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    Johannesburg. 1 July 2011. Civil society activists working around the globe face an increasing risk of suppression and abuse by government authorities, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said as it joined an international consortium of civil society organisations (CSOs) to announce a new NGO emergency assistance fund at a launch event today before the Community of Democracies Ministerial meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.

    Despite activists around the globe fighting to defend citizens' rights and freedoms, in over 90 countries civil society operates in restrictive environments due to harsh government legislation impeding freedom, according to a report on trends in civil society produced by CIVICUS earlier this year. The new assistance fund is designed to help civil society activists withstand these crackdowns by providing emergency financial support.

    "Today we live in a world where there is a surge in widespread and systematic attacks on civil society space, aimed at curbing the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The methods indeed vary, but the objective - and the threat posed to democracy - remains the same," said Netsanet Belay, CIVICUS Director of Policy and Research, during the launch.

    Speaking to representatives of the 13 governments supporting this multilateral initiative, he continued: "We hope you will agree with us that resolving this global challenge demands much more than just your money. As members of the global community, and as bearers of collective and individual responsibilities to promote a universal observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, we expect more from you in balancing rights against interests, rules against politics, action against rhetoric."

    During the launch, attended by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among other representatives of governments and civil society, Belay noted groups defending the rights of citizens faced constant pressure, including threats of physical harm, from governments and non-state actors. Specific examples that raised the alarm are a draft law in Cambodia designed to increase government control over NGOs, as well as government freezes of bank accounts of the small surviving human rights civil society groups in Ethiopia, coordinated attacks against and restrictions on the movement of opposition members in Iran, and the violent dispersal of demonstrations in Belarus.

    The thirteen governments who have supported this initiative, including Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, have pledged over US$4 million to begin a multi-year effort. The NGO Assistance Fund brings together leading civil society organisations, including Freedom House, the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (United States), FrontLine Defenders (Ireland), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Thailand), People in Need (Czech Republic), and the Swedish International Liberal Centre, to create a global network to defend embattled NGOs.

    CIVICUS and the consortium will work with hundreds of groups on the ground to speak out against attacks and to quickly provide emergency legal, humanitarian, medical and security support to those at risk in every area of the world.

    The fund is an extension of the CIVICUS Crisis Response Fund which supported local civil society in the Philippines to advocate for the release of the Morong 43, a group of 43 healthcare workers illegally detained on false charges of terrorism, the last of whom were freed in February 2011.

    "This new fund will allow us to further strengthen our support for civil society under threat and bring a global solidarity network to bear in situations of crisis", said Adam Nord, CIVICUS Lobbying and Engagement Manager.

    Click here for more information about the NGO Assistance Fund.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world.
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    For more information please contact Rowena McNaughton ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), Media Officer, CIVICUS +27 11 833 5959

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