activism

 

  • ‘Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised’

     

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Mundaca, Agronomist and National Spokesperson of the Defence Movement for Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA), an organisation established in 2010 in the Chilean province of Petorca, in the Valparaíso region, to defend the rights of farmers, workers and local people. Since the 1990s, the region has been affected by the massive appropriation of water by agribusiness in collusion with the political establishment.

    Rodrigo Mundaca

    What is the main environmental issue in your context?

    The main problem is water. We live in a territory characterised mainly by the monoculture of avocado, the production of which requires huge amounts of water. Water is in the hands of large producers who have dried out our territory and compromised the lives of our communities. Ours is an extreme case: Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised. Chile has clearly prioritised extractive industries over the rights of communities to water.

    The privatisation of water sources in Chile dates back to the Pinochet dictatorship of 1973 to 1990. The 1980 Constitution enshrined the private ownership of water. This was maintained, and even deepened, following the democratic transition, since sanitation was also privatised. The privatisation process of sanitation began in 1998, under the administration led by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a Christian Democrat. Nowadays, people in Chile pay the highest rates in Latin America for drinking water, which is owned by large transnational corporations. Overall, the Suez group, Aguas de Barcelona, Marubeni and the Ontario teachers’ pension fund administrator from Canada control 90 per cent of the drinking water supply.

    Right now, President Sebastián Piñera's government is auctioning off rivers. Piñera came into government with a mission to underpin the legal certainty of water rights ownership, and his cabinet includes several ministers who own rights to water use, the most prominent of which is the Minister of Agriculture, Antonio Walker Prieto. This minister and his family own more than 29,000 litres per second, which is equivalent to the continuous water supply used by approximately 17 million people.

    Is it as simple as someone owning the rivers and being able to prevent others from using the water?

    Yes, the 1980 Chilean Constitution literally states that the rights of individuals over water, recognised or constituted in accordance with the law, grant their bearers ownership over it. In 1981, the Water Code established that water is a national good for public use but also an economic good. Water ownership was separated from land ownership, so that there are water owners who have no land and landowners who have no water. It is the state's prerogative to grant rights for water use. These rights fall into two categories: water rights for consumption use and water rights for non-consumptive use, for example for generating electricity. In the first category, 77 per cent of the rights are held by the agricultural and forestry sector, 13 per cent by the mining sector, seven per cent by the industrial sector and approximately three per cent by the health sector. As for the rights for the use of water that is not consumed, 81 per cent are in the hands of an Italian public-private company. The owners of exploitation rights can sell or lease water use in the marketplace.

    In 2018, the Piñera administration proposed a bill aimed at providing legal certainty to perpetuity to private owners of water and introducing water auctions. Currently, 38 rivers in Chile are being auctioned off; basically, what the state does is auction off the litres per second that run through a river. While this occurs in some territories where there is still water, areas accounting for 67 per cent of the Chilean population – some 12 million people – have become water emergency areas. Our region, Valparaíso, is a zone of water catastrophe due to drought. This is unheard of: while such a large population has serious difficulties in accessing drinking water, the state is auctioning off rivers.

    What kind of work do you do to promote the recognition of access to water as a right?

    For more than 15 years we have made visible the conflict over water in our territory. Although we originated in the Valparaíso region, from 2016 onwards our organisation has worked nationwide. We fight at the national level for water to be regulated as a common good. The right to water is a fundamental human right.

    Our original strategy was to kickstart the struggle for water, render the conflict visible and bring debate to parliament about the need to repeal private ownership of water, despite our lack of confidence in the political class that has the responsibility to make the law and watch over its implementation.

    In 2016 we took an important step by putting forward an international strategy that made it known throughout the world that in our province the human right to water was being violated in order to grow avocados. We were featured in a German TV report, ‘Avocado: Superfood and Environmental Killer’, in several articles in The Guardian describing how Chileans are running out of water and in an RT report in Spanish, ‘Chile’s Dry Tears’, among others. Last year Netflix dedicated an episode of its Rotten show to the avocado business and the violation of the human right to water in Chile. We have had a positive reception. In 2019 alone, we received two international awards: the International Human Rights Prize awarded by the city of Nuremberg, Germany, in September, and the Danielle Mitterrand Prize, awarded by the France Libertés Foundation, in November.

    Another thing we do is develop activists and leaders. We have long-term training programmes and do ongoing work to develop theoretical and political thinking. We also mobilise. In the context of the widespread protests that started in Chile on 18 October 2019, we have made our demands heard. Clearly, although at the national level the main demands concern the restitution of workers’ pension funds and improvements in education and health, in some regions further north and further south of the capital, the most important demand concerns the recovery of water as a common good and a human right.

    In addition to mobilising, our work on the ground involves more radical actions such as roadblocks and occupations. Among direct actions carried out on the ground are the seizure of wells and the destruction of drains. Some local grassroots organisations seize wells owned by mining companies, resist as long as they can – sometimes for 60 or 70 days – and divert the water to their communities. In places where rivers no longer carry water, groundwater has been captured through drains, works of engineering that capture, channel and carry all groundwater away. Some communities destroy the drains that transport water for use by agribusiness such as forestry companies. Such actions of resistance have increased since the start of the social protests in October 2019.

    The struggle for water is a radical one because it erodes the foundations of inequality. The origin of the major Chilean fortunes is the appropriation of common goods, basically water and land. President Piñera's fortune is no exception.

    Have you faced reprisals because of your activism?

    Yes, because of our strategy to give visibility to the conflict over water, several of our activists have been threatened with death. That is why in 2017 Amnesty International conducted a worldwide campaign that collected more than 50,000 signatures to demand protection for us.

    Between 2012 and 2014, I was summoned 24 times by four different courts because I denounced a public official who had been Minister of the Interior under the first administration of President Michelle Bachelet (2006 to 2010). As well as being a leading Christian Democratic Party official, this person was a business owner who diverted water toward his properties to grow avocado and citrus. I reported this in 2012, during an interview with CNN, and that cost me 24 court appearances over two years. I was finally sentenced, first to five years in jail, which were then reduced to 540 days and then to 61, and finally our lawyers managed to put me on probation. I had to show up and sign on the first five days of each month. We also had to pay a fine.

    We have been attacked and threatened with death many times. In November 2019, an investigation published on a news site revealed that we were being targeted by police intelligence surveillance. However, in response to an amparo appeal – a petition for basic rights – against the police, in February 2020 the Supreme Court issued a ruling that the surveillance to which we are subjected does not violate our constitutional rights. This is Chile in all of its filthy injustice.

    Government behaviour has always been the same, regardless of the political colour of the incumbent government. All governments have reached agreements to keep the private water model because it is business, and one that is highly profitable for the political class. When they leave their positions in government, former public officials go on to occupy positions in the boards of the companies that appropriate the water.

    Did you join the global climate mobilisations of 2019?

    In Chile we have been mobilising since long before. In 2013 we had our first national march for the recovery of water and land, and from then on we have mobilised every year on 22 April, Earth Day. We also demonstrate to commemorate World Water Day on 22 March. We have been on the move for a long time. Chile is going through a social, environmental and humanity crisis. We face the need to safeguard human rights that are essential for the fulfilment of other rights. The human right to water is a basic precondition for people to be able to access all other rights.

    We have also been mobilised for a long time to denounce that Chile's development model is extremely polluting and deeply predatory. We have privatised marine resources: seven families own all of Chile’s marine resources. Our country has five areas of sacrifice, that is, areas that concentrate a large number of polluting industries. These are in Colonel, Huasco, Mussels, Quintero and Tocopilla. The areas of sacrifice are not only an environmental problem but also a social problem; they discriminate against the poorest and most vulnerable communities. They are overflowing with coal-fired thermoelectric plants and, in some cases, with copper smelters. The are 28 thermoelectric plants: 15 of these are US companies, eight are French, three are Italian and two are owned by domestic capital. The population in these areas has endured the emission of toxic gases and heavy metals for decades. We have been mobilising in these areas for years in defence of common natural assets.

    Have you engaged in international forums on the environment and climate change?

    Yes, I have been involved several times. In 2014, before I was convicted, I went to Paris, France by invitation of several European civil society organisations to attend a forum on human rights defenders, where I spoke about the private water and land model. In 2018 I was invited to a global meeting of human rights defenders at risk, held in Dublin, Ireland. That same year I was also invited to a regional meeting of human rights defenders that took place in Lima, Peru.

    We have also been involved in intergovernmental forums such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2019, Chile was going to host the COP 25, and the global mobilisation for climate throughout the year had a tremendous echo in Chile. Obviously neither the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, planned for November, nor COP 25, scheduled for early December, could be held in Chile, because the government was completely overwhelmed by the popular mobilisation that began in late October, and because it responded to this with systematic human rights violations.

    Several of our members were at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, and were able to speak with the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón and with some officials of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Shortly after this meeting we had a meeting in Chile with Baltasar Garzón, the judge who prosecuted former dictator Pinochet and had him arrested in the UK. Garzón was very impressed with the water model and the stories our activists told him. Also recently we met with the delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during their visit to Chile. We met with Soledad García Muñoz, the IACHR Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, and presented an overview of the Chilean situation and what it means to live deprived of water.

    Do you think that forums such as the COP offer space for civil society to speak up and exercise influence?

    I have a critical opinion of the COP. I think that in general it is a fair of vanities attended by many presidents, and many ministers of environment and agriculture, to promise the world what they cannot fulfil in their own countries. The main greenhouse gas emitting countries have leaders who either deny climate change, or are talking the talk about climate change but don’t seem to have the intention to make any change in their country’s predatory economic behaviour. The countries that are most responsible for climate change and global warming are currently the main detractors of the COP.

    However, the summits do offer a space for civil society, from where it is possible to challenge the powerful, speak up about the climate injustice that affects the entire planet and promote the construction of a new development model that is viable and economically competitive while also socially fairer and ecologically healthier. But for that we need new paradigms: we cannot continue to think that there are unlimited development prospects on a planet that has finite natural resources.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with MODATIMA through theirwebsite andFacebook page, or follow@Modatima_cl on Twitter.

     

  • 1. The green shoots of a new civic activism

    The name “CIVICUS” is inspired by the Latin word relating to community. Today, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our alliance, community is more important than ever. Whether it is to solve local issues or tackle the biggest global challenges, we need people to come together to speak out, organise and take action. We need to adopt a more collective idea of humanity and more sophisticated view of solidarity. And we must deploy every means we can to promote social justice and sustainable development.

     

  • Activism and the state: How African civil society responds to repression

    By David Kode and Mouna Ben Garga

    In most African countries, freedom of expression, assembly and association are stifled by state and non-state actors through the use of restrictive legislation, policies, and judicial persecution as well as physical attacks, threats and detention of activists and journalists. While these restrictions generally occur when civil society groups speak out in direct opposition to public policy, there is strong evidence that restrictions increase during politically sensitive periods, like elections and prior to constitutional changes on term limits of political leaders. African citizens, activists and organisations are finding new and innovative ways to resist, organise and mobilise in the face of mounting restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

    Read on: Pambazuka 

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘Protecting water amounts to protecting basic human rights in all nations’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Sharif Jamil, an environmental activist and the General Secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), a platform that organises civil society movements against environmental degradation. Since 2009 Sharif has been involved with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global network aimed at ensuring every community’s right to clean water, and he is currently the Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh.

     sharif jamil

     

    What is the key environmental issue that you work on?

    The Waterkeeper Alliance is a global platform and network that now includes over 400 organisations in 40 countries across the globe. We protect the water bodies that we all need and use, but that cannot speak for themselves. We call for people to respect water bodies and defend their rights, so when a waterkeeper speaks it is as if a water body spoke.

    We focus on water, but we don’t work only on water, because if there is no rainforest there is no water, if there are no mountains there is no water: if you don’t preserve the environment and ecology as a whole, then the water is also in trouble. So our water protection movement is not limited to protecting water bodies. 

    We have launched a global campaign because water does not respect borders, so it needs to be protected globally. Climate change and global warming are threatening the entire planet, and we need the planet to come out of this crisis as a whole.

    While thinking globally, you are also acting locally. Can you tell us about the work you are doing in Bangladesh?

    I started my activism 20 years ago. BAPA was formed in 2000 at an international conference on the environment in Bangladesh. The conference was held to discuss what we could do for the environment from the civil society level. It was agreed that civil organisations were doing good work but a platform was still needed for all of them to act as a unified pressure group, to bring the conflict to the table and apply pressure to come up with a solution. When BAPA started, we prioritised the issues directly affecting the environment in Bangladesh, but as rivers do not follow political boundaries, we realised that protecting water amounts to protecting basic human rights in all nations. That is why I also got involved with human rights organisations and members of a human rights group based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and we are now tracking human rights violations related to ecological degradation.

    Specifically in Bangladesh, in recent times, we are focusing our work on the conflict between fossil fuels, the energy system and environmental degradation. In 2010 the government updated a power system master plan required for the country to grow economically. The government decided to focus on industrialisation, so it formed a special economy zone authority and declared more than 100 special economic zones across the country. These were meant to attract investment from foreign investors and to facilitate the establishment of multinational companies in the country. Industry requires energy, so to foster industrialisation the government came up with a plan to produce the power that it estimated would be required up to 2030. In order to meet the requirement, it decided to increase dramatically the share of energy produced from coal, from 2.5 per cent of total electricity to over 50 per cent. The government made this decision just as the world was shifting away from coal because of global warming.

    At this point there were civil society reactions, but initially we did not know enough. We lacked information, expertise and funding. But we worked hard to understand how much this master plan would impact on water and climate. With the collaboration of the Waterkeeper Alliance, in 2015 we organised an international conference in Dhaka, ‘Coal energy in Bangladesh: impact on water and climate’, and we came to understand that coal is more of a problem than a solution. The government’s plan identified three major hubs to establish coal-based power plants in the coastal region, and each of those hubs is threatening a unique ecological treasure.

    One of them is the Sundarbans, a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans, a World Heritage Site, is the largest remaining mangrove forest in the world. It covers an area of about 10,000 square kilometres in both Bangladesh (60 per cent) and India (40 per cent) and it is the last habitat of the endangered Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans protects the entire nation from cyclone and storm surges because Bangladesh is a densely populated country and is highly vulnerable to global warming, climate change and extreme weather hitting the land from the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh is almost a flat country and is therefore affected by floods. The Sundarbans is a lot more than just a huge forest – it is also a barrier that protects all of our country’s land.

    So we started protesting against the Rampal and Orion coal power-plant projects, located only around four kilometres away from the Ecologically Critical Area of the Sundarbans. We first started protesting against the coal-based power developments that were closest to home and then found out that on the other side of the Sundarbans, there were also huge numbers of coal-based power production plants going on in and around Payra, which were also threatening the Sundarbans as well as one of the rarest sea beaches where you can see the sunrise and sunset. And more importantly, thinking about the food security of our nation, the pollution that it causes threatens our national fish, hilsa. This is a fish that migrates from sea to freshwater and from freshwater to sea. The region is one of the major landing stations for this migratory fish and would be entirely destroyed by the coal plants.

    What we are trying to do is to reach a balance and understand what we should do and how we can protect this environment while keeping development moving onwards, that is, how we can make development sustainable. But the most urgent thing to do is protecting our water and air from this kind of pollution. We have been organising people’s movements. We are trying to convince our government, doing research and presenting global data and studies to our policy-makers. We are also inviting global investors like China, Japan and the UK to review their strategies. Some of the biggest investors are phasing out coal in their own countries while funding its use in this poor, overpopulated nation. We want the global community to influence and engage global investors to keep development progressing while ensuring that it is done with renewable energy. The global community should understand that producing 5,000 megawatts in Australia is not the same as producing 5,000 megawatts in Bangladesh. We are an overpopulated deltaic country, with more than 1,084 people per square kilometre. 

    Have you participated in global climate mobilisations?

    I was the national coordinator of the climate march in Bangladesh in 2015, when the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) was held in Paris, France. We took people out on the street and had a very good turnout. We held a procession together with other civil society organisations in the capital, Dhaka, and more than 30,000 people participated in the march.

    More recently, in September 2019, we mobilised in the context of the global climate strike called by Greta Thunberg. Waterkeepers Bangladesh, Waterkeepers Nepal, the Nepal River Conservation Trust and BAPA jointly organised a series of events and activities in solidarity, including a mobilisation to protect the Himalayas by the banks of the Sunkoshi River in Nepal, near the source of the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers, on 23 September, and another focused on protecting the Sundarbans, held at Katka Beach in the Bay of Bengal, near the source of the sea, on 29 September.

    I also took part in COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, and joined the European Union’s 21st EU-NGO Human Rights Forum in Brussels, Belgium, both in December 2019. Discussions there revolved around building a fair environmental future.

    So yes, Bangladeshi people are the victims of climate change, which they face every day, but they are also protecting themselves with their own knowledge and capacity, and reaching out to the global community.

    A big problem is that many in the global community are ready to help people with adaptation, but no one is putting enough attention on mitigation. So we request help for Bangladesh not only regarding adaptation to climate change, but also for mitigation, to keep our forest, to protect the Sundarbans, to protect the water bodies. The truth is that if you don’t keep this place alive, the entire region will be in trouble.

    The situation is urgent because water is depleting and there are no shared protocols. So we have started efforts within civil society, with people-to-people communication. We are working on the five countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal – to manage the entire Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna basins together on the basis of equity and trust. These countries should come up with a treaty or some form of consensus to deal with the problem of melting Himalayan glaciers. Bangladesh is a water-scarce country as we get only 20 per cent of total water over half of the year from upstream during the lean period. When a neighbouring country blocks all the water, water bodies die, agriculture collapses and the economy is destroyed.

    Do you think international climate forums provide a useful space for civil society?

    I have participated in many global talks; in September 2018 I was even invited as a speaker to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, USA. The problem with these forums is that sometimes good things are said, but actions do not match words. The government of California was one of the organisers of the summit in San Francisco, but California’s policies are all about protecting themselves while exporting fossil fuels to other countries. It’s irrational to think that you can save yourself alone. What you have to do to protect the planet from climate change is to keep fossil fuel underground. You cannot exploit mines in poor nations and then organise a nice summit to come up with recommendations to solve the problem you have created and that you do not have any intention to implement.

    Still, we are invited to these forums and we attend. The former BAPA general secretary was a member of the Bangladeshi government team for the climate negotiations at three successive sessions of the COP. We try to help our government in the negotiations, for instance by providing data and analysis. True, our government still needs to change its mindset and understand that economic growth needs to be sustainable. Our government needs to conduct itself diplomatically while being firm in searching for funding for sustainable development. 

    But we support our government in international negotiations because Bangladesh is a poor nation and there are many things that our government is not in a position to do or decide by itself; we depend on developed nations in many respects. We understand that responsibility falls on our government when it comes to changing its mindset and becoming more inclusive in its decision-making processes, but it is the responsibility of the global community to come up with a holistic approach to deal with a global problem.

    Civic space in Bangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Waterkeepers Bangladesh through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@WaterkeepersBD on Twitter.

     

     

  • BOLIVIA: ‘We empower young people so they can lead the climate movement’

    Rodrigo MeruviaFollowing a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Meruvia, general coordinator and researcher of the Gaia Pacha Foundation, a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to environmental protection and conservation. Based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Gaia Pacha undertakes research, extension and development initiatives on the basis of cooperation with other CSOs, universities, research centres, government agencies and private companies.

     

     

    What is the main environmental problem in the context where you work?

    The central issue is climate change, a planetary phenomenon that is having impacts at all levels, on populations and their productive and food systems, and that exceeds local and institutional capacities. Among other things, this phenomenon is reflected in an increase in the frequency and magnitude of climatic events and the depth of their impacts.

    We work with the aim of increasing the resilience of rural communities in the face of climate change, as well as building awareness among the urban population regarding the ways in which their consumption patterns affect the development prospects of many communities in rural areas. First of all we work to show how climate change impacts on areas of small family subsistence production and create mechanisms to help increase their resilience to climate change. We also work to empower young people both in rural communities and cities. We train them in technical issues as well as in matters of strategy and leadership, so that they can produce initiatives and generate alternatives on topics such as deforestation or greenhouse gas emission. We encourage them to generate projects applicable to their immediate surroundings and we foster networks and bridges with other civil society and academic organisations to support the implementation of their initiatives.

    For example, at the moment we are working with universities in Cochabamba on the subject of alternative transportation, with the aim of establishing bike paths between the various university campuses within the city, so that young people can use bicycles as an emission-free and safe means of transportation. With that aim in mind, mobile phone apps are being developed that will indicate the safest routes, and parking lots for bicycles are being established, among other things. Work is also being done to educate car drivers, in partnership with the university and in a joint initiative with the municipality and some private companies that are interested in this issue.

    Were there climate mobilisations in Bolivia during 2019?

    Yes, in September, when the global climate mobilisations were held, major Bolivian cities joined as well. In Cochabamba, we provide support to the youth movement, providing them with resources so that they can lead the climate movement. We provide them with logistical and institutional support, which is needed because there is still a lack of trust in young people in our cities. We propel them without becoming the spokespeople for the movement. We provide training on a variety of topics and transmit the fundamentals and basic concepts to them so that they can account for the reasons for their mobilisation rather than just go to a march armed with a single slogan. The idea is for them to become the disseminators of accurate information regarding both the causes and local effects of global climate change.

    With that aim we held several workshops targeted at young people. We trained about 100 young people directly, and indirectly we have reached around 1,400.

    Did climate mobilisations in Bolivia echo global demands, or did demands have specific local components?

    Demonstrations in Bolivia expressed demands related mainly to the forest fires that come hand in hand with the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Their main demand was the repeal of domestic laws that benefit agribusiness and neglect the protection of forests.

    Bolivian laws do not protect forests, but rather the opposite. In mid-2019, just a few months before 2019’s great forest fires, the government enacted decree 3973, which authorised clearance for agricultural activities in private and community lands in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz, and allowed controlled fires. In other words, the law gives free rein to any owner interested in expanding their production space, whether for livestock or agriculture. Unfortunately, this has been the position of the state so far, and in our experience whether there were leftist or right-wing governments in place has not made any difference. Beyond the party ideology of the incumbent government, there’s the interests of the agribusiness sector, which are much more permanent and broader, since they involve not only local actors but also transnational companies.

    We believe that the cause of the fires is primarily human in origin, since they are started to expand the agricultural frontier. This is how about five and a half million hectares have already been burned. To give an idea of​​the dimensions of the disaster: the area that has been burned in the lowlands of Bolivia is almost the same size as Guatemala. And not only the forest is lost, but also the entire habitat is degraded, the water sources of some communities disappear and the effects of this extend beyond Bolivia, as bioclimates and rainfall change.

    We understand that the phenomenon that affects us is part of a bigger problem, which this year had several expressions in the form of fires in the Brazilian Amazon, in African countries and in Australia. As there is insufficient rainfall due to climate change, forests are much more prone to burning. In addition to agricultural expansion policies, especially those aimed at growing soybeans – which in addition are genetically modified – this makes these places much more vulnerable. The consequences of this are suffered not only by the population living in the territories where these incidents occur, which is directly affected, but also by the general population.

    At the same time, we also put forward the issue of urban deforestation. In Cochabamba there are around 200 deaths per year due to respiratory problems. It is one of the cities with the most polluted air in Latin America, so this was also one of the specific demands of our mobilisations, as well as the fact that we adhere to the global call for definitive and effective action by governments.

    Have you had participated in international processes related to climate change?

    We have participated from the local level, training young people to take part in the international negotiation processes, mainly at the COP – Conference of the Signatory Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – series of meetings.

    We started by recruiting in various institutions that work with young people, and making a diagnosis to identify who were the ones who were ready and committed to addressing the issue of climate change, and then we made selections based on the issues we were working on. We gave workshops on topics ranging from the conceptual and technical approach to the issue of climate change, to the management of environmental projects, the characteristics of the negotiation process and strategies to participate, as well as workshops to improve people’s ability to express themselves adequately at these events. It was a long process, but it yielded very good results, because we already have leaders in the country’s nine departments who are trained to go participate in discussions and show the world the initiatives and projects that are being developed in Bolivia.

    Unfortunately, the last-minute change of the venue for COP 25 to Spain – because it could not take place in Santiago de Chile due to the context of protests and repression – deflated us, because we were well prepared and had a firm position that in the end we could not contribute to the event. This was the case not just for us in Bolivia, but more generally for Latin America, where something very big was being prepared to share in Chile. The change of location and the short notice with which it was decided created a big complication for us, financially and logistically. On top of this, for us in Bolivia the consequences of recent socio-political conflicts also were an obstacle that prevented us from implementing our strategy before COP 25.

    But we do not want to throw away the existing motivation and the accumulated work that we have done over approximately one and a half years, so we have continued to work to train young leaders. Our goal is to underpin the ability of young people to generate proposals and initiatives, both technically and politically, not only in their regions but also in international spaces.

    Do you think that the disappointing outcomes of COP 25 had something to do with the absence of many people who were ready to influence the agenda but could not participate?

    Yes, I think so. Without detracting from the work done by the countries and organisations that did participate, I think it ended up being a very improvised event, and if it had been held in Chile as planned, the results could have been a bit more significant and positive thanks to the presence and the participation of young people. For the first time, Bolivia was going to count on the participation of a group of young people recognised by the state, who were to carry out the mandate of a collective process developed in Bolivia’s nine departments through four or five prior forums.

    However, we are trying to have a constructive attitude in the face of this setback, and we are taking advantage of the extra time we have to get ready. We already have these young people who are in a position to formulate demands and proposals wherever it might be necessary to do so – be it in the UK, where COP 26 will be held, or in any other international event if the opportunity arises.

    Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Pacha Gaia Foundation through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@GaiaPacha on Twitter.

     

  • Civil society tackling global challenges with ‘resolute resistance,’ says new report

    As 2017 gave way to 2018, many in civil society found renewed purpose in striving to make democracy real, and demanding human dignity and justice.

    Even as attacks on civil society have become more brazen, the story of the past year was one of resolute resistance against the rising tide of restrictions on fundamental freedoms and democratic values, according to CIVICUS’ 2018 State of Civil Society Report, released 6 March 2018. Sobering data from the CIVICUS Monitor reveals serious systemic problems with civic space in 109 out of 195 countries covered. However, there are also numerous examples of civil society successfully advocating for progressive new laws on women’s rights, access to information and protection of human rights defenders.

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘Citizens are outraged and tired of the policies that have plunged them into poverty’

    CIVICUS speaks with Alexandra González Zapata, coordinator for democracy and social protest at the Solidarity Committee with Political Prisoners Foundation, and a member of the Campaign to Defend Freedom. The Solidarity Committee Foundation is a Colombian civil society organisation that works to defend the rights to life, freedom, physical and moral integrity, decent, fair and impartial treatment and other rights of people deprived of liberty, prosecuted for political crimes and criminalised for participating in social protest. The Solidarity Committee Foundation is a member of the Campaign to Defend Freedom, which focuses on denouncing arbitrary detentions, judicial persecution and the criminalisation of social protest in Colombia. A network made up of social, student, cultural, community and human rights organisations, Defend Freedom works in a coordinated manner to challenge the illegal use of force as a mechanism of persecution against those who, individually or collectively, demand and promote human rights through social mobilisation in Colombia.

    alexandra gonzalez zapata

    What triggered the 2019 protests in Colombia, and why did they escalate?

    Outrage has been building up little by little in Colombia. Even as it was inaugurated in August 2018, President Iván Duque's government did not enjoy wide margins of legitimacy and support. The electoral results showed that a broad segment of the citizenry rejected traditional power and all that it represented: policies in favour of war, privatisation and indebtedness. This discontent increased as the government announced a series of policy measures, including among those who had voted for Duque.

    The government's proposals were aimed at eliminating the state pension fund Colpensiones, raising the retirement age and lowering the salary for young people to 75 per cent of the minimum wage, among other measures. A widespread atmosphere of indignation emerged as a result, yielding a unified call for mobilisation on 21 November 2019.

    What few expected by then was that the mobilisation would continue over the days that followed 21 November. On that day some acts of vandalism were committed, which the national government tried to use as an excuse to criminalise social protest and adopt measures to restrict freedoms, including a curfew. In response to this, citizens went out to demonstrate freely. We really do not know which was the first neighbourhood or the first block to start banging pots and pans on 22 November, but what we do know is that this dynamic expanded throughout the capital city, Bogotá, as well as other cities around Colombia, shifting the narrative that had prevailed on the media, which was all about vandalism, towards a public discourse that highlighted citizen outrage and social demands.

    How have these mobilisations managed to be sustained over time? How are they different from others in Colombia in the past?

    From 2013 onwards, social mobilisation in Colombia has been on the rise. In 2013 there was an agricultural strike that lasted for more than 20 days and managed to keep several major national roads closed. Then came the agricultural strikes of 2015 and 2016, and the so-called ‘mingas for life’, marches and protests of tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples, and the student strikes of 2018 and 2019.

    In other words, we’ve seen numerous massive and sustained mobilisations over the past few years. What is different about the ongoing national protests in comparison to past mobilisations is that they have been characterised by a majority participation of urban citizens and mainly middle-class people. This caused them to be viewed not as the actions of a particular group of people – Indigenous peoples, peasants, or students – but instead as the work of outraged citizens who are tired of the policies that have increasingly plunged them into poverty, even though the country keeps flaunting positive economic growth indicators. Hence its massive and sustained character.

    What do the protesters demand, and what response do they expect from the government?

    The National Strike Committee has submitted a list of petitions around 13 major issues: guarantees for the exercise of the right to social protest; social rights; economic rights; anti-corruption; peace; human rights; the rights of Mother Earth; political rights and guarantees; agricultural and fishery issues; compliance with agreements between government and social organisations; withdrawal of legislation; the repeal of specific laws; and reform of the law-making process.

    On the first item, guarantees for the right to social protest, protesters urge the government to dismantle the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) and refrain from establishing any other similar force. They demand that those responsible for the death of Dylan Cruz, an 18-year-old who was shot dead in the head while running unarmed to escape ESMAD in the early days of the protest in Bogotá, be brought to justice and held accountable.

    On the second item, social rights, protesters demand an end to labour subcontracting, the establishment of an interest rate for mortgage loans that is fair and correlated to people’s real incomes and the repeal of the tax that is currently used to finance the electricity company Electricaribe.

    So far the government has shown no willingness to enter into any real dialogue and negotiation; instead, it insists on beginning ‘exploratory dialogues.’ Protesters expect the government to convene a negotiating table as soon as possible to address the substantial issues that have been raised.

    How did the government react to the protests? What human rights violations were committed by the security forces?

    On 15 November 2019, six days before the first protest was scheduled to take place, the national government made the decision to involve the army in control and security operations in Bogotá. Nine Brigade XIII contingents were deployed and more than 350 soldiers took part in monitoring, patrolling and security controls in Bogotá. This militarisation still persists in the city. The presence of a ‘riot squad’ of the national army, according to information released by the authorities, is particularly concerning. It should be noted that, except in exceptional circumstances, military forces should not intervene in operations to control, contain or even guarantee the celebration of social mobilisations.

    In addition, as confirmed by the authorities, starting at 6am on 19 November, 37 raids were carried out in the residences and workplaces of media professionals throughout Colombia. To date, 21 of those raids have been declared illegal after undergoing judicial scrutiny, because they did not comply with legally established requirements, including being based on reasonable suspicion. According to information provided by the authorities, the raids involved people who were thought to be prone to committing acts of vandalism during the protest. However, it was mainly people linked to artistic groups, alternative media and social movements. Among the items seized were posters, brushes and paintings.

    Also on 19 November, the Ministry of the Interior issued Decree 2087/2019, establishing new measures for the maintenance of public order. Article 3 made “a very special call to district and municipal mayors, so that in their duty to preserve public order in their respective territories, they comply [with the provisions of the Law] in matters of public order.” This call prompted the authorities of at least eight cities – Bogotá, Buenaventura, Cali, Candelaria, Chía, Facatativá, Jamundí and Popayán – to declare curfews. These affected the exercise of the rights to free movement and social protest for all citizens, even though acts affecting public order had been extremely localised.

    Throughout the protests, the authorities made an improper and disproportionate use of force. Although Resolution 1190/2018 states that “the use of force must be considered the last resort of intervention by the National Police,” in most cases ESMAD has intervened without any apparent reason to do so. On 22 November it intervened in Plaza de Bolívar, where more than 5,000 people had assembled, although the demonstration was completely peaceful. On 23 November, Dylan Cruz was killed as a result of an unjustified intervention by ESMAD during a peaceful mobilisation. Although the weapon uses was among those authorised, the ammunition fired by ESMAD caused the death of this young man because of improper use, since according to international standards this type of weapon can only be fired at a distance greater than 60 metres, and only against lower extremities; otherwise, it is deemed to entail lethal risk. Strikingly, on a video recorded live by the Defend Freedom Campaign, an ESMAD agent can be heard encouraging another one to shoot, saying: “Shoot anyone, just anyone, come on daddy.”

    During the protests more than 300 people were injured, including 12 who had eye injuries. Some young people were injured by firearms shot by the police, including Duvan Villegas, who might remain paralysed as a result of a bullet hitting him in the back. Another young man lost his right eye in Bogotá after being hit by a rubber bullet fired by the ESMAD, and two other people could face the loss of their legs due to the impact of teargas canisters thrown by the police from close range.

    Overall, there were 1,514 arrests during the protests, 1,109 of them in Bogotá. Out of 914 people who were arrested, 103 (6.8 per cent) were prosecuted for allegedly being caught in the act of committing violence against a public official; however, arrest procedures were declared illegal in a high number of cases, both because there were not enough grounds for conducting them and because they were accompanied by physical violence against detainees.

    The rest of the people who were detained (93.2 per cent) were transferred for protection or by police procedure. According to the law, detention in these cases is justified when the life or integrity of the person or a third party is at risk or danger. However, in practice an abusive use of this power was made, since these were mostly administrative detentions, used as a mechanism of intimidation and punishment against citizens who were exercising their right to protest. Therefore, these were mostly arbitrary detentions.

    In some of these cases, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment was documented during detention, particularly in Immediate Attention Commands or police stations. Cases came to our attention of people who were forced to undress, others who received electric shocks through electrical control devices and some who had broken bones in their hands as a result of baton charges or being kicked.

    Additionally, in Bogotá, more than 620 people who were transferred to the Protection Transfer Centre were punished with police appearance orders, in many cases for the crime of disruption, for having obstructed transport. This mechanism, which results in fines amounting to around 200,000 Colombian pesos (approx. US$60), was used indiscriminately and has affected the exercise of social protest.

    How has civil society organised in the face of these abuses?

    In 2012, the Defend Freedom Campaign was established. Through its Verification and Intervention Commissions, recognised in Resolution 1190 of 2018, the campaign does on-site monitoring of social mobilisation, documents cases of arbitrary and excessive use of force by police authorities, arbitrary detention and transfer for protection and various forms of repression and abusive use of police power against protesters and human rights defenders, and it systematises the information collected. The campaign also promotes the creation of a National Network of Civil Society Commissions for Verification and Intervention in situations of social mobilisation.

    Likewise, through a joint demand, the National Process of Guarantees, the Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Summit and the Defend Freedom Campaign have obtained verifiable commitments from the national government and the government of Bogotá to establish public policies aimed at enforcing respect for the freedoms of individuals, communities and social organisations that promote and defend rights. The most important of these were Decree 563/2015 (Protocol of Action for Social Mobilisations in Bogotá: For the Right to Mobilisation and Peaceful Protest) issued by the Office of Bogotá’s Mayor and Resolution 1190/2018 (Protocol for the coordination of actions to respect and guarantee peaceful protest) issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

    What immediate measures should the Colombian government adopt in response to the protests?

    First, the government should convene the monitoring mechanism (‘Mesa de Seguimiento’) to respect and guarantee peaceful protest, as a space for negotiation and dialogue that should define mechanisms to guarantee the right to protest, as envisaged in Resolution 1190. Likewise, the government should immediately suspend the use of 12-calibre shotguns by ESMAD members, due to their high impact on people’s physical integrity and life. Second, it should refrain from pursuing stigmatisation and criminalisation campaigns against those who engage in social protest. Third, the government should initiate a negotiation process with the National Strike Committee to address its demands. And in response to the substantive demands made by the National Strike Committee, the government should start by withdrawing its proposals for labour and pension reform that are due for congressional debate, and initiate a broad and participatory process towards the formulation of new laws concerning those issues.

    Do you think the response of the international community has been adequate? How could international groups and organisations support Colombian civil society and contribute to safeguarding civic space in the country?

    I believe that the international community and the United Nations system were able to issue a timely warning regarding the risks of repression of social protest. The call made by human rights organisations in the USA to urge their government to start a moratorium on the sale of US riot weapons to Colombia was also timely.

    However, it would also be important for Colombian civil society to receive longer-term support to undertake medium-term strategies that allow for a deeper and more detailed follow-up of the human rights situation, and particularly to help make progress in judicial investigations for the human rights violations allegedly committed during the protests.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Solidarity Committee Foundation through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@CSPP_ on Twitter.
    Get in touch with the Defend Freedom Campaign through itswebsite andFacebook page, or

     

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘The protection of the environment is inseparable from the success of the peace process’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with a young Colombian student, active in the climate movement, who for security reasons asked to remain anonymous. In addition to mobilising in the context of the #FridaysForFuture movement, the interviewee is part of Post-Conflict Children (Hijos del Posconflicto), a recently created group that seeks to render the experiences of people on the ground visible and defend the peace process in Colombia. On the crossroads of various struggles, the interviewee emphasises the defence of the peace process as a key to preserving Colombia’s environment and biodiversity.

    colombia protests

    From your perspective, what is the most urgent environmental problem in Colombia?

    The most urgent environmental problem is deforestation. Deforestation rates in Colombia are very high, and the situation has not improved following the signing of the peace agreements. That is because, in times of armed conflict, the Colombian guerrillas, mainly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), controlled much of the jungle territory of Colombia. Of course, no one dared get into that territory: multinationals and oil companies did not have a presence there; nor did the industry of cattle-raising. After the peace agreements were signed and the guerrillas withdrew, the problem that has plagued Colombia since the 1950s – land distribution – increased.

    Colombia has extremely regressive land distribution, with land property concentrated in very few hands. With the withdrawal of the guerrillas and the arrival of multinational corporations, land grabbing has increased. Lands are privately appropriated, deforested and used for raising livestock, while the local population continues to be displaced.

    At the same time, there are still active armed groups operating outside the law, particularly far-right paramilitary groups, alongside the smaller guerrilla force of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and some FARC dissidents who refused to engage with the peace process. These armed groups are fighting over the territory with the aim of taking control of coca crops and expanding them, causing greater deforestation.

    Therefore, both the continuation of the conflict in some territories and its termination in others are having a direct influence on deforestation. The peace process contains a series of mechanisms to counteract deforestation, but its effects will depend on whether it is effectively implemented. In that sense, the protection of the environment is inseparable from the success of the peace process.

    What mechanisms in the peace agreements would help stop deforestation?

    The peace agreements include two specific mechanisms to stop deforestation. The first one is comprehensive rural reform, aimed at distributing land in the Colombian countryside and enforcing respect for the uses assigned to the land – for example, by ensuring that if land is for agricultural use, it is not used for raising livestock. The second mechanism is the Programme of Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use, aimed at tackling the drug problem. It is important to understand that many poor peasant families have had to grow coca in order to survive; through this programme, the state is offering them economic incentives to transition towards other sustainable crops.

    How does youth activism contribute to the effective implementation of the peace agreements?

    The struggle for peace is taking place on all fronts. We do three things: we mobilise on the streets in defence of the peace process; we do educational work so that people understand why the peace process is so important; and we do advocacy in various spaces.

    The context in which we do this work is quite difficult. As soon as he took office, President Iván Duque objected to the peace process and tried to modify all aspects that he did not agree with or that he claimed were not fair. If he succeeds, this would ultimately mean a deactivation of the process that resulted from the agreements and the need to start over from scratch. This was no surprise: his entire campaign revolved around the peace process and was based on the dissemination of lies about it. He won the elections by manipulating people’s fears; he told people that the agreements would enshrine impunity. He tried to scare us by telling us that if the left won, we would become a second Venezuela. He also lied regarding his plans for extractive industries: he stated that oil exploration and exploitation through fracking would not be authorised, but in late December 2019 he drafted a decree that would allow fracking.

    As an activist for peace and the environment in Colombia, have you had any participation in the global movement for climate justice?

    Yes, along with a small group, I joined the Fridays for Future initiative. But our participation was limited to a series of actions and strikes aimed at launching the climate movement in our country.

    It has been quite difficult for us to elicit mobilisation around the global climate crisis. First of all, there is much ignorance. In Colombia, most people have no idea what it is being done to them; the current president took advantage of this to spread lies, run a disinformation campaign and win the elections. In a country where public education is of very low quality and only rich people are able to further their studies, it is very easy to lie to people and make them believe you. So, the first problem is ignorance. Add to that fear: in Colombia people are afraid to speak, organise and protest. Colombians live in a state of incredible anxiety due to the systematic murders of social and environmental leaders. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders in general and for environmental leaders in particular.

    All of this has limited climate mobilisation. Some isolated actions have been held, but there has not been a big national, high-impact demonstration. That is why we were surprised to find out that a massive school mobilisation took place in the south of the country, in the department of Huila, where we least expected it to happen due to the complex security dynamics in those territories. We managed to get in touch with the young people who mobilised in Huila and together we took part in a national meeting held in the department of Caquetá, also known as the golden door to the Colombian Amazon. At that meeting we managed to coordinate our work with the communities that live in Amazonian territory and so far we are in the process of raising the cause of the Amazon and initiating a resistance to defend our forest.

    We are currently starting to bring all the environmental groups together into a single climate front. We hope this will inspire those who are afraid to join as well.

    Have you had any participation in international climate forums?

    We have been to a Latin American meeting of Fridays for Future that was held in Chile with the support of 350.org. It was a meeting of climate advocates to build a Latin American network and take the movement to the regional level. It helped us a lot to meet other young people from other parts of the region who were also mobilising, to discover that we could get together and feel that we had international support to do our job. It gave us some hope.

    Right after that meeting, we began to try to form a national environmental network, travelling to as many territories as possible and enlisting young people from other Colombian regions. There is still a lot to be done, but we are growing exponentially because when a new group joins in, they reach out to three or four other groups. Throughout 2019 we focused on this process, touring territories, communicating our message to people and creating links. We believe that the next time we may be able to mobilise at the national level. We will do so on 24 April 2020, on the occasion of the next global strike.

    What kind of support would you need to be able to hold in 2020 the mobilisation that was not possible in 2019?

    Right now our window of opportunity is the national strike, the series of protests that have taken place in several Colombian cities since November 2019. In a country where people are afraid to speak, on 21 November last year millions of people took to the streets. It was one of the largest mobilisations Colombia has witnessed over the past 40 years. This is a unique opportunity. Within the framework of these protests, the environmental movement has also put forward its proposals and demands. We may not be able to mobilise people specifically around climate, but we can take advantage of these mass mobilisations and put our issues out there. If there are people willing to mobilise, we can approach them, tell them what is happening to the environment and communicate our demands so that they understand that our issues also concern them and they start mobilising for them as well. By doing this, we succeeded in getting the national strike committee to include the declaration of a climate emergency in Colombia among its demands. This has been a very big breakthrough.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Fridays for Future through itswebsite, and with the Colombian campaign byemail or through itsFacebook page, and follow @FutureColombia on Twitter.

     

  • GHANA: ‘Work in the corner of your community has a potential to cause change at the top’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Perk Pomeyie, a climate organiser, environmental advocate and artivist affiliated with the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM), a youth-led environmental group that advocates and campaigns for a sustainable environment and a just world for the current and future generations. GYEM seeks to build an inter-generational network to find solutions to environmental challenges and confront the climate crisis. It focuses on bottom-up solutions and encourages the co-production of knowledge through participatory approaches.

    Perk has recently been selected to take part inCIVICUS’s Youth Action Lab, a pilot co-creation initiative that works on year-long projects with grassroots youth activists based in the global south to support their movements and help them become more resilient and sustainable by building solidarity and networks, strengthening capacities, engaging with policy processes and facilitating resources to support their movement.

    Perk Pomeyie

     

    Can you tell us more about the work that you do?

    My work is part of the broader work of GYEM, a leading youth-led grassroots movement in Ghana. GYEM works by organising and coordinating young people from different backgrounds and empowering them with the tools, techniques and technology to run disruptive campaigns on environmental issues. GYEM addresses key ecological challenges such as poor waste management, various forms of pollution, deforestation and the impacts of climate change in different communities and regions of Ghana. It specialises in running high-impact training for non-violent direct action (NVDA) campaigns, which target state actors and decision-makers from both the government and business sectors.

    GYEM is composed of a youth-led Steering Group that mobilises logistics creatively, forging partnerships with other grassroots activists and community-based organisations to influence environmental change from the bottom up. It employs digital organising via social media and other NVDA tactics to deliver campaigns that challenge the status quo and offer both transformational and incremental community-led solutions that bring together scientific and Indigenous knowledge systems. GYEM also hosts the largest annual youth-led environmental summit in Ghana, Power Shift, which brings together grassroots activists from across the country to share ideas and collaborate on campaigns in various parts of Ghana.

    We do much of our work in collaboration with several other organisations, including Rocha Ghana, an environmental civil society organisation (CSO) focusing on practical conservation interventions in important ecological habitats and improving the ability of target communities to adapt to current trends in climate change; the Green Africa Youth Organisation, a youth-led gender-balanced advocacy group that focuses on environmental sustainability and community development; 350 Ghana, a leading environmental grassroots CSO affiliated to 350.org, aimed at mobilising and empowering young people in partnership with key stakeholders to champion the need to reduce our carbon emissions and promote renewable energy systems; and WaterAid Ghana, a CSO focused on providing people with clean water, decent toilets and sanitation.

    I am based in Accra, Ghana’s capital, but I work with diverse communities in different locations depending on the environmental challenge being addressed. Some of these include low-income groups who reside in informal settlements and are disproportionately affected by the impacts of plastic pollution and flooding. Another group I work with are frontline communities who face the impacts of climate change, such as drought, water stress and food insecurity. I also work in high schools and university campuses with student volunteers, aged between 12 and 25, who are passionate about the environment and require training and capacity to take action. Finally, I engage with CSOs working on various Sustainable Development Goals nationwide. Most of these are youth groups with leaders and members between 18 and 35 years old, working on initiatives and projects in areas such as conservation, plastic recycling, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and climate mitigation and adaptation.

    What have been the biggest successes you have achieved?

    We have had several high-profile victories. In 2016, the government backtracked on a project, proposed in 2013, to build a coal-powered plant in a community called Ekumfi Aboano. The plant was going to pose health and environmental risks to the people there, and especially to children and women. We designed campaign messages, organised the community for NVDA and marched repeatedly. As a result, the government engaged GYEM in a discussion and halted the coal plant project in 2016.

    Secondly, in 2016, WaterAid Ghana approached GYEM in search of support to create awareness of WASH-based climate adaptation interventions. They wanted young people to design a campaign to draw the government’s attention to WASH issues in local communities and informal settlements, and tackle them as part of adapting to climate change. I contributed with my design work and communication strategies to a year-long campaign that reached more than 10,000 young people. This resulted in the National WASH Forum, which brought together local communities and political actors to work jointly towards the goal of addressing WASH problems as part of climate adaptation strategies.

    In 2018, I worked with other activists in an urban poor settlement in an area called Pokuase, to raise awareness about a water source in the community that was being threatened by road construction and other building work. This water source was vital because it served the community during the dry season. For the first time, attention was drawn to the impact of human activities on the river.

    Did you take part in the global climate mobilisations in 2019?

    Yes, in late 2019 I championed the first #FridaysforFuture and #SchoolClimateStrike campaigns in the northern region of Ghana. I organised and coordinated strikes in Damongo and Tamale. I designed creative graphics and campaign materials, which attracted more than 200 schoolchildren and young people to these global campaigns. This was important because it was the first time that children and young people in that part of Ghana came out in large numbers to raise their voice on the impacts of climate change and demand urgent action from their leaders. Northern Ghana is currently experiencing the worst impact of climate change in the form of droughts and food insecurity.

    Ours was one of the many #FridaysforFuture events that were held in Ghana. I think we’ve been successful in mobilising because we’ve used innovative approaches. Personally, I’ve used my skills in design thinking and graphic design and my expertise in non-violent communication and direct action. I communicate to reach my target on various social media platforms, while also mobilising communities for action on the ground with context-relevant messages to address specific environmental challenges.

    Before that, in March 2019, I helped bring together hundreds of grassroots activists from Ghana and activists from the International Youth Climate Movement from other parts of Africa, to campaign for climate justice and urgent climate action, during the United Nations (UN) Africa Climate Week. I think this has been so far the most important achievement of my work as an activist. This high-profile conference was hosted in Accra and was attended by African governments, international organisations and business leaders. During this week, I coordinated an NVDA training session for hundreds of young people, while leading a mass rally of about 300 activists to the summit venue to deliver a strong message to heads of governments, businesses and stakeholders of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to act on the climate emergency.

    I consider this as an important achievement because as a grassroots activist in Ghana, this was the first time I gained a strong personal conviction that my work in the little corner of my community has a potential to cause change at the top, if supported with the right tools, capacity and resources.

    What support do activists like you need from international actors, including international civil society?

    Personally, my work is self-financed. I use some income from my part-time self-employment as a graphic designer to support my activism. I design marketing materials for individuals and campaign banners for CSOs and get paid for it. I use a percentage of this to fund my work. Sometimes, family and friends also donate to support my work if I make a request. I have also financed my work through crowdfunding to help coordinate and implement projects and high-profile campaigns. So one area in which activists like me need support is in generating sustainable resources.

    We also need more opportunities to connect and network with other activists from the global south who may share similar solutions to particular challenges in their respective contexts, to interact with multiple actors and to learn to navigate complex policy processes in the areas in which we work.

    Civic space in Ghana is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement through itsFacebook page andblog, and follow@gyemgh on Twitter.

     

  • Pakistan: Joint letter on civic space violations against Pashtuns

    Dr Shireen M Mazari
    Federal Minister for Human Rights
    Ministry of Human Rights
    9th Floor, New Pak Secretariat (Kohsar Block)
    Sector F-5, Islamabad, Pakistan

    Concerns regarding civic space violations against thePashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)

    CIVICUS: the World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has members in more than 170 countries.

    The Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF) is an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan. Collectively, the networks have about 5,000 community-based organisations and CSOs as members. PNF’s primary mission is to create a conducive working environment for CSOs in Pakistan

    We are writing to you with regards to our concerns on civic space violations against the ethnic Pashtun people and in particular the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people, sparked by the killing of a young Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by the police in January 2018.

    As well as seeking justice for Naqeebullah’s killing, the movement mobilised around wider calls. Protesters have demanded the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission to examine human rights violations committed by the state and non-state actors in Pashtun areas, including enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistan army, and extrajudicial killings. Protesters also continue to call for equal rights for Pashtun people, as guaranteed by the constitution, and the restoration of peace in Pashtun areas and the region in general.[1]

    The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks civic freedoms on a global scale, has documented a series of violations by the authorities and other actors, as set out below.

    The disruption of protests and arrest of protesters

    Scores of protesters have been detained or charged since the beginning of the protests, some under terrorism charges. In most cases, many of those detained were released without charge after weeks in prison. 

    • In March 2018, criminal cases were filed against Manzoor Pashteen and four other PTM leaders. The men were investigated for ‘provoking with intent to cause riot’ and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ under sections 153 and 153a of Pakistan’s criminal code. According to human rights groups, the accusations were fabricated in “an attempt to smear the PTM and punish its leaders for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”[2]
    • In March 2018, Manzoor Pashteen reported that PTM supporters had received threats that they would be implicated in terrorism offences.[3] In December 2018, he was banned from entering Balochistan province on the grounds of “incitement of unrest in the province through his hate speech and incendiary statement against the state and its institutions.” The ban remains in place.[4]
    • In April 2018, at least 30 activists were arrested in the run-up to the Lahore rally. Police gave no reasons for the arrests; according to reports, “some bystanders kept asking the police as to why were they being picked up and where were they being taken to, but they gave no answer nor produced any arrest warrants as they whisked them away in their police van.”[5]
    • In May 2018, police lodged cases against more than 150 PTM supporters for holding rallies across Karachi. The 150 were accused of crimes ranging from sedition and rioting to terror offences. PTM leader and member of parliament (MP) Mohsin Dawar told news outlet Dawni that the cases were a “tactic” to sabotage PTM’s main Karachi rally, planned to be held on 13 May 2018.[6]
    • In June 2018, 37 PTM activists were arrested at a rally at the National Press Club in Islamabad. According to reports, they were made to sit in a prison van for three hours while the temperature was at almost 40 degrees Celsius before they were taken to Adiala jail. The 37 activists, who included several students, were subsequently charged with sedition.[7] Their cases were referred to an anti-terrorism court, and all were denied bail until 24 September 2018, when the Islamabad district commissioner withdrew anti-terrorism charges.[8]
    • In October 2018, authorities filed a police report (FIR) against activists who had organised a peaceful protest in Bannu, in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the previous day.[9]
    • In January 2019, scores of protesters and PTM leaders were arrested during a rally on the outskirts of Karachi. Between 250 and 300 people were accused of various crimes under Pakistan’s Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act.[10] Among those arrested was Alamzeb Mehsud, a prominent PTM activist who had been profiling missing persons and other war victims. Footage of his arrest showed his vehicle being intercepted by the police on a busy road, and armed police officers forcing him to disembark before he was taken into custody. He was subsequently charged with inciting a riot, defamation, ‘promoting enmity between different groups’, and ‘statements conducing to public mischief’ read with Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. The court ordered him to be kept in custody for four days. Ali Wazir, a PTM leader and MP, was also charged, along with 15 other people.[11]

    According to reports, police routinely put pressure on local people to stay away from PTM protests in various cities in Pakistan. Local printing presses refused to print campaign posters while authorities pressured businesses to refuse to provide chairs and tents for protests. Ahead of an April 2018 rally in Swat, lawyer and PTM leader Iqbal Khan reported that officials in the Swat region made announcements from mosques to warn people against participating in the gathering.[12]

    Unlawful killing

    Our organisations are also concerned about the allegations of unlawful killing of a PTM leader Arman Loni, died in police custody on 2 February 2019.[13] He had been arrested earlier that day in the southwestern district of Loralai in Baluchistan after participating in a sit-in outside Loralai Press Club in protest against a recent terror attack. Several police officers reportedly physically assaulted him in public with rifle butts, and he suffered blows to the head and neck. A few hours later, he died in hospital.[14] To date, we are not aware of any credible investigation into the killing or any attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice. Arman’s death was only registered by the police after two months.[15] Our organisations are also seriously concerned about reports that witnesses to his killing have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by security forces.[16]

    Three days after the murder, more than 80 PTM protesters were detained by police after they gathered outside the National Press Club in Islamabad to protest about Aman’s death.[17] At least 17 PTM members were subsequently charged under the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Act of 1960 and moved to Adiala prison.

    Judicial harassment and threats against activists

    Activists have also faced harassment and threats for supporting the PTM. In August 2018, woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province.[18] The 19 PTM activists faced charges of ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘punishment for rioting’ and ‘punishment for wrongful restraint’. In October 2018, Gulalai was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK. Officials kept her passport but could not tell her which government department had put her name on the Exit Control List (ECL), which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why.[19] In May 2019, the Peshawar High Court quashed[20] the charges against the PTM activists but Gulalai and other activists remain on the ECL.

    Hayat Preghal, a social media activist and supporter of the PTM, was released on bail on 3 October 2018 after more than two months in jail for social media posts that were deemed critical of the Pakistani authorities.[21] He had initially been detained in July 2018 while visiting his family and charged under sections 9 and 10 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 for ‘anti-state activity through social media’, and sections 500 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

    Restrictions on media coverage

    We are also concerned that the authorities have attempted to suppress the PTM by silencing media coverage of the movement. In December 2018, internet service providers blocked the website of Voice of America's (VOA) Urdu language service. Its audience was primarily Pashto-speaking communities. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed the sites were blocked for “false and prejudiced reporting.” An intelligence source reported that the decision to block the website was triggered by VOA's coverage of PTM.[22] An article by Manzoor Pashteen in the New York Times on 12 February 2019, entitled ‘"The Military Says Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights" was censored by its local publisher in Pakistan.[23]

    Journalists covering protests have been targeted in a similar manner to participants. Sailaab Mehsud of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty's Mashaal radio and Zafar Wazir of a local TV channel were accused in December 2018 by police of “raising slogans against state institutions and inciting the public to violence, along with nearly 30 other people.” Authorities raised the allegations following the journalists’ presence at a rally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Sailaab said he and Zafar were covering the rally as journalists.[24] In February 2019, the authorities halted the broadcasting of an interview with Manzoor Pashteen on a local Pashtu channel AVT Khyber.[25]

    International obligations

    These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution. Further, during Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017, the government supported recommendations to safeguard freedom of expression, protect the right to life and freedom of expression of journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs), and to investigate all reports of attacks against them and bring perpetrators to justice. It also committed to combat all forms of discrimination, particularly against ethnic minorities.[26]

    We therefore make the following recommendations to the government of Pakistan:

    • Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, travel restrictions and arrest of peaceful PTM activists and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals;
    • Conduct a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the death in custody of activist Arman Loni, and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
    • Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation against HRDs and journalists and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice;
    • Drop all charges against protesters, community activists and HRDs for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct the police that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them;
    • Take immediate steps to ensure press freedom and halt all media restrictions against coverage of the PTM;
    • Ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment such as travel restrictions under the Exit Control List (ECL);
    • Take steps to make enforced disappearances and torture a criminal offence and ensure that all allegations of such acts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

    We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you regarding our inquiries as soon as possible. We would be pleased to discuss these matters with you or other appropriate officials at any time.

    Sincerely,      

    David E. Kode
    CIVICUS Advocacy & Campaigns Lead

    Professor Mohamed Ismail
    Pakistan NGO Forum

    Cc:
    Diplomatic missions in Pakistan

     

    [1] ‘In Pakistan, long-suffering Pahtuns find their voice’, The New York Times, 6 February 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/world/asia/pakistan-pashtun-long-march.html.


    [2] ‘Peaceful Pashtun activists face criminal cases’, Amnesty International, 19 March 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa33/8079/2018/en.

    [3] ‘New Pashtun dissent meets old coercion tactics in Pakistan’, Gandhara, 26 March 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/Pakistan-pashtun-tahafuz-movement-coercion-tactics/29125095.html.

    [4] ‘Balochistan extends ban on Pashteen’s entry,’ Dawn, 3 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473567.

    [5] ‘Civil Society condemns arrests of young activists’, The Daily Times, 27 April 2018, https://dailytimes.com.pk/232878/civil-society-condemns-arrests-of-young-activists.

    [6] ‘Over 150 PTM activists booked for sedition, terrorism’, Dawn, 11 May 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1406903.

    [7] ‘Islamabad police round up PTM supporters for holding anti-Taliban protest’, Pakistan Today, 9 June 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/06/09/islamabad-police-round-up-ptm-supporters-for-holding-anti-taliban-protest.

    [8] ‘ATC case against 37 PTM activists withdrawn’, The Express Tribune, 24 September 2018, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1810320/1-atc-case-37-ptm-activists-withdrawn.

    [9] ‘…meanwhile, FIR registered against PTM Bannu rally organisers’, Pakistan Today, 2 November 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/11/02/meanwhile-fir-registered-against-ptm-bannu-rally-organisers/

    [10] ‘Scores held under anti-terrorism laws in Pashtun rights rally in Pakistan’, News 18, 22 January 2019, https://www.news18.com/news/world/scores-held-under-anti-terrorism-laws-in-pashtun-rights-rally-in-pakistan-2009657.html.

    [11] ‘Pashtun rights activist Alamzeb Mehsud arrested in Pakistan’, Al Jazeera, 22 January 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/prominent-pashtun-rights-activist-arrested-pakistan-190122121631198.html and ‘PTM leaders booked under anti-terror law, one held’, Dawn, 22 January 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1459029

    [12] ‘Pashtun campaigners complain of hurdles,’ Gandhara, 26 April 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/pashtun-campaigners-complain-of-hurdles-ahead-of-protest-in-pakistan/29194419.html.

    [13] ‘Rights group condemns arbitrary detention of protesters in Pakistan and the police killing of activist’, CIVICUS, 8 February 2019, https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/3720-global-rights-group-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-pashtun-protesters-in-pakistan-and-the-police-killing-of-a-leading-activist.

    [14] ‘Killing of Mr. Ibrahim Arman Loni & arbitrary detention of Ms. Gulalai Ismail and several PTM members’, Worldwide Movement for Human Rights, 14 February 2019, https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/pakistan-killing-of-mr-ibrahim-arman-loni-arbitrary-detention-of-ms.

    [15] ‘Case registered against Loralai police officer for Arman Loni’s death’, Dawn, 2 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473444.

    [16] See Mohsin Dawar, 17 May 2019, https://twitter.com/mjdawar/status/1129489961378635776

    [17] ‘Abdullah Nangyal, Gulalai Ismail among dozens of PTM workers held in capital’, Pakistan Today, 5 February 2019, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/02/05/abdullah-nangyal-gulalai-ismail-among-dozens-of-ptm-workers-held-in-capital.

    [18] ‘Prominent human rights activist briefly held by Pakistan authorities’, Voice of America, 14 October 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/prominent-human-rights-activist-briefly-held-by-pakistan-authorities/4612861.html.

    [19] ‘Release Pashtun human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally’, Amnesty International, 12 October 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/pakistan-release-pashtun-human-rights-defender-immediately-and-unconditionally.

    [20] ‘PHC orders quashing of FIR against PTM leaders’, Dawn, 10 May 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1481340.

    [21] ‘Immediately and unconditionally release Muhammad Hayat Khan Preghal’, Amnesty International, 24 September 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3391512018ENGLISH.pdf.

    [22] ‘Pakistan Tightens Coverage of Pashtun Rights Movement’, Voice of America, 11 December 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-tightens-coverage-of-pashtun-nationalist-movement/4696344.html.

    [23] ‘Pakistan censors New York Times article by activist critical of military’, Straits Times, 12 February 2019, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/pakistan-censors-new-york-times-article-by-activist-critical-of-military.

    [24] ‘Two journalists from D.I. Khan booked for covering protest rally’, Pakistan Press Foundation, 12 December 2018, https://www.pakistanpressfoundation.org/two-journalists-from-d-i-khan-booked-for-covering-protest-rally.

    [25] See Tabinda M. Khan, 20 February 2019, https://twitter.com/tabinda_m/status/1098251413312876544

    [26] Recommendations 152.170 (Cyprus), 152.176 (Greece), 152.175 (Norway) and 152.83 (Cote d'Ivoire) in ‘Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Pakistan’, United Nations Human Rights Council, 29 December 2017, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/upr/pages/pkindex.aspx.

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘If we don’t fight against the system, people will continue to die’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Jhewoung Capatoy, a young climate defender from the Philippines. Jhewoung is a community youth organiser with Young Bataeños Environmental Advocacy Network, a youth environmental organisation that promotes environmentally sustainable development and seeks to create awareness among youth to act to conserve the environment.

    jhewoung capatoy

    Why did you become an activist?

    I come from the Lamao Limay Bataan community, which is about three hours away from the capital of the Philippines, Manila. I decided to get involved because local communities are suffering as a result of the establishment of coal-fired power plants. People are suffering from health issues and are dying as a result of environmental disasters. And people who speak up against this are also getting killed. Being an activist is dangerous, but if no one speaks up and acts against this, the situation will become normalised. If we don’t fight against the system, things will continue to be the way they are: people will continue to die and the impacts of the climate crisis will become unbearable to our communities. Most likely, a lot more people will die.

    Deep down, one reason why I’m doing this is that I have lost people who were very dear to me. I went through an experience that marked me for life when I was in first grade, about seven years old, in 2004. A flash flood killed two neighbours who were also my close friends. Flash floods were caused by the construction of an energy plant in the area. Later on, when I started high school, I got in touch with a youth organisation that worked to protect Mother Nature. I got involved because I didn’t want to lose anyone else. I had realised that my friends had been killed by a corporation that only cared about making money, and by our own government, which colluded with the corporations and allowed everything to happen. Together, corporations and government are too powerful and if nobody stood up against them, they would be able to kill whoever they want. If nobody fought for it, our community would likely be gone in the near future.

    However, being an activist also meant that I would continue to lose people. Soon after I got involved one colleague, a well-known climate defender, Gloria Capitan, was killed. She led the fight against coal-fired power plants because the pollution caused by these corporations in her area were causing people serious respiratory problems and other issues. We believe that both the corporations we were protesting against and our local government are responsible for her killing. We know who shot Gloria Capitan, but the police did not listen. They tried to cover everything up and have the case dismissed.

    Can you tell us more about the work that you do?

    We organise campaigns to educate people about the effects and impacts of dirty industries and how corporations are threatening our right to a secure environment. We organise people and we protest, mostly against coal-fired power plants. We also try to reach policy-makers and bring human rights violations to the attention of human rights bodies. We were once able to reach the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, which investigated what was happening and issued a resolution that acknowledged that these corporations were causing human rights violations in our community, as well as in other communities that have dirty industries in the Philippines. That was one of our greatest achievements because if the resolution is eventually disseminated to the public, we can find a way to hold corporations accountable and bring some reparation to the affected communities.

    Did you take part in the global climate mobilisations in 2019?

    Yes, our youth organisation, Young Bataeños for Environmental Advocacy Network, participated in the global climate strike in September 2019 by holding a local event. There also was a mobilisation in Manila, but we decided to protest locally, staying in the place where the coal-fired power plants are having their worse effects. The reason why we mobilised is that we want to hold these corporations, as well as the government that lets them have their way, responsible for what they are doing to our communities.

    We had been mobilising and protesting since before the global strike, but the global climate strike was a good opportunity to put our issues out there. It was very useful as a framework because it was a global call to make corporations responsible for emissions. But we chose to participate in this global call from our own local communities, without going to demonstrate in Manila, in order to communicate that the reason why we are fighting is that the people in these communities are suffering the worst effects of global warming and the climate crisis. It is the rich of the global north who profit from these big corporations that emit carbon gases, but it is always us, the poor communities of developing countries, who suffer the worst environmental impacts of these industries.

    True, people in developed countries are striking and mobilising, and it is good that they have called attention to what is happening, but let’s always remember that the impacts of the climate crisis are extremely unequal. The impacts that people in the global north are facing are not as devastating as the ones we are suffering in the Philippines. That’s the reason why we are mobilising: because it is us who are experiencing the consequences of their actions. It is not even a matter of choice really. We are a poor country in which people are dying due to the climate crisis, so we are fighting for our lives.

    Have you had any participation in global climate forums?

    Our youth organisation has not been able to take part in any international gathering. We basically have no access to that kind of spaces. Our organisation is local and no one has yet given us the opportunity to be under the spotlight. It would have been good if we had been invited because that would have meant an opportunity for us to represent people at the grassroots level. It is important to advocate for the environment, but you also have to make sure that you are representing the people who are most vulnerable. It is not enough not be there just because you believe that the climate crisis is happening. People should represent the real experiences and those who are negatively impacted by climate change.

    The very people who are suffering the most from the climate emergency should be given the opportunity to speak for themselves. They should be invited to these forums so they can tell the world about their experiences. Those forums are big and impersonal and it would be important for participants to hear the stories of the people who are living in the areas where climate change and dirty industries are having their strongest impact. They are the ones who can really tell what’s happening, beyond what the media is covering, which is far from enough.

    What support does your movement need from international sources, including international civil society?

    Taking part in global networks is very useful for us. For instance, we’ve asked young people from Taiwan, who were participating in the 2019 Climate Action Summit, to send letters to our national and local governments to urge them to stop giving permits for corporations to increase their operations. Our government has planned to authorise two dozen new coal-fired power plants by the year 2030, so we are asking young people from other countries who are better connected to put pressure on our government. Letters coming from outside the country would mean a lot because they would show that our stories are not staying inside the country, that people from the outside world are listening and reacting to the pain and the suffering of the people in the Philippines.

    International organisations like CIVICUS could also help amplify our stories and attract the attention of our government. This then could make our government rethink the path they have taken in generating energy.

    It would be an even bigger help if the international community could help us financially in order to continue with our work. As climate activists, working with the local communities that are directly affected by climate change is always a challenge. I have had to leave my comfort zone, drop out of school and be away from my family. I stay in a community where there is little internet access or transportation. I go to work kilometres away from my house, to organise people, to give them updates and reassure them that I am with them for real. I do it because people need someone they can lean on, someone they can trust their stories with, someone they feel could help them.

    Civic space in Philippines is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Young Bataeños for Environmental Advocacy Network through itsFacebook page.

     

  • Women Human Rights Defenders Face Greater Risks Because of their Gender

    By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead with CIVICUS.

    The rallying calls of #SudanUprising, have been led by Sudanese women who are teachers, stay-at-home-mothers, doctors, students and lawyers. And yet, when President Al Bashir stepped down on April 11, the names of the women who spearheaded this political shift, were largely missing from the headlines. This erasure is not uncommon. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are often erased or slandered in efforts to intimidate them into quitting continuing their human rights work. In Egypt, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Uganda or the Philippines they are often called agents of international interests.

    Read on: Inter Press Service