Brazil

 

  • ¿Son las mujeres la última línea de defensa contra la deriva autoritaria brasileña?

    Por Especialista Senior de Investigación en CIVICUS, Inés M. Pousadela y Ana Cernov, activista brasileña de los derechos humanos

    Si algo puede detener al ultraderechista Bolsonaro, es el hecho de que una proporción de mujeres más alta que la media - más de la mitad de las encuestadas - rechaza con fuerza su candidatura a la presidencia de Brasil.

    Leer en: Open Democracy 

     

     

  • Are women the last line of defence against Brazil’s authoritarian shift?

    By Ana Cernov, human rights activist and Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

    In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally.

    Read on: Open Democracy 

     

  • BRASIL: ‘Estamos en un momento frágil de la sociedad civil’

    Pedro StrozenbergCIVICUS conversa con Pedro Strozenberg,Ombudsman de la Defensoría de Río de Janeiro, sobre la situación de derechos humanos y la regresión del espacio para la sociedad civil en Brasil. La Defensoría es un órgano público que funciona como enlace entre Estado y sociedad civil. Pedro Strozenberg es abogado especializado en mediación de conflictos que se autodefine como un activista en materia de seguridad pública, ámbito en que su oficina trabaja para defender los derechos de la ciudadanía frente al abuso y la brutalidad policiales.

     

  • Brasil: ‘Na esquerda, as estruturas tradicionais se enfraqueceram ao mesmo tempo que novas formas de organização locais e autônomas surgiram em todo o país’

    English

    Após os muitos protestos vistos no Brasil em 2017, CIVICUS fala com José Henrique Bortoluci, professor do Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC) na Fundação Getúlio Vargas, em São Paulo, Brasil. José Henrique é PhD em Sociologia na Universidade de Michigan, nos Estados Unidos, e é especialista em movimentos sociais, estudos urbanos e teoria social, com foco no Brasil.

     

    1. 2017 foi um ano de grande mobilização no Brasil? Quais foram os principais grupos mobilizados e quais foram as principais causas para seu descontentamento?

    2017 foi um ano bastante contraditório e desigual em termos da atuação da sociedade civil no Brasil. De um lado, movimentos sociais não foram capazes de sustentar um movimento nacional de oposição ao governo de Michel Temer, por muitos considerado ilegítimo. O presidente continua governando, a despeito de ter assumido o poder a partir de um processo de impeachment altamente contestável (um golpe parlamentar, de acordo com parte da opinião pública) e de avançar reformas em quase tudo contrastantes com o programa de governo escolhido pelas urnas em 2014.

    Apesar disso, em 2017 continuou avançando um processo de dinamização da sociedade civil no Brasil, com o surgimento de movimentos sociais pela renovação da política, sobretudo entre parcelas mais jovens da população – que se sentem em geral bastante barrados do sistema político como ele se organiza hoje. Trata-se de uma dinâmica que começou a ficar mais clara e se aprofundou a partir dos grandes protestos de 2013 e se dinamizou com os movimentos de ocupação de escolas em 2015, com a mobilização contra a Copa do Mundo e as Olimpíadas, que se realizaram no Brasil em junho-julho de 2014 e agosto de 2016, respectivamente, com a atuação de movimentos de ativismo urbano e com o substancial crescimento em tamanho e importância do movimento feminista e LGBTI nos últimos três anos.

    Em suma, eu diria que o cenário é ao mesmo tempo de profunda politização entre vários setores da sociedade, mas de falta de articulação (seja por falta de força, seja por discordância política ou estratégica) entre esses movimentos em nível nacional.

    1. Como o governo reagiu aos protestos? Como a sociedade civil respondeu às restrições ao espaço de atuação cívica?

    O governo tem reagido de forma bastante violenta, nos casos em que houve enfrentamento com manifestantes (como na greve de abril de 2017), como é de costume no país, sobretudo desde 2013. O que muitos ativistas apontam é que as forças policiais, sobretudo nas cidades onde houve um grande número de movimentações de impacto nacional nos últimos anos (principalmente Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo) se tornaram mais “eficientes” desde 2013 – e também como “legado” da Copa do Mundo e das Olimpíadas – em dissuadir protestos e em usar força máxima em muitos casos, dificultando estrategicamente que grandes protestos se concretizem.

    Além disso, a outra forma de reação do governo tem sido, com frequência, desprezar deliberadamente a opinião pública, fechando-se ainda mais em suas alianças com o congresso e alguns setores da economia e da imprensa. Temer teve ao longo do 2017 a menor aprovação de qualquer presidente da história brasileira, e certamente uma das menores do mundo, o que não o impediu de manter-se, mesmo que sem legitimidade, no poder.

    Por seu lado, a sociedade civil ainda busca novas formas de atuação frente a esse cenário de fechamento dos canais institucionais. As novas redes sociais têm desempenhado um papel crucial para a disseminação de novas gramáticas políticas entre a população - tanto à esquerda como à direita, como atestam exemplarmente o movimento feminista e as redes de apoio a um candidato de extrema-direita como Jair Bolsonaro.

    Na esquerda, o enfraquecimento do Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), da Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), a principal central sindical do país, do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) e da União Nacional dos Estudantes (UNE), que exerceram papel quase hegemônico nas últimas décadas, se deu em paralelo à emergência de novas formas de organização mais locais e autônomas em todo o país, como movimentos de bairro, coletivos de jovens de periferia e movimentos de estudantes não-alinhados a partidos políticos.

    1. Em abril de 2017, o Brasil teve uma das greves gerais mais massivas de sua história. O que levou a esse protesto? Por que ele teve uma dimensão tão massiva? E o que mudou como resultado?

    A grande greve de abril 2017, com uma quase paralisação geral de um dia, deveu-se à conjunção de dois fatores: a crise do governo Temer, com a divulgação de evidências de seu envolvimento – e do envolvimento de ministros e outros políticos muito próximos a ele – em escândalos de corrupção de grandes proporções, e às tentativas do governo em avançar duas reformas que impactarão profundamente os trabalhadores: a nova lei trabalhista (sancionada pelo presidente em julho) e a reforma da previdência (ainda em tramitação no Congresso). Outros movimentos sociais de oposição ao governo, assim como movimentos de esquerda (estudantes, feministas, LGBTI, ativismo urbano) se juntaram aos protestos. De qualquer forma, apesar de sua enorme importância, essa grande movimentação não ganhou momento ao longo do ano – ao menos não como um movimento nacional unificado antigoverno e antirreformas neoliberais.

    1. O que podemos esperar para 2018 com a aproximação das eleições e a liderança do ex-presidente Lula da Silva nas pesquisas?

    O cenário ainda é bastante aberto, e qualquer previsão é marcada por muita incerteza. A primeira questão importante é se Lula poderá concorrer às eleições de outubro – caso ele não seja condenado em segunda instância. Em julho de 2017, Lula foi condenado a quase 10 anos de prisão depois de ter sido declarado culpado por acusações de corrupção e lavagem de dinheiro, mas seu recurso ainda está pendente. Mesmo que seu recurso fosse resolvido contra ele, alguns juristas ainda defendem que ele poderia ser candidato, até que o Supremo Tribunal Federal, a suprema corte constitucional do país, confirmasse o julgamento.

    Outras iniciativas à esquerda ainda são bastante tímidas, como um início de movimentação em torno do nome de Guilherme Boulos (líder do mais significativo movimento de moradia do país, o MTST) e Ciro Gomes, um político com posições nacionalistas mas associado a práticas políticas bastante tradicionais.

    A mesma incerteza também marca a direita e o centro – é bastante provável que o governador de São Paulo, o pouco carismático Geraldo Alckmin, concorrerá, provavelmente com uma plataforma liberal na economia e conservadora em termos de costumes e segurança pública. Jair Bolsonaro deverá ser o primeiro candidato abertamente de extrema direita com alguma chance de ir ao segundo turno.

    De qualquer forma, a disputa tende a ser ferrenha e não há candidato com chances claras de vitória em primeiro turno. Além disso, a despeito do surgimento de novos movimentos que pregam uma renovação na política, a legislação eleitoral brasileira dificulta imensamente uma renovação no legislativo, um dos maiores responsáveis pela atual crise política e pelo avanço de uma agenda conservadora.

    • O espaço cívico no Brasil é classificado como ‘obstruído’ noCIVICUS Monitor, indicando restrições graves nos direitos da sociedade civil.

    Entre em contato com Jose Henrique através de seus perfisFacebook ouAcademia, ou pelo email

     

  • BRAZIL: ‘Discrimination and hate speech are becoming normalised’

    Dariele SantosAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks about migrant workers’ rights with Dariele Santos, the young founder of Instituto Alinha, a social enterprise focused on improving the work and life conditions of migrant workers employed in the fashion industry.

     

    When and why did you decide to create the Alinha Institute?

    When I was in college I had several jobs with which I supplemented my scholarship, and one of those jobs involved research on immigration issues, and more specifically about Latin American immigrants employed in the clothing industry in São Paulo. That’s when I began to speak with migrants and I learned about their precarious life and work conditions, that is, about the reality of the production chain in Brazil’s fashion industry.

    Brazil encompasses all steps in the production chain of this industry, from cotton production to garment manufacturing. The fashion industry is spread throughout the country, but its final link, the manufacturing of clothing, is highly concentrated in São Paulo, employing mostly migrant workers. Production is highly outsourced; clothing brands subcontract with sewing workshops that are involved in the various phases of the manufacturing process. The more workshops that are involved in the process, the more difficult it is to exercise some control and the more labour protections are lost. Many of these workshops are small and family-run, and function in the family's home, with all members of the family working, and getting paid by the piece. People work up to 90 hours per week because they get paid very little for each piece that they produce.

    When I learned the stories of these migrant workers, I began to realise the huge dimensions of the problem, and I also realised how little I had known about it, and how little we know in general about the fashion industry chain: we don't care the least about how the clothes that we wear are made. The problem of the huge inequality and injustice in the fashion industry chain is completely invisible. It is a super-luxury industry that generates a lot of money, but to the same extent, it is a chain of enormous exploitation.

    Along with a friend, I started thinking about starting a social enterprise that would apply technology to solve this problem, and we launched Alinha in 2014.

    What does Alinha do to improve the working conditions of migrant workers?

    The idea is simple: Alinha provides advice to sewing workshop entrepreneurs so that they regularise their businesses and guarantee adequate security and reasonable deadlines and pay, and connects them with clothing manufacturers and designers interested in hiring a workshop, thus ensuring fair conditions for all parties involved.

    More specifically, we begin by visiting the sewing workshops that sign up to receive advice, and we assess their deficits in order to recommend what they should do to get out of informality. We look at areas such as their forms of contracting, their health and safety conditions and their equipment. In our second visit we bring a work safety specialist. These workshops have a lot of fire hazards, because they store large quantities of cloth and tend to have precarious electrical installations; to make things worse, usually many children live in the houses in which the workshops operate. Once the safety assessment has been done, we prepare an action plan aimed at regularising the workshops or aligning them with labour and safety standards - hence our name of Alinha. We do it in plain language and translate the laws for workers. We provide the basics of accounting and help workshop owners calculate the required investment and how it would impact on product prices. Once the improvements have been made and we consider that a workshop has reached a minimum security and formalisation threshold, we upload its details to the Alinha platform so that it can get it in touch with brands and designers. Brands and designers come on our platform because they seek to change the way they produce and are willing to guarantee fair payment terms and deadlines. So we connect them.

    The prices of these products are surely higher than those of products made under conditions of extreme exploitation. Have you managed to convince consumers that it is worth paying more for them?

    We're on it. We know that it is important to connect consumers because they have enormous power in their hands: when choosing the brand they are going to buy, they can make the decision to support one that guarantees fair working conditions. But consumers can't really choose if they don't know which brands have contracts with our aligned workshops. That is why we have a platform where the aligned brands place data that users can check - for example, that they are making a certain number of pieces with such and such workshop, so that after the information has been added to the Alinha platform, the workshop can confirm on the phone that they are indeed making these pieces, earning a certain amount per hour, and working with such and such deadlines. When all the links in the production chain confirm the information, an identification code for the piece is generated to be placed on the garment’s label, so that the final user can track the garment’s history. All information and confirmations are stored in Blockchain, so that there is more security and trust in the information.

    We are also in the process of making a short film that tells the story behind the clothes, based on the story of a Bolivian migrant seamstress. The presentation of an individual’s story seeks to generate connection and empathy: we want the consumer to see a woman who has dreams and hopes similar to their own. We seek to ask the consumer a question: which story would you rather choose, one about exploitation or one about decent work?

    Do you think that the situation of migrants in Brazil has recently worsened?

    The problem of migrants is not recent; it comes from long ago. There are many migrants who have lived here, and worked in terrible conditions, for decades. Migrants who work in sewing workshops in São Paulo are mostly Bolivian, although there are many from countries such as Paraguay and Peru as well. Many of them first emigrated from their countries to Argentina, but when the 2008 financial crisis hit they moved to Brazil. The political and economic conditions back then - the Lula government and a period of strong economic growth - made Brazil a better destination.

    But it is difficult to be a migrant in Brazil. It is the only non-Spanish speaking country in the region, so difficulties in communication and access to information abound. Migrants without legal documentation or formal employment are afraid all the time. The psychological pressure is very strong: people refuse to leave the sewing workshops because they are afraid of being caught and forced to leave. Migrants fear the consequences of demanding their rights.

    While the migrant workers’ exploitation is not a new problem, and migrants’ fear isn’t new either, the situation has recently worsened. The new president, Jair Bolsonaro, represents the far right, and his discourse is extremely xenophobic. He places himself above the laws and above all democratic guarantees. His message to migrant workers is: ‘be thankful for all the good things you have here, and if there is something you don't like, you’d better leave’. The fact that hate speech is coming from so high up is emboldening people who always thought these things, but in the past would not say them and now feel it is legitimate to do so. In this sense, discrimination and hate speech are becoming normalised.

    This situation is replicated in various spheres. It is a dangerous time for activists working on human rights, environmental rights, women's rights, LGBTQI rights, black and indigenous peoples’ rights and migrants’ rights. There is a lot of fear because going against the government poses high risks. This has been clearly seen in the cases of Marielle Franco, the LGBTQI activist and councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro who was murdered in March 2018, and the LGBTQI congressperson and activist Jean Wyllys, who recently left Brazil because of threats against his life.

    Fortunately, not all Brazilians are receptive to Bolsonaro's discourse. We live a situation of high polarisation. While many have indeed moved towards the far right and have adopted nationalist positions, many people are also increasingly convinced that what needs to be done is to guarantee more rights to more people.

    In this context, what can rights-oriented civil society do?

    Civil society moves within narrow margins. Our strategy is to generate a discourse that creates empathy among public opinion rather than a confrontational discourse permanently criticising the president because this would create trouble with a broad sector of society that would immediately reject it as leftist. We are going through tough times: it is not advisable to announce that you fight for human rights because human rights are associated with the left rather than viewed as things that belong to everyone. That is why we find it more productive to focus on real people and their stories, to show the photo of a flesh-and-blood person and ask our audience, 'don’t you think this woman is a hardworking person, who is struggling just like you, and who deserves better working conditions, who deserves to get ahead?'

    It is really quite tragic to have to hide the struggle for human rights because it is not seen as a legitimate cause. Since President Bolsonaro was elected, a lot of activists have had to leave Brazil. Those who have stayed are being forced to choose: if they want to continue doing a direct, head-first kind of activism, they need to be willing to take risks. Nowadays, mine is a sort of diplomatic activism: I sit down to speak with businesspeople and I need to be open to chat with people who don't necessarily think like me or do things the way I think they should be done, but with whom I can achieve some progress.

    What international support does Brazilian civil society need to continue working?

    Although it may not seem obvious at times, because Brazil is considered a medium-high-income country, Brazilian civil society needs all kinds of support to continue working in this hostile environment. In my particular case, I was very fortunate to receive support from the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator programme, which seeks to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This programme supports a group of young activists who are using data in innovative ways to address SDGs 1 to 6, that is, to seek solutions to local development challenges related to poverty, hunger, health and well-being, education, gender equality and water and sanitation.

    This support has been super strategic, since it included funding, technical support and connections, and allowed me to acquire new tools. Many more initiatives like this are needed, because Brazilian civil society is shrinking, and not only because of the political climate but also because of the economic crisis that has been going on for several years. According to a recent study, more than 38,000 civil society organisations closed their doors in Brazil between 2013 and 2016, and many of them used to provide basic services to vulnerable populations. The segment of civil society that has suffered the most is the one working on development and human rights advocacy: more than 10,000 organisations that closed down used to work in favour of minorities, such as black people, women, indigenous people and LGBTQI people, and the rights of communities.

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

    Get in touch with Instituto Alinha through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages.

     

  • BRAZIL: ‘The new government has come to establish a regressive, anti-rights agenda’

    Paula Raccanello Storto

    Portuguese

    In the October 2018 elections, Brazil elected as president a former military officer and far-right populist, Jair Bolsonaro, who ran a particularly aggressive campaign against women’s and LGBTI rights. CIVICUS speaks to Paula Raccanello Storto about the impact that the Bolsonaro administration, which began in January, is already having on civil society. Paula holds a master’s degree in Law from the University of São Paulo and is a lawyer with a long experience in providing services to civil society organisations (CSOs). She is also a researcher at the Catholic University of São Paulo’s Centre for Advanced Third-Sector Studies (PUC-SP-Neats), where she works on issues related to the legal framework for CSOs in Brazil and Latin America and restrictions on the freedom of association.

    Based on what has happened in the few weeks since its inauguration, how would you describe the relationship between the Bolsonaro administration and Brazilian civil society?

    Brazilian civil society is heterogeneous enough to have all kinds of relations with the new government, but if we focus on the subgroup of the most representative rights advocacy organisations it is safe to say that their relationship with the Bolsonaro government has been bad from day one, which has not been exactly a surprise.

    We already knew what Bolsonaro thought of civil society organisations (CSOs). During the campaign he said that if he became president there would be no public money for CSOs and attacked organisations by saying that “those good-for-nothings will have to work.” In the same speech he also said that if it were up to him, “every citizen will have a firearm in their house” and “there will not be a single centimetre of demarcated land for indigenous reservations or quilombola communities” [settlements founded by people of African origin, most of them runaway slaves]. All these statements were clearly contrary to the historical agenda of organised Brazilian civil society, which feels threatened not only by the potential actions of the government to create obstacles that hinder its free action, but also by possible opponents emerging from within society itself, which have viewed the president’s statements as an encouragement to use physical or symbolic violence against the organisations defending those causes. The new government has come to establish a regressive, anti-rights agenda.

    It was for no other reason than this that before the runoff election a group of more than a thousand lawyers and jurists, myself included, signed a manifesto to support then-candidate Fernando Haddad. Regardless of our programmatic differences, all the signatories to that letter knew that in the second round of elections Haddad was the only candidate capable of ensuring continuity and a deepening of the democratic regime with respect for human rights in an environment of peace and tolerance.

    The violence that permeated the latest electoral campaign was striking. A survey conducted by the polling organisation Public, in partnership with Open Knowledge Brasil, revealed that over just 10 days of the campaign there were at least 50 attacks, most of them perpetrated by Bolsonaro supporters against opponents. This legitimation of violence is a particularly worrying fact in a country like Brazil, which has a violent society and a record-breaking number of femicides and murders of environmental leaders and LGBTI people, and is marked by police violence and precarious conditions of imprisonment, with a system that incarcerates mostly black and poor people.

    So the decisions that Bolsonaro made in those first weeks were predictable, although at times we have had difficulty believing our own eyes. One of the first measures of the Bolsonaro government, Provisional Measure (PM) 870/2019, which dealt with the structure of the new Federal Administration, entrusted the Secretariat of the Presidency with the new role of “supervising, coordinating, monitoring and following the activities and actions of international organisations and non-governmental organisations within the national territory.”

    Under the democratic rule of law it is assumed that individuals are free to meet and associate, and they may perform any lawful activity free from state monitoring. The text of PM 870 reveals a clear disregard for the constitutional principles of the rights to the freedom of association and free enterprise. In addition, the idea of creating government structures with broad powers over CSOs is in and by itself a risk because it may lead to the establishment of an undue architecture of state control of private activities. In this regard, PM 870 is unconstitutional and should be modified by the National Congress.

    Do these measures target civil society in general, or are there any specific groups that the government seeks to control?

    PM 870 deals with organisations in general and is therefore an undue interference by the state in the work of international organisations and CSOs. The measure is also of concern because it can result in the monitoring of expressions of independent thought and of civil society’s actions to hold the government accountable, counterbalance political power and defend public freedoms.

    Bolsonaro was elected on the basis of a superficial government programme. He did not participate in any debate with the other candidates and his public statements to friendly TV networks and on Twitter conveyed a developmentalist discourse that was liberal regarding the economy and conservative regarding the advancement of rights, and which resonated with contemporary Brazilian society. His supporters have massively spread fake news through social media to attack certain agendas considered to be progressive, and particularly those related to environmental protection and the rights of minorities.

    After he was elected, Bolsonaro appointed a Minister of Foreign Affairs who has stated that he does not believe in climate change and considers it a Marxist plot. At the head of a so-called Ministry for Women, Family and Human Rights he placed an evangelical preacher who is publicly opposed to abortion for religious reasons. The task of demarcating indigenous lands was moved from the Indian Support Foundation to the Ministry of Agriculture, an agency with interests completely opposed to land demarcation. After backtracking on his previously announced decision to merge the Ministry of the Environment with the Ministry of Agriculture - which caused much controversy and many negative reactions - he put the cherry on top of the cake by celebrating the fact that environmental organisations criticised his appointee to the Ministry of the Environment, a representative of agro-industrial interests who has declared global warming “a secondary issue” and dismissed environmental fines as forms of “ideological persecution.”

    One of the first measures of the new Minister of the Environment was directed against environmental organisations. He issued a resolution that suspended for 90 days the execution of agreements and partnerships with CSOs. Contrary to the notion of sustainable development, the current administration’s approach to environmental issues dates back to a time when environmental preservation and economic and social development were viewed as conflicting goals. But sustainable development is a priority of the global agenda and is enshrined in the Brazilian Federal Constitution and domestic legislation, and therefore it is not up to any particular administration to decide whether its chosen model of national development is to preserve the environment and take care of its population.

    Moreover, since 2014 Brazil has had a law - No. 13,019 of 2014 - that defines the legal relationship between the state and civil society, which was unanimously passed by the National Congress when Jair Bolsonaro was a national representative. This law does not provide for the possibility of a suspension in the way that it was done. The decision by the Minister of the Environment violates the principle of legal certainty, since it disregards contractual relations that have been formalised on the basis of a law. It also defies administrative efficiency, as it cancels activities in which the Brazilian state has invested public resources, including the time and work of public servants.

    In what other ways has the space for civil society in Brazil been affected since the election of Bolsonaro?

    The administration has not been up and running long enough for us to assess the impact of the measures it has taken. The Bolsonaro government is only completing its first month now. But I would point out some issues that even at such an early stage already draw my attention. One is the choice of people who are notoriously opposed to certain agendas to lead politically and administratively the agencies that are key to their implementation - a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse, as the popular saying goes. Another issue is the lack of recognition of LGBTI people as holders of rights and subjects of human rights policies, and the extinction of spaces for civil society participation in public policy, such as the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security, a space for social participation adopted by Brazil in the area of food and nutritional security that has been held up by many other countries as an example.

    It is also important to note that the government has issued decrees on issues that bring significant setbacks to CSOs’ agendas, such as easing the purchase and possession of firearms and weakening the Access to Information Act by expanding the opportunities for public information to be classified as confidential and delegating more power to public officials than in the past, clearly hampering effective transparency.

    How has civil society reacted to these setbacks?

    Civil society is alert, closely following all the decisions made by the new government and organising to seek the reversal of measures that are contrary to human and environmental rights.

    Soon after the publication of the resolution by the Ministry of the Environment, in view of its very negative repercussions and the mobilisation of civil society, the Minister backtracked and issued a new order stating that the implementation of contracts already underway would continue and only new ones would have to keep waiting for approval. However, this change cannot be credited to civil society’s reaction alone, since this kind of behaviour has so far been a trademark of the Bolsonaro administration, which from the campaign onwards has adopted communication strategies inspired by Donald Trump’s. It is clearly possible to identify the intention, at times, to confuse public opinion by creating factoids so that disputes do not happen based on technical analysis, but rather on the basis of a chain of news about absurd measures, social reactions and changes of course by the government, seeking to convey to a section of the population the idea that there is ideological criticism on the part of the left while in contrast the government is willing to correct its mistakes.

    Civil society mobilised against the decision to establish a system of state monitoring of CSOs set out in PM 870, and a diverse and representative collection of Brazilian organisations signed an open letter requesting the rectification of PM 870 in line with the Constitution.

    Soon, in early February, the National Congress will resume work and civil society is getting ready to call on representatives to respect the Constitution and therefore amend the text to strip the government of the power to monitor international bodies and CSOs. The possibility of seeking the protection of the judiciary if Congress keeps the text of the legislation as proposed by the government is also under consideration, as well as resorting to international mechanisms in the event that domestic institutions fail to protect these rights, which are ensured by international treaties of which Brazil is a signatory state party.

    Why is it important for Brazilian civil society to be able to continue doing its work, and what kind of help does it need from international civil society?

    CSOs are key institutions for democracy, as they ensure plurality, diversity, the freedom of expression and respect for minorities. Moreover, only a free and strong civil society provides secure enough foundations for the change in the development model that our country requires.

    The work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, points in the same direction, emphasising the connection between development and the freedom for organisations to operate, something that is not always apparent to the wider public.

    In her celebrated work Governing the Commons, which earned her the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics, scholar Elinor Ostrom analysed several case studies on the management of common goods and determined that these are better managed by the community than by the state working in isolation. Her research shows that the management of potentially scarce common goods is more efficient when done by a group formed by people who are directly affected by that good, by means of rules created by the very same group and adapted to local needs and conditions. Within the type of economic arrangement that was the object of Ostrom’s study, the management of common goods was typically carried out by CSOs formed at the community level and aimed at promoting development compatible with the preservation of the environment and the populations that inhabit it.

    Unfortunately, in recent days we saw in Brazil yet another demonstration of the accuracy of Ostrom’s thesis, in the form of the tragiccollapse of a dam owned by the Vale mining company in the municipality of Brumadinho, state of Minas Gerais. This environmental crime took place three years after the collapse of a dam in Mariana, which literally killed the Rio Doce, carrying toxic minerals and destruction more than 500 km down the river, between the disaster site and the sea. News about the Brumadinho case points to the fragile implementation of existing inspection instruments. In this context, it is highly telling that about a month earlier the State Environmental Council had voted favourably, by eight votes to one, to grant new environmental licences to expand Vale's operation of the soon-to-collapse dam. The dissenting vote was cast bythe sole environmental organisation with a seat on the Council, which had warned the supervisory bodies about the risks.

    Examples such as this underscore the important role of civil society in ensuring the model of sustainable development that the world currently needs. Brazilian society needs to realise that loosening environmental regulations and attacking organisations that advance unpopular causes - those of people and territories with scarce financial resources standing up against huge corporations - is exactly what it takes to bury us in the mud of environmental devastation, violence and inequality.

    Right now, it is essential to expand our exchanges with international civil society to understand and seek answers to face the expansion of the forces of this conservative right that simply denies on social media the worth of multilateral mechanisms, the need to reverse climate change and the rights of minorities. What is happening in Brazil should be kept in context, as it is part of the same global movement that is causing setbacks to the rights agenda elsewhere, through a repressive collection of customs and liberal economic policies that fail to take into account the limits to the development process set by human rights and environmental protections.

    Increased coordination of Brazilian organisations with international public and private mechanisms, including those within the justice system, will help ensure the monitoring and visibility of the Brazilian situation, as well as access to international courts, if necessary.

    Investment in international cooperation programmes for joint action among organisations, states, universities and experts will also certainly help to promote enabling environments that are more hospitable to civil society and democracy.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Paula Raccanello through her email, .

     

  • BRAZIL: ‘This is a moment of fragility for civil society’

    Pedro StrozenbergCIVICUS speaks with Pedro Strozenberg, Ombudsman of Rio de Janeiro, about the situation of human rights and the regression of space for civil society in Brazil. The Ombudsman's Office is a public body that functions as a link between the state and civil society. Pedro Strozenberg is a lawyer specialising in conflict mediation who defines himself as an activist in matters of public safety, an area in which his office works to defend the rights of citizens against police abuse and brutality.

    You come from civil society. How did you become the Ombudsman, and what kind of work do you do?

    All my career has been in civil society. I am a lawyer specialising in conflict mediation within the framework of public security. I consider myself an activist in the field of security. For 15 years I worked in a civil society organisation (CSO), Viva Río, on issues of youth, rights, public safety, drugs and police. And for the past 10 years I have worked with the Institute for Religion Studies, an organisation more focused on research and with a strong component of public policy advocacy.

    My role at the head of the Ombudsman's Office is a temporary function that derives from my work in civil society. Under a federal law passed in 2009, the Ombudsman’s position must be occupied by someone coming from civil society. In each state, the office holder is picked by the members of the Superior Council of the Public Defender's Office out of a list of three names submitted by civil society. This federal law has been in force for 10 years, but the system is being established at variable paces and with a lot of delays. To date, only 14 offices have been created; there seems to be strong resistance by the justice system to this element of external control. In Rio de Janeiro the mechanism was established in 2015 and I was elected in 2016. In 2017 I was re-elected, and as soon as my term ends, I will go back to civil society.

    What are the main human rights challenges that you have faced at the Ombudsman’s Office?

    Rio is a very complex city and experiences pronounced oscillations. When I started getting involved in these issues, in the second half of the 1990s, we were going through a situation similar to today’s: a context of high insecurity, economic crisis and very high levels of police violence. Between the decades of 2000 and 2010 there was an important innovative agenda, with a focus on prevention, which produced a temporary reduction in the levels of lethal violence in Rio. Unfortunately, over the past 30 years Brazil has maintained very high levels of lethal violence, which certainly vary from one place to the next, but overall present unacceptable patterns of violence. While for a decade the numbers of victims of lethal violence decreased in Rio, in other cities - especially in the northeast and the north of Brazil - the levels rose a lot, and the baseline remained between 50,000 and 60,000 people killed every year. Today we have surpassed 60,000. The widespread presence of firearms and disputes over the control of territories are important causes of this lethality.

    In recent years, Rio experienced a frightening growth in deaths caused by state security forces, and more precisely by the police. This is the most emblematic trademark of the last period. In places like Rio and São Paulo, almost a third of the deaths are the result of police intervention.

    We have a police force that is absolutely lethal, and what is most dramatic is that this is provided legitimacy by the political orientation of the state and federal governments, which is based on the logic of confrontation and the exchange of bullets. We are living through a dramatic period marked by narrative disputes. These police practices are not based on the law, which is much more restrictive, but on the political discourse of the incumbent rulers.

    My role in the Ombudsman's Office includes upholding the pre-eminence of the law and acting as guarantor of people’s rights, in such a way that the law embodies protection for the people, rather than a threat to the poorest part of the population. It is necessary to follow legal processes, comply with legal requirements and guarantee everybody their right to defence, to freedom of expression, to the protection of life. Unfortunately, in many cases the understanding that institutions should be guided by the principles of the democratic rule of law does not prevail, and interpretation and scope vary according to territorial, ethnic and gender criteria. We all live in the same society, but not under the same legal guarantees. Today, we experience a time of legal instability, where the irresponsible and prejudiced discourse of Brazil’s rulers and of an important section of the legal system disrespects the National Constitution on a daily basis, introducing legal setbacks that in the near future will increase even more the number of deaths and the prison population. We need a narrative that takes the law as a point of reference, rather than the will of a punitive and exclusionary elite.

    Do you think that the strong-arm discourse against crime disseminated from the top has resonated in Rio?

    This discourse has indeed resonated, and that is because we live in a time of hopelessness in terms of public security policies, and unfortunately it is only natural for people to seek radical and immediate solutions, becoming vulnerable to emotional appeals that rarely entail genuine solutions. Electoral discourses rely heavily on emotional and inconsequential appeals. Many people want to hear something that, although not true, might create expectations that the situation will improve. And what’s dramatic is that many times it is the poorest population - the most affected by strong-arm discourse, in the sense that it is the part of the population where most of the victims come from - that most easily accepts the logic that the harshest the state action, the safer we will be. We believe the exact opposite: that the more rights we have, the more capable we will be of producing a culture of nonviolence.

    Unfortunately, the electoral manipulation of fear and insecurity is part of the world that we live in. It is only one phase of the cycle, but a phase in which the poorest people are indeed supporting strong-arm policies, even if they are applied against them. The situation is quite surprising, not to say frustrating

    Do you think that the dominant narrative has encouraged further police violence?

    I would rather say that the logic of the election emboldened people who believe in violence as a way to confront violence. In Brazil there is a strong culture that encourages people to follow a reference of brutality rather than a reference of legality. The more brutal an effort to build a security policy, the more recognition it will gain.

    A recent case clearly illustrates the moment we live in. Two favelas were involved in a full-blown territorial dispute, creating a situation that was quite dramatic for their inhabitants. The police decided to intervene. It was what they were supposed to do, since that is their role. But while in three days of fighting no deaths had occurred, the three-hour-long police operation led to 13 deaths, to which two more were added later. An operation causing 15 deaths cannot be considered successful in any way and must be the object of an investigation. Many residents said that several of the people who ended up dead had already surrendered and were in fact executed by the police. We are monitoring the investigation of the case, and there are reasons to think that the evidence was manipulated. Despite having caused so many deaths, the police operation still received the approval of part of the population. People say: ‘they were not citizens, they were thugs’. We are losing our humanity, our capacity for empathy and compassion.

    Let me provide another example of the effects of this narrative. In his eagerness to make the headlines, the governor of Rio said that if someone threatens a police officer or is armed, the police should "point to the head and shoot." A governor should not be able to say something like that. Incredible as it may seem, soon afterwards it was reported that in Manginhos, a rather violent favela in Rio that is located near a police station, five people had been killed over the course of a few months - two so far this year. Although investigations to find out where the shots came from are ongoing, residents claim - and it is very likely that this is the case - that police officers made holes for machine guns in the tower of an old factory that is now converted to police offices and shot passers-by through them. One of those killed was a worker from a nearby university, and his death caused great commotion. If the one dying is a black boy who lives in the favela and is perceived as close to drug traffickers, discourse prevails that he was just a black man from the favela. But if it is a worker with a respectable job, death becomes unacceptable. For us at Ombudsman's Office, the idea that the police can climb up a tower to shoot and kill people is dramatic.

    This is the model promoted by the state government: a model that leaves a trail of dead people and indelible pain. The dispute of narratives is very important for those who live in the favelas and for those who believe in human rights.

    Generally speaking, what is the state of civil society freedoms in Brazil?

    While we live in a democracy, within a democratic and legal institutional setting, in practice it is difficult for CSOs to have a voice and express themselves freely, autonomously and sustainably. First of all, economic sustainability is failing us. There are no public, transparent and accessible funds for the strengthening of civil society. For reasons of funding, structure and advocacy capacity, civil society is quite weak. There are no interlocutors in the state. This is a moment of fragility for civil society, so it is important that we manage to reinforce it.

    Second, although strictly speaking there is no official censorship, there is an atmosphere of fear that restricts the freedom of expression, as there are lots of investigations of human rights defenders and civil society activists. The president's discourse, which depicts activists as communists threatening the Brazilian social system, aims to eliminate activism. There are very strong signs of political control, which were clearly expressed in the decision to put a military minister in control of CSOs. We live in a democracy, but not quite.

    Third, there are risks and physical threats to activists. We really do not know to what extent it is currently safe to work on rights issues in Brazil.

    What risks do civil society activists and human rights defenders face, and what can be done to mitigate them?

    We defenders are fewer than we should be, but even so we are enough. However, the March 2018 assassination of Marielle Franco caused fear and led to the withdrawal of many activists from the favelas, notably black and women activists. The case of Marielle was at the same time representative of the context we live often, and also very particular. Marielle was a very visible person - she was one of the representatives in Rio who received the highest numbers of votes - and her murder, which took place in the city centre, was a real attack on democracy. It was not personal; it was a reaction to her political activity. Brazil does not have a tradition of politically motivated attacks. On the other hand, the case was typical because she was a black, bisexual woman from the favela. She belonged to a whole series of categories of very vulnerable and threatened people, who are often targeted not because of their political actions, but because of their identity, their practices and ideologies.

    Marielle’s murder occurred when Rio was under federal and military intervention, and now it is known who her executors were: they belong to a group of for-hire assassins linked to the militias and formed by former police officers. However, we still do not know who ordered her killing or why. The case has not been solved and meanwhile impunity and fear prevail.

    What support does rights-oriented civil society need in Brazil?

    First and foremost, we must be vigilant and provide visibility to situations of rights violations. For this it is very important to speak with the international media and international organisations.

    Second, international cooperation between CSOs is very important. In this context it is particularly important that organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and CIVICUS put Brazil in the forefront.

    Finally, it is also important to strengthen public organisations so that they liaise with civil society. In this sense, ombudspeople are particularly important, since they are, among the arms of the state, the most capable of supporting social movements in various spheres. In Rio, at least, we are trying to do so in different ways. For instance, we carry out an activity called ‘favela journey for rights’, in which we listen to the concerns of favela inhabitants on issues of rights violations. Each week a group of 15 to 20 people - public defenders, CSOs, academics, public administrators - go to a different favela and walk through it while listening to people tell their stories of rights violations. We systematise the stories and use them to try to exert influence on the police so that they pay attention to the ways they operate in the favelas. As part of the state, we work from within to turn this into a key issue and make sure the rights of the population are respected.

    Civil space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Ombudsman’s Office of Rio de Janeiro through its website,YouTube channel and Facebook page.

     

  • Brics: Uma proposta de nova ordem mundial que ignora os direitos básicos dos cidadãos

    Escrito por Fabio de Almeida Pinto, Coordenador Executivo do IDS, e Marianna Belalba Barreto, da CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    Entre 3 e 5 de setembro, o presidente Michel Temer estará em Xiamen, China, para a 9ª Cúpula dos Brics, onde se reunirá com os líderes de Rússia, Índia, China e África do Sul para discutir e aprofundar a cooperação em comércio internacional, desenvolvimento e segurança.
    Leia aqui: Estadão 

     

     

  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

     

  • CLIMATE CHANGE: ‘There is no respect for the role of civil society’

    Portuguese

    Adriana RamosCIVICUS speaks with Adriana Ramos, advisor at Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), a Brazilian civil society organisation that has worked since 1994 to propose solutions to social and environmental issues. ISA's main focus is the defence of social, collective and public goods and rights regarding the environment, cultural heritage, human rights and peoples’ rights. 

     

     

    Do you think there is an increasing restriction of civic space in Brazil following the election of President Jair Bolsonaro?

    Yes, we already have plenty of evidence that there is less scope for democratic action by civil society, at least in regard to the government. Various councils, committees and commissions that used to function as formal spaces for civil society participation in policy-making have been shut down. Regarding climate policy in particular, the National Commission for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (CONAREDD+), the Climate Fund’s Steering Committee and the Amazon Fund’s Steering Committee were affected, which used to be important forums for the implementation of national climate change policies.

    The government is also behaving antagonistically toward civil society. Its belligerent and aggressive tone hinders the possibility of dialogue. There is no respect for the role of civil society. All of this reflects on the performance of organisations working on the frontline. The suspension of the Amazon Fund, for instance, has precluded many planned projects and jeopardised ongoing ones.

    The government also attempted to eliminate the Ministry of Environment because they thought there was no need for environmental policy. As the proposal to eliminate it had a negative reaction among the public, the Ministry has remained in place, but it is now dedicated to dismantling existing environmental policies and legislation.

    When the Amazon fires came under the spotlight, the president of Brazil said that civil society organisations (CSOs) could be the ones responsible for deforestation. How have these statements affected the work of environmental organisations and defenders?

    Their first effect has been to drain all our energies by forcing us to focus on responding to such atrocious accusations. When the president makes such statements, the press is obliged to disseminate them, and we end up having to defend ourselves. We are put in a position where we need to respond to completely baseless statements made by the president. This is clearly a demobilisation strategy, as it paralyses our main activities and hinders the work of CSOs.

    In addition, there is little understanding of civil society in our country. As a result, such a statement sends a prejudiced message to the public and promotes misinformation and a misreading of the role of civil society. This is happening within the framework of a larger system that is actively promoting ‘fake news’. It ends up creating a cascade effect.

    Is there a link between this narrative and the threats facing environmental defenders, particularly those closest to the frontline of conflict?

    During his election campaign the president promised to “end all activism in Brazil.” We see the government acting consistently with this promise, promoting lawlessness and delegitimating the work of environmental defenders. This reflects directly in the increased lack of safety in the field and the sense of impunity that strengthens those who act illegally. Illegal activities are promoted in the Amazon region, such as illegal logging, illegal mining and land grabbing, all of which are sources of conflict. Those who have historically been the perpetrators of violence against indigenous peoples and environmental leaders come out stronger. In addition, the president’s authoritarian approach ends up mobilising public security forces. Public security forces, which should be working to defend vulnerable groups, are guided by a policy that criminalises and marginalises these groups. Thus, Brazil will probably continue to be listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders.

    How has civil society organised to respond in this context?

    We have sought to ensure the constitutional conditions for an active civil society, coordinating various efforts to guarantee the safety of defenders in the field and strengthen protection strategies for the social leaders who are in the most vulnerable positions. We need to innovate in our methods in order to be able to get through these times. It is an unfortunate situation, but I think Brazilian civil society is quite experienced in facing adverse situations and is trying to become stronger in this context.

    At the same time, I believe that checks and balances between the three powers of our government have never been as essential as they are today. If dialogue with the executive is unfeasible, then we must increase our work on the legislative and judicial fronts. Even with their institutional limitations, these end up being key spaces for intervention and contestation of the Brazilian government’s authoritarian actions. We still have a constitution in place. It is a robust constitution in terms of guarantees for individual rights and the freedom of association. On its basis, we carry on the battle.

    What kind of support do Brazilian environmental organisations and defenders need?

    We need more institutional support to ensure that organisations can develop their advocacy work as robustly as the context requires. We need protections that render them less vulnerable to any kind of persecution.

    But support is also needed to strengthen locally developed initiatives, by means of supporting local communities so they can generate income and manage their territories. It is no use fighting on the political front to prevent legislative changes if the living conditions of local communities deteriorate and they become increasingly vulnerable to the unsustainable proposals brought to them by the government. It is important to ensure that there are projects that generate income from sustainable forest use so that communities do not become vulnerable and prone to being used as pawns at the service of those who advocate for the opening of their territories for exploitation by third parties. If this happens, these territories will become unsustainable, and this is bad both for the communities and the environment. It is not only about supporting political resistance against the government’s discourse, but also about supporting best practices in autonomous environmental management by communities, so that communities are strengthened in the process, rather than becoming vulnerable to co-option.

    Is there a growing public movement for environmental causes in Brazil?

    I believe so. Every day more people are interested in mobilising and are reacting to what is happening. They begin to understand that this is a cross-cutting theme, as there is no economy or health without a healthy environment. Because of the current denial of environmental policy, the theme draws even more attention. Without a doubt, this can contribute to strengthening civil society and prompt more people to mobilise, participate and stay attuned to what is happening. That is the positive aspect of the current situation.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Instituto Socioambiental through its website or its Facebook and Instagram profiles.

     

  • HIV/AIDS: ‘We need a global civil society movement that stands together for all rights’

     

    Alessandra NiloCIVICUS speaks toAlessandra Nilo, co-founder and Executive Director of GESTOS – HIV and AIDS, Communication and Gender, a civil society organisation (CSO) created in 1993 in Recife, Brazil. She is a member of the NGO Delegation to the Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an institution that uniquely involves civil society in its governance board. Here, Alessandra discusses civil society’s important role in UNAIDS, her work on HIV/AIDS in the deteriorating political climate of Brazil and the growing challenge posed by anti-rights groups that oppose action on HIV/AIDS and human rights.

    Can you tell us about your background and how you came to work on issues of HIV/AIDS?

    I am a journalist, specialised in health and with a postgraduate qualification in diplomacy. I was also involved in student movements and workers’ and political movements. In 1993, a group of us created GESTOS. At that time, we didn’t know much about the epidemic. I lost a friend, whose family locked him in his house and wouldn’t allow us to talk to him. That was why GESTOS was born, to address the issues of people living with HIV/AIDS.

    We knew that having an organisation to help people was not enough. We needed to exercise accountability. We needed to improve policies. We were pioneers because at that time we knew that gender was an important dimension, and also that without communication, we could not move forward, because it was important to involve the public and mobilise them for our cause. This is why we were named GESTOS – Seropositivity, Communication and Gender.

    We started to engage with the national councils in Brazil. These are bodies established by the 1988 Federal Constitution, where government, civil society and interested parties sit together to define public policies. These were spaces where we could practise direct democracy and have direct participation. Through participation GESTOS became very close to the ministries of health and gender and we began to engage in social networks of the Latin American region.

    What have been some of the impacts of the HIV/AIDS movement, in Brazil and globally?

    In general Brazil’s HIV/AIDS movement is very strong. We have helped people take action to define their own responses to HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, the HIV/AIDS movement has been responsible for many breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS policies, and this happened in Brazil.

    We were the first movement to start pushing that treatment was a right, rather than a commodity delivered by governments depending on whether they wanted to or had capacity. We were responsible for big discussions around sexuality that contributed to the sexual and reproductive rights movement. We built strong alliances with the feminist movement. We were the first movements to include people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sex workers in a global resolution at the United Nations (UN). We also engaged in debates that led to the Sustainable Development Goals. The fact that in the Agenda 2030 resolution there is a mention of people living with HIV/AIDS is because GESTOS was there as part of the Brazilian delegation and Brazil proposed this at the last minute of negotiations in New York.

    The bottom line is that people living with HIV/AIDS proved at local, national and international levels to have a strong capacity to advocate for amplifying the spaces and formal sites and mechanisms for civil society participation in general.

    How did civil society’s role in UNAIDS develop?

    UNAIDS created the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), UNAIDS’ governing body, in 1995 – it started operating in 1996 – and it is super innovative because it is the only governing body in the UN system that includes formal participation by civil society. It has 22 voting Member States, 11 co-sponsors, who are other UN bodies, and five civil society delegates plus five alternates, which means 10 people from civil society are involved. We have one member and one alternate per region, from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia and Europe.

    The PCB is the place where the main global policies on HIV/AIDS have been discussed and formed, and these have informed other UN debates. More than that, it has informed and inspired the ways UN member states implement HIV/AIDS policies at national levels.

    The rationale for civil society’s involvement lies in the fact that the HIV/AIDS movement was really based on participation. Since the beginning, people living with HIV and key populations pushed and insisted that politicians, scientists and affected people should come together and figure out how to create solutions together. We built this social movement where it was almost impossible to move forward any discussion without involving us. We were pressing since the beginning to have meaningful participation.

    Because of this, when the PCB was formed, civil society was considered a very important player that had to participate. This was very innovative at that time and continues to be innovative today.

    How does civil society’s involvement work in practice? How are the delegates selected and how do they connect with wider civil society?

    The PCB NGO Delegation members have mandates for two years and depending on the performance of a delegate, the group can expand this mandate for one more year. Delegates are selected by current NGO PCB members. We put forward a public call, in response to which interested applicants make a submission. Shortlisted applicants are then invited to an interview panel. The panel, which consists of NGO delegates, as well as an external civil society partner or a former NGO delegate, makes a recommendation. Final deliberation and decision are done by the full Delegation.

    We have a number of requirements for these candidates. One is that they should have the capacity to represent and communicate with their constituencies. It is essential to have the capacity for broader communication.

    We have a very transparent process. We have a website where we publicise the calls, but also use social media to publicise the opportunity. We have a list of advisory groups, CSOs and activists who are always interested in issues of the UNAIDS PCB, and we communicate with them and involve them in preparations before, between and after the biannual PCB meetings. In recent years, we have been trying to reach out to other spheres, including groups working on issues such as sustainable development and financing for development.

    Since 2008, there has also been an independent Communication and Consultation Facility (CCF) to support the NGO Delegation by providing technical, administrative and programme support. Since 2013, the CCF’s host organisation has been the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV, based in Thailand. The CCF is the backbone of the NGO Delegation. It is hard to imagine how the Delegation would function effectively without it. A key objective of the CCF is to facilitate communication among the delegates and consultation with wider civil society.

    What have the impacts and challenges been?

    The NGO Delegation has no right to vote, but can participate in every other aspect of PCB activities. There is a very fine line between participating in deliberations and taking part in decision-making, because traditionally the PCB does not hold votes but decides by consensus. There have been so many examples where the NGO Delegation has been able to table decision points during meetings for critical agenda items, and had its points approved. Most decisions that have come out of the PCB came in one way or another after strong civil society participation.

    Civil society and communities are really strong players and our voice is considered in a very respectful manner. It has been proven that with civil society participation, policies, programmes and services are designed much more efficiently and with much higher chances of working and benefiting people.

    In terms of the process, since 2012, the NGO Delegation has been trying to create connections with other groups working with the UN to show them how the experience of the UNAIDS PCB accepting us and having us as formal members can be transposed to other UN bodies. We think this would be a great achievement for civil society in general. We tried to push this while the UN was having a conversation about restructuring and reforms. We talked with so many people, but it seems there is not an appetite for the UN to become more democratic in terms of the participation of civil society in formal decision-making bodies.

    To have formal spaces for civil society is important, but it is not enough. There is absolutely a need to be able to inform decisions and participate in the decision-making processes of the UN at this time when, at the national and international levels, we are every day being pushed farther away from spaces for participation because of the advancement of reactionary political forces.

    Although our PCB NGO Delegation succeeded, gaining formal space to participate was challenging. This is why we value it so much. If you think about the face of our movement you see people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, LGBTQI people and women, people who have always led our movement but who have been marginalised in society. And even nowadays, stigma and discrimination continue to prevent us from reaching and accessing some places. While the HIV/AIDS movement has been successful in gaining public attention and claiming spaces, it has been very hard to do so, because stigma, prejudice and discrimination continue to fuel this epidemic.

    With all these populist movements nowadays, the communities impacted on and affected by HIV/AIDS are not only the most marginalised but also the most criminalised. Criminalisation really impacts on the kind of organising we can do. In many countries in Africa and Asia, homosexuality, sex work and drug use are criminalised. There are real legal barriers for our communities that really impact on participation and engagement.

    How is the restricted space for civil society in many contexts impacting on your work?

    In the past decades we were fighting to improve the work that we were doing, but now we are working toward maintaining the rights we have, to resist, to recover from losses, and this is a very different game. In general, there is this trend of the space for civil society being increasingly restricted, and it is even more so for the HIV/AIDS movement because the forces opposing us are reactionary.

    We are seeing different experiences in different countries. And, including in countries that were known as democratic, we have seen civil society dismantled, and colleagues in civil society forced to flee their places in order to keep some movements alive.

    Besides this, in general, governments have used economic crises to justify cuts in programmes that used to have civil society participation. One very efficient way of diminishing civil society’s capacity is to cut funds, and this has happened to the HIV/AIDS movement. Until recently, we had countries investing in HIV/AIDS response, and that included investing in communities and civil society. This was working in a very progressive way, but now we have seen that resources for civil society, particularly international resources in middle-income countries, have decreased, and this has impacted negatively on our capacity to continue responding to HIV/AIDS and influencing governments.

    In recent years we have seen the rise of fundamentalism and nationalism and a rejection of multilateralism in general. This has completely jeopardised the progress made in previous years in human, economic and environmental rights. Even in contexts where states had no interest in supporting civil society participation, we used to have an organisation such as UNAIDS and other international entities that could fund international networks and those networks could support national work, or could directly fund communities on the ground. This is not the case any longer. Formal space is being diminished, resources have been reduced and the groups that organise to provide support face increasing demands, because when democratic spaces shrink, public services and policies that benefit everyone in society usually suffer. And then the demand on us increases further. This equation simply does not work.

    At the UNAIDS PCB itself, we see a political trend of some Member States becoming more aggressive towards CSOs, and some conservative governments questioning our model of participation. PCB meetings have seen attempts to challenge the existence of the NGO Delegation. In 2013 this was brought up by a couple of Member States that questioned the Delegation’s standing to participate in the meeting. In December 2018, a Member State questioned the recruitment process of the NGO delegates. I think the threat of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution that established the PCB being revised is always there, especially in the current climate of declining democracy in various parts of the world. If that resolution is revised, then anything can be revised.

    What challenges do you now face under an extreme right-wing president In Brazil?

    In Brazil, the federal government is really going after LGBTQI people, the indigenous population, people who use drugs, black people. In June the Senate approved a law to make the policy on drugs even more restrictive, going in the opposite direction to many other countries. LGBTQI people are much more scared of being visible now. Also in May, the new government issued a decree to basically shut down all civil society participation in national councils. All councils created by law will continue to function but their composition will be revised, and all councils created by decree were immediately cancelled.

    The government spread confusion about civil society in relation to the Amazon Fund, which is a big international fund to which CSOs can apply to fight climate change. The government lied by stating that the fund was being misused, while what they really want is not to let civil society get funding.

    Also, as soon as it took power, the government cut several contracts with CSOs. At this moment we do not know that will happen with women’s rights and human rights policies. All progressive agendas are being cut by 65 per cent, 85 per cent, 95 per cent. Can you imagine that the Environment Ministry’s fund for climate change was cut by 95 per cent? As well as being a fundamentalist and economically ultraliberal, the new President doesn’t believe in climate change, the Minister of International Affairs stated that "globalism is a cultural Marxist conspiracy" and they want to solve the violence problem by releasing weapons for the entire population. How do you deal with people like that?

     

    Given challenges, what is needed to improve the impact of the NGO Delegation?

    UNAIDS and Member States should improve the level of investment in the NGO Delegation. Because our delegation operates very differently from government delegations, we lack the resources we need to amplify our voices and our advocacy work. The reason why we have not done more structured advocacy work in other areas of the UN is that we never have funds for that.

    We also need more support in terms of communications, because we would like to do more campaigns around the results of our work and publicise key debates happening at the PCB, including intensifying our communication about the unique role of the PCB and civil society’s role within it.

    More generally, how can the challenges that HIV/AIDS-related civil society is facing be addressed?

    We need to improve our capacity to communicate and amplify our voice. If we could do that, people would pay more attention and value more what we do. It would be helpful if people could understand that the HIV/AIDS movement is an important part of the development agenda.

    We need to reshape the entire conversation about international cooperation and decision-making in terms of the allocation of funds for communities and civil society. Decisions not to support countries because of their income levels are flawed. Brazil, for example, is defined as a middle-income country; as a result, over the past 10 years or so international cooperation agencies have withdrawn from Brazil. As a consequence of the low capacity to respond to right-wing fundamentalism, repressive forces have flourished. We need to go back to the basics, to our peers, to frontline groups, to political education. Conservative forces were just hidden and waiting for the moment to rise again. And they did so with discourse filled with falsities, for instance claiming to oppose corruption, an issue that has dominated in Brazil in the past years.

    In countries with repressive right-wing leaders – such as Brazil, Hungary and the Philippines – civil society is doing its best to respond on several fronts despite lack of funding. Luckily for humanity, some people are born activists and do this work whether there is money or not. But I truly believe that, in order to keep our movement sustainable, we have to engage more deeply in global discussions about how to fund an independent civil society, one that does not rely upon states to raise funds and therefore remains independent of government decisions.

    Given the impossibility of engaging with the federal government, another response in Brazil is to engage more with sub-national authorities and parliament. More connections are needed at the sub-national level, where it is possible to identify many people who support our causes.

    Another idea is to make more use of litigation: to use legal frameworks to maintain the agenda. But, again, we need funds to do that.

    For the UN, we need to be mindful about institutional reforms that are taking place and be vigilant. We need innovative mechanisms and funds that can help make the UN more independent of Member States, and to increase civil society capacity to play a bigger part. There should not be such distance between the international and national levels. People on the ground can benefit from discussions at the global level, and international discussions should be informed by the desires of people on the ground. People on the ground need to know why multilateralism is important, what the UN is, what UNAIDS is, why they matter. But it is hard when international cooperation funds keep shrinking and most organisations are relegated to providing services rather than advocating for rights, developing capacity and enabling new activists.

    The issue of restricted space for civil society connects us all, independently of our field of action. Therefore it is crucial to have cross-movement dialogues and open conversations, because this is where we can build resilience and solidarity and support each other. We need different sectors to come together to keep growing and not to be intimidated into silence by forces that are sometimes literally killing us. We cannot be isolated in our own agendas. We really need a global civil society movement that stands together for all rights.

    We are in a very delicate movement for democracy where social media and education play a crucial role. Communication is also a major issue for social movements. At this point in history we should be able to communicate better. What is our role? What is our success story in terms of supporting and strengthening democracy? Well, if you look at history, you will see that our role is essential and that most existing rights resulted from civil society demands and victories. Because without meaningful community and civil society participation there is no sustainable development, there is no democracy, and it is unlikely that public policies can be translated into services and programmes that really serve the needs of people.

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

    Visit the websites ofGESTOS and theUNAIDS PCB NGO Delegation.

     

  • Human Rights Council Elections 2019

    HRCIn October 2019, in New York, the UN General Assembly will elect 14 new members of the 47-member State Human Rights Council.

    Two of the rotating 14 seats are currently open to countries from Latin America and the Caribbean regional group.

    Until last week, only Venezuela and Brazil were standing as candidates for these two seats – which meant that both were guaranteed election to membership.

    This all changed at the beginning of October, when Costa Rica announced that it was throwing its hat into the ring. It is standing explicitly as an alternative to Venezuela, whom it has deemed unsuitable to be a Human Rights Council member because of its grave human rights violations. Now, with three candidates standing for two seats, the election is suddenly much more meaningful.

    At the last Session, the High Commissioner delivered a report on Venezuela which stated that over the last decade, in particular since 2016, Venezuela’s government has implemented a strategy “aimed at neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people critical of the Government.” The High Commissioner found that a series of laws, policies and practices have constrained civic and democratic space, allowing patterns of violation. The Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela to continue to monitor and report on these serious human rights violations. Many organisations believe that with its current record, Venezuela should not even stand for election, much less be voted in.

    As a current member of the Council up for re-election, Brazil has supported resolutions tackling human rights crises around the world. But since the beginning of the new administration it has seen an increase in violent rhetoric and, over the last year, a curtailment in human rights protections, anti-minorities policies and attacks against Human Rights Council mechanisms. Its influence in the region and beyond, Brazilian and regional and international organisations believe that it could pose a significant threat to multilateralism.

    There have been substantial civil society efforts from within both Brazil and Venezuela to advocate against their respective election to the Council. CIVICUS has members in both countries. Following the lead from our members on the ground, we believe that neither Brazil nor Venezuela should be elected to a seat on the UN’s main human rights body. CIVICUS recommends that states do not cast a ballot in favour of either country in a symbolic gesture to reject both candidates.

    There have always been repressive governments on the HRC – China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, are among the Council’s current members – and this upcoming three-way fight can almost be seen as a microcosm of this wider dynamic.

    The Human Rights Council is the main intergovernmental body within the UN responsible for addressing human rights violations. As such, we believe that its members have a responsibility to uphold universal human rights and multilateralism. CIVICUS will continue to advocate for that states with poor human rights records, or states which undermine the aims and commitments of the Human Rights Council, should not be elected to its membership, and we call on UN member states to refuse to cast their ballots for those who fall short. This may only be a symbolic gesture, but it is an important one: for the Human Rights Council to adequately protect human rights around the world, it needs to demand more of its membership.

    In the meantime, we welcome Costa Rica’s courage and commitment in standing for membership, and we look forward to working with the delegation in Geneva in our shared vision for universal human rights.

    The other States up for election are:

    African Group:Benin,Libya,Mauritania andSudan (with four seats available)

    Asia-Pacific Group:Indonesia,Iraq,Japan,Marshall Islands andRepublic of Korea (competing for four seats)

    Eastern European Group:Armenia,Republic of Moldova andPoland (competing for two seats)

    Western European and Others Group:Germany and theNetherlands (with two seats available).

    For more information on the human rights records of these states, see ISHR’s ‘scorecards' for each State standing for election to the UN Human Rights Council.

     

  • People power is China’s great untapped resource

    By Frances Eve, Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and Cathal Gilbert, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

    From 3-5 September, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met at the ninth BRICS summit. The venue was Xiamen - a gleaming port city which symbolises China’s rise as the new economic and political force in the world. It is also a fitting venue to mark the continued emergence of BRICS as a bloc with some serious geopolitical heft.

    But what does BRICS mean for Chinese people and how can they have any say in these annual meetings, which bring together heads of state from 5 of the most prosperous and populous emerging economies?

    These are uncomfortable questions for a group of leaders who, thus far, have not sought any meaningful inputs from their citizens on the future direction of BRICS. They are particularly awkward questions for host, China, where civil society activists, human rights lawyers, and others who seek to have a say in tackling China’s 21st century problems are systematically repressed by a small elite determined to hold on to power.

    Regular monitoring of the space for civil society by the CIVICUS Monitor and the China Human Rights Briefing shows the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are systematically curtailed in China. These research tools show that civic space is ‘repressed’ in China, indicating that citizens are not able to safely and fully exercise their fundamental rights, namely to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Based on these indicators, the state of civil society rights in China is the lowest amongst BRICS countries and in the bottom quarter for all UN member states.

    Since 2014, a series of restrictive new laws on national security, non-profit organisations and anti-terrorism have been passed, coinciding with a sustained escalation of detentions of dissidents. The latest of these is China’s new National Intelligence Law, which gives authorities “sweeping powers to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and institutions”. The Law on the Management of Overseas NGO Activities, which allows the police to control CSOs' funding sources, staffing and activities, came into force on the 1st of January this year.

    Aside from laws, China has relentlessly pursued its critics through mass arrests of lawyers and activists in 2015, the shutdown of websites promoting peaceful dialogue and deploying riot police to prevent a demonstration on poor air quality in Chengdu. The list goes on.

    The Chinese authorities’ distaste for free speech and human rights activism was perhaps best displayed following the death in July 2017 of China’s only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate  Liu Xiaobo. Rather than allow Xiaobo’s colleagues and friends to mourn, the authorities tightly controlled his burial at sea to prevent a commemoration, arrested activists after his funeral and orchestrated the subsequent disappearance of his widow, Liu Xia, whom they have held in arbitrary detention since 2010.

    None of these issues were discussed at the summit in Xiamen. The agenda was dominated by concerns of international security, especially as North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb on the first day of the summit, global trade and the rebalancing of the global financial systems.

    But if any of this is to be achieved, and particularly if BRICS is to realise its goal of “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economic growth”, its leaders will have to start listening to their people. Fans of China’s spectacular economic growth may say that political reform  is not necessary but history shows us that silencing your citizens is always a strategy with a limited shelf life. Either education and prosperity will rise to levels where citizens demand a proper say, or exclusion and frustration will spill over onto the streets.

    China’s leaders are smart enough to know that even their industrial-scale repression is only partly successful. Indeed, China does allow for tens of thousands of protests to take place across the country every year. By adopting this pressure valve strategy, China allows citizens to let off steam while it simultaneously goes after the organisers or those who share information. This month’s sentencing of a citizen journalist to four years in prison for documenting labour protests is one such example of this tactic.

    Deep down, China’s leaders know that a state can never completely kill the spirit of activism and resistance. Nowadays, the rising influence of the internet, despite being  a tool of repression and rigidly controlled and monitored in China, continues to make the spread of ideas and calls to action easier.

    BRICS may seem a strange place for China to begin the journey towards a more open society. But within the BRICS framework, China can learn from South Africa, where one of the world’s most progressive constitutions is still largely intact, there is a pluralism in the media and protests take place on a daily basis. This dialogue about the merits of democracy could take place through a genuine South-South spirit of partnership, devoid of the often toxic dynamics of North-South dialogue.

    An empowered and engaged civil society doesn’t just mean there will be greater checks on power. It is also a means to create innovation, social cohesion and prosperity within society, share new ideas, challenge the status quo and explore the wealth of generosity and creativity in each individual.

    With almost 1.4 billion people, surely this is China’s greatest untapped resource?

    Frances Eve is a Hong Kong-based researcher with the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a coalition of Chinese and international NGOs dedicated to the promotion of human rights in China.

    Cathal Gilbert is a researcher at The World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS