from their promises that will reduce the trust and the confidence and as a result people will not engage honestly and openly to solve the problems that we are out to solve. So my major worry is that the politics of the current times that we are living through will constrain significant progress.
Jaehyun Jang is a Programme Specialist and Researcher at the Reshaping Development Institute (ReDI) in the Republic of Korea. ReDI is an independent think tank in the field of international development cooperation that aims to promote global development, study and research, and policy for the advancement of global knowledge cooperation. Here he tells us about his pessimism about the official Rio+20 process versus his hope in the People’s Summit, and the dangers in the current promotion of green growth and the green economy.
What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?
I don’t have much expectation and hope for the forthcoming Rio+20. This is due to the fact that the main agenda of Rio+20 looks ‘zero ambitious’ compared to the original Rio summit, considering the seriousness and urgency of the multiple crises we and the earth face at the moment. By looking at the recent Rio+20 negotiations on the zero draft, it also seems that the recent failures in the UN climate change negotiations, caused by a growing tension between developed and major emerging developing economies, will lead the Rio+20 into another failure.
A Rio+20 interview with Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda is the General Secretary of the World YWCA, a global federation in 125 countries, and a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in CSO governance and transition management. She is also the Vice Chair of CIVICUS. She is active in trying to ensure that young women are able to help shape the future sustainable development agenda, and that the women's human rights impacts of climate change and sustainability challenges are taken into account. She talks to CIVICUS about her hopes for Rio+20 and the work of the World YWCA.
How is the World YWCA planning to advance women's issues, and participation at Rio+20?
The World YWCA will have a small delegation of YWCA representatives at Rio+20 with two clear goals – to ensure young people, and particularly young women, play a role in shaping the sustainable development agenda, and to ensure the agenda coming out of Rio+20 is inextricably linked with advancing gender equality and women's human rights. It is also essential that commitments are adequately resourced and that we continue to strengthen accountability mechanisms.
An interview with Alice Vincent of World Future Council on the Ombudsperson for Future Generations proposal
In the latest of our interviews with key civil society figures on the road to Rio+20, we talk to Alice Vincent, Policy Officer at the World Future Council, an organisation which brings together representatives of governments, parliaments, the arts, civil society, academia and the business world to form a voice for the rights of future generations. It hopes to see Rio+20 commit to establishing an Ombudsperson for Future Generations.
What is the World Future Council's proposal for Ombudspersons for Future Generations?
The World Future Council is proposing an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations under the second theme of Rio+20, 'Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development'.
The World Future Council is an organisation that endeavours to bring the interests of future generations to the centre of policy-making. We identify existing innovative future-just policies and advise policy-makers on how best to implement these.
Cristina Diez Saguillo has been a member of the International Movement ATD Fourth World's full-time volunteer corps since 2003. Prior to that she worked in the financial sector as a fund administrator and worked in grassroots projects with children and young people in poverty in disadvantaged urban areas of Spain. In 2010 she became the main representative of the organisation to the United Nations.
What issues is ATD Fourth World bringing to Rio+20?
The main issues we’re bringing to Rio+20 are human rights and the participation of all stakeholders, with special attention to those most affected by extreme poverty and exclusion.
The conference should contribute to building a new sustainable development framework and the outcomes should be based on internationally agreed upon human rights principles and standards. The work of the UN Human Rights Council in developing Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights provides a useful reference point in developing a human-rights based approach to sustainable development and poverty eradication. A rights-based approach will ensure the following:
CIVICUS has conducted a series of interviews with key players involved in the Rio+20 process. You may see the list of interviews conducted so far below: