civic freedoms

 

  • Alert: Continued deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela

    Spanish

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) are deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela. On 28 and 29 March 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) issued rulings No. 155 and 156 by which it declared the National Assembly in contempt of court, stripped legislators of parliamentary immunity, and assumed congressional powers as well as the prerogative to delegate them to whoever it decided, namely the Office of the President.

    In practice, many civil society organisations in Venezuela have expressed an opinion that these rulings amounted to an attempted coup against the legislative branch of government, a fundamental pillar of democratic institutions and the embodiment of the people’s right to be represented in the arena where key decisions concerning their lives and rights are made. Similarly, the Venezuelan Attorney General considered these decisions represent a rupture of the Constitutional order.

    The latest developments are the culmination of a several years’ long process of erosion of congressional authority which has plunged the country into a deep social crisis. Through the past year and a half, the TSJ issued more than 50 rulings that undermined the functions of the National Assembly and conferred unlimited powers onto the executive branch of the state. This is the reason why the backing down by the TSJ on its latest rulings did not amount to a restoration of the separation of powers and the rule of law. The fact that this reversal was executed at the executive’s request further emphasised the judiciary’s lack of independence and the on-going degradation of Venezuelan republican institutions.

    Over the years, the erosion of constitutional checks and balances and the resulting political polarisation have progressed hand in hand with increasing restrictions on civic freedoms, namely the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly without which an empowered and enabled civil society cannot exist.

    In turn, the increasing concentration of decision-making powers in the executive leadership has led to serious policy-making failures, thereby intensifying rather than resolving the social crisis facing the country, including acute shortages of food and other basic goods, challenges with the public health system and a spike in street violence which disproportionately affects impoverished communities. We are also concerned about state repression against individuals and civil society groups when they speak up, organise and protest about their troubles.

    In the face of this multidimensional crisis, we call on Venezuelan Government to:

    • Restore the constitutionally defined functions and resources of the National Assembly as well as the prerogatives of its members, devolve the extraordinary powers conferred onto the executive by subsequent TSJ rulings, and introduce measures to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
    • Repeal the current state of exception, established through an executive decree, and comply with human rights commitments under international law to guarantee basic enabling conditions for human rights defenders and civil society organisations. 
    • Guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and of expression. Security forces must refrain from the use of force against, or the arbitrary arrest of peaceful protestors.
    • Engage in dialogue with relevant national actors, including civil society, to resolve the current crisis; and ensure access to food and medicine for the entire population.

    We also urge the international community and in particular, the Organization of American States and its members to assist in resolution of the social and political crisis facing Venezuela.

    Contact:
    Eleanor Openshaw, ISHR NY Office: +1 212 490 2199,
    Inés Pousadela, CIVICUS Policy and Research: +598 2901 1646,

     

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

    Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

    Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

    A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

    A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

    Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

    1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
    2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
    3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
    4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
      Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

    Contactos:
    Eleanor Openshaw,
    ISHR Oficina de Nueva York
    +12124902199

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

     

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

    Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

    Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

    A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

    A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

    Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

    1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
    2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
    3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
    4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
      Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

    Contactos:
    Eleanor Openshaw,
    ISHR Oficina de Nueva York
    +12124902199

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

     

  • Amid COVID-19, what is the health of civic freedoms?

    By Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS and Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Research Officer

    More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus. Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent. But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.

    Read onInter Press Service News Agency

     

  • Bolivian government using law and force to cow civil society into silence

    Spanish

    CIVICUS speaks to Marco Antonio Gandarillas, Director of the Centre of Information and Documentation Bolivia (CEDIB), a human rights organisation founded in 1970 with the aim of providing information and consulting services with a critical eye on the social reality of Bolivia and Latin America. He speaks on the protests gripping the country in recent years, the response of state security forces and the dire situation of environmental activists.

    1. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been protests over water, mobilisations for and against the president’s re-election, violent protests against the coca Bill, and countless local protests. Are we seeing a peak in social mobilisation in Bolivia?
    Conflict is a part of this country’s political culture: as sociologist Fernando Calderón would put it, politics in Bolivia is “done in the streets”. We have government agencies and civil society organisations dedicated to counting social conflicts in Bolivia, because this is a country that is in permanent conflict.

    The current situation must be apprehended in historical perspective. When President Evo Morales attained power in 2006, it was initially a rather convulsive stage. Certain actors, notably centres of regional power, disputed power spaces with the state. Starting with the constitutional process in 2006-2008, disputes between regional power groups and the central state subsided, and some stability ensued. There were some violent incidents here and there, but generally speaking it was a phase of low levels of conflict that lasted several years.

    Around 2011 the situation changed again, with sustained increases in conflict, particularly fuelled by socio-economic factors. The turning point was the mobilisation of the indigenous peoples of TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure), a highly biodiverse protected area. The people of TIPNIS mobilised to reject the construction of a highway that would cut through their territory. The conflict was particularly relevant because this was a sector that had been an ally of the government, and that by mobilising independently raised a national conflict with the state. They received numerous expressions of public support and this became one of the main topics of public debate.

    It should be noted that this process of de-alignment was important at the level of social leadership, but not so much at the grassroots level of indigenous organisations. Indigenous peoples actually live very far removed from conventional partisan politics and were not necessarily aligned with the government to begin with. In fact, many indigenous peoples – we are talking about more than thirty groups in the highlands, and about as many in the lowlands - never saw President Evo Morales as one of their own. President Morales represents the sector of the cocaleros, colonisers from the highlands who occupied the lowlands to grow coca in territories originally belonging to smaller and more vulnerable indigenous peoples. So there is actually not a single standpoint attributable to “the indigenous peoples”. Politically, indigenous organisations were a circumstantial ally of a government that at first advocated certain rights, promoted legal progress and proposed dialogue and social pacts. But the government also supported the expansion of agribusiness in the lowland territories of indigenous peoples, even allowing illegal activities such as coca cultivation for cocaine production.

    In short, since 2011, and more intensely on the eve of the latest presidential election (the third) that President Morales won in late 2014, we have had a number of conficts that is even higher than the number of conflicts that took place in 2003, a time of social upheaval leading to the fall and flight of then-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Although larger in number, however, the nature of conflicts has also changed. At present, there is a great proliferation of disaggregated conflicts, many of which are accompanied by high levels of violence.

    2. How has the state reacted to the protests?
    It has become commonplace for conflicts to be contained by heavy police intervention, often resulting in fatalities. The security forces, and particularly the police, enjoy total impunity: no cases of deaths caused by repression have been truly probed, and perpetrators have never even been prosecuted.

    For instance, last year the conflict involving mining cooperatives resulted in seven deaths, six on the side of the miners plus a high authority – the deputy Interior Minister – who was lynched. There are detainees, but there is no evidence of legal proceedings complying with due process guarantees having been initiated against the material and intellectual authors of these crimes. Five of those people were killed by police-issued weapons, but perpetrators have not been identified.

    This increase in conflict levels is the result of growing social unrest, which has surprisingly not expressed itself at the polls. From President Morales’ 2014 solid victory – he was re-elected with about 60% of the vote – the government deduced that society supported their economic model, regardless of the fact that according to the available data, the main reason for most conflicts was socio-economic in nature, revolving around wages, land, natural resources, public services and the allocation of public funds.

    Therefore, as he was inaugurated for the third time, President Morales embraced the deepening of the government’s model as his main objective. This triggered new conflicts and worsened existing ones. I think this is at the basis of the high levels of violence that now characterise social conflict, along with the impunity with which repressive agencies act.

    3. Was the repression of protests accompanied by legal changes that may have fueled police violence and increased impunity?
    Legal changes have indeed also taken place, as part of a regional trend. Under pressure from the United States of America, all countries in the Southern Cone have introduced repressive reforms into their criminal codes, typifying various forms of social protest as criminal offences. An ambiguous figure that almost all countries incorporated was that of “fight against terrorism”.

    In Bolivia, the government soon realised that it could not control society solely through the co-optation of social leadership – what I call “clientelistic social control” – and therefore began to deploy a strategy of repressive social control. The new tools it used went beyond police repression: they included for instance smear campaigns and “public lynching” of dissenting voices by government authorities. Any sector, institution or leader who appears as overly critical is accused by the president of being right-wing, destabilising or promoting coups. This in turn justifies the adoption of further measures such as the physical seizure of organisations’ headquarters, which has often occurred. Many grassroots organisations that were independent from the government, including large indigenous organisations such as CIDOB (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia) have been forcibly taken over by government-affiliated groups that had their legitimately elected authorities removed and replaced with activists from their own ranks or even with government officials. In general, they sought to make this look as if this had been the outcome of a confrontation between groups, when in fact the police intervened to remove legitimate leaders and replace them with impostors. A recent example of this was the attempted takeover of APDHB (Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia) in February 2017.

    Once the government was engaged in media lynching, it was only natural for a conviction to develop regarding the need to regulate those situations in which protesting is not acceptable. Various laws – including the Investment Promotion Law and the Mining Law, both passed in 2014 –, along with a number of supreme decrees, for instance those about cooperatives, classified a variety of forms of legitimate social opposition as criminal offences, in many cases carrying prison sentences ranging from 4 to 8 years. I do not know of any specific case in which the Investment Law has been applied to someone for blocking a road; this legislation works rather as deterrence of mobilisation against state-promoted initiatives.

    4. Are there any specific issues or mobilised groups that are targeted with higher levels of violence?
    Mobilisations with a national ambition and involving political questioning of the government are most harshly repressed. Such was the case of the mobilisation by mining cooperatives. In the pre-electoral period in 2014, miners were promised many things that eventually found their way into a Mining Law (Law No. 535/2014) granting them unrestricted access to exploitation areas. Failure to comply with these provisions led to their mobilisation in 2016.

    At the same time, other sectors – particularly indigenous peoples – typically react when their territories and livelihoods are affected by extractive activities. 2011 was a turning point for them too. Until then, there were umbrella indigenous organisations at the regional and national levels. Since then, government action has focused on de-structuring indigenous organisation: most departmental, regional and national organisations have since been seized, or parallel organisations have been established. Indigenous communities’ capacity for national action against mining or hydrocarbon exploitation has therefore been greatly affected. These days, in the context of a large hydroelectric project north of La Paz, the government strategically avoids dealing with local actors, who are directly affected and therefore oppose the project, and deals instead with a regional leadership that no longer represents anybody but turns out to be their preferred political partner.

    In dozens of territories, still known as TCOs (tierras comunitarias de origen or “original community lands”), simultaneous processes of resistance are taking place against a number of extractive projects. But these resistances are taking place on a local scale that is often almost imperceptible to the media and public opinion.

    5. Have other fundamental civic space freedoms been affected?
    Restrictions have been introduced in all areas, but the freedom of association has been hit the worst. From 2011 onwards, the government has targeted not only the directly affected groups mobilised against extractive activities but also the organisations supporting them through research, advocacy and by shaping public opinion. Thus, many research centres and environmental, human rights and indigenous rights NGOs have become enemies to be defeated by the state. In addition to systematically smearing them in public, the government has passed legislation – notably Law No. 351 on Legal Personalities (2013) – in order to deplete the urban civil society that works in solidarity or campaigns on behalf of indigenous and other excluded groups. Law No. 351 replaces the entire previous legal framework of the Civil Code and requires civil society to align its objectives and activities with government policies. More than in the forcible shutting down of organisations, the new legal framework has resulted in “silent suicide”. In a context in which, since judicial authorities are now elected by popular vote, the judiciary has become subordinate to the executive and due process guarantees fail, civil society has felt intimidated. Many organisations have decided to either close their doors or change their goals and lower their profile so as not to disturb power. In so doing, civil society has lost strength and independence.

    Over the past few years, CEDIB has received countless inspections by various state agencies. Neither public offices nor private companies are subjected to the kind of controls that this small organisation has had to submit to. We have had audits of all kinds, including some that are blatantly illegal, as when we had to respond to a requirement to submit accounting documentation dating back more than twenty years, although the Commercial Code establishes an obligation to keep records going back just five years.

    However, CEDIB is a prestigious centre and has a certain specific weight. In fact, the state is one of the main users of our services and data. So our relationship with the state is complex and contradictory, as the authorities demand resources from us all the while wishing we were politically aligned with the government. This leads to some authorities, as the vice president did at some point, launching attacks against us, while at the same time others keep recognising that they need our information and advice. And in the eyes of society and even the media – including para-governmental outlets – we are still a serious and credible organisation whose existence is vital for democracy. That, in a way, is what has kept us going.

    6. How has civil society responded to the deterioration of its enabling environment?
    Unfortunately, historic NGO networks have not been able to curb authoritarian advances. Other governments in the past had tried to deprive civil society of its autonomy, but had failed to do so because NGO networks used to be stronger. Vis-à-vis our current government, however, civil society organisations have become weak and intimidated, partly because of the already mentioned administrative restrictions and reprisals used against them, and also as a result of reductions in development aid funding.

    Civil society has not just been attacked: it has also suffered divisions. In the face of reduced flows of international cooperation funds, many organisations were left without sources of external funding, which used to be prevalent in the sector, and therefore sought refuge in the state. Other organisations were co-opted not by means of state resources but by President Evo Morales’ developmentalist discourse, which accurately reflected their own ideals and trajectory. And for many others – I would say for the majority – what prevailed was the feeling of impotence vis-à-vis a government that proved itself capable of doing whatever they wanted with them, be it legally or extra-legally. In other words, fear prevailed given the credible threat of controls resulting in steep, impossible-to-pay fines and even in prison sentences for organisations’ staff.

    As a result, there is now a large set of NGOs that are actually para-governmental organisations and survive on contracts, consultancy work and other state resources. In addition, there are a number of NGOs that have been founded and are directed by high state authorities. All senior public officials, starting with President Evo Morales, manage NGOs that have been set up in order to run government programmes with international cooperation or public funds. It has been reported that, for instance, a foundation run by the president has its own television channel and handles large state advertising contracts.

    Still, along with three other organisations – the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB), the Centre for Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS) and the Centre for Local Development Studies and Support (CEADL) – we did submit a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in defence of the freedoms of associacion and expression as a negative ruling was issued by the Constitutional Court. But it was just the four of us, out of a very vast group of NGOs that did not come together in defence of these freedoms. Fear semed to be the common denominator among them all.

    7. Have you missed out on international solidarity as a result of Latin American and global progressives’ sympathies for President Evo Morales? In which ways could the international community support civil society in Bolivia?
    We are currently facing a transition scenario. President Morales can no longer run for re-election, and there are several crises underway. One of those crises has derived from the fall in commodities’ prices, which has had a major impact on this ultra-extractivist country that has placed all its bets on primary exports. In other words, we will have not just a change of government but also a change in the state, as a result of impending public spending restrictions. Politically, the upcoming transision must involve the recovery of infringed rights, which requires the repeal or reform of various pieces of legislation and the abandonment of intimidatory practices. It is necessary to ensure a favourable environment for the activities of civil society and journalists, to make public management transparent, and to build an agenda for the strengthening of civil society.

    At the international level, the critical phase was overcome years ago. There was a period in which it was outrightly condemned to criticise, or even relativise, the very optimistic view that prevailed abroad about what was going on in Bolivia. We were told that criticism amounted to “play into the hands of the right” and in favour or international power centres. That ended even before TIPNIS: in 2010, the Mother Earth Summit (World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) held in Cochabamba exposed major contradictions between what the government said abroad and what they did domestically: between its environmental discourse, on the one hand, and the expansion of extractivism and the advances of deforestation, on the other.

    Another, more recent turning point was the Indigenous Communication Summit in November 2016. The Bolivian government acted as convenor of this annual summit of movements, and then tried to control it, bypassing the entire indigenous leadership from other countries. They did this so clumsily that even the groups that came in most convinced that in Bolivia there was an indigenous intercultural revolution underway, came out disillusioned. The government attempted to control them in the same way it has done with Bolivian indigenous organisations - they even accused them of having come to Bolivia to conspire to organise a coup, which made no sense.

    In this context, the first thing we need from the international community is that they condemn the regression we have experienced in terms of fundamental rights. The legal framework established by Law No. 351 is rather suited to a dictatorship: a government requiring civil society to organise along its own objectives is completely unacceptable.

    Second, we need a rapprochement with the civil societies of the countries in our region. In recent times, regional mafias have mobilised across borders, and we need common standards in order to fight them. Not only governments but also civil societies need to have an agenda beyond our own country’s borders, that is, with an international projection – regional to start with, and then global as well.

    • The Centre of Information and Documentation Bolivia is one of Bolivia’s most prestigious and socially rooted civil society institutions. CEDIB administers one of the most important archives containing documents of major historical importance, and its research has great impact on public opinion.
    • Get in touch with CEDIB through their Facebook page or website, or follow @cedib_com on Twitter
    • Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘narrowed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • CIVICUS Monitor: Informe global y nuevas clasificaciones

    • Un creciente número de personas viven en países ‘cerrados’, ‘represivos’ y ‘obstruidos
    • Los países que han sufrido retrocesos incluyen Estados Unidos, Ecuador, Chile e Costa Rica
    • Las principales violaciones incluyen: detención de personas manifestantes, censura y ataques a periodistas
    • Las libertades de expresión, asociación y reunión pacífica se deterioraron durante la pandemia de COVID-19

    Las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión continúan deteriorándose en todo el mundo, de acuerdo con un informe global publicado por el CIVICUS Monitor, una investigación colaborativa que da seguimiento a las libertades fundamentales en 196 países. El nuevo informe, El poder ciudadano bajo ataque 2020, muestra que el número de personas que viven en países con restricciones significativas del espacio cívico continúa aumentando año tras año.

    El 87% de la población mundial vive en países con un espacio cívico calificado como ‘cerrado’, ‘represivo’ u ‘obstruido’ -un aumento de más del 4% respecto al año anterior. Más de un cuarto de estas personas vive en países con la peor calificación, ‘cerrado’, países donde regularmente se permite a actores estatales y no estatales encarcelar, herir y asesinar a personas por intentar ejercer sus libertades fundamentales. China, Arabia Saudita, Turkmenistán y otros 20 países se encuentran dentro de esta categoría.

    La pandemia de COVID-19 ha tenido un impacto grave en las libertades cívicas a nivel mundial. En tiempos de crisis, el espacio para el diálogo abierto y constructivo entre los gobiernos y la sociedad civil, así como el acceso a información oportuna y confiable, son fundamentales. Sin embargo, nuestra investigación demuestra que los gobiernos han tomado un rumbo diferente y están usando la pandemia como una oportunidad para introducir o implementar restricciones adicionales a las libertades cívicas.

    Nuestros datos muestran que la detención de personas manifestantes y el uso excesivo de la fuerza son las tácticas más comunes utilizadas por las autoridades en el poder para restringir el derecho a la reunión pacífica. Si bien esta violación de derechos ya era común el año anterior, las autoridades han hecho uso de la pandemia como excusa para restringir mucho más este derecho. Censura, ataques a periodistas, y el acoso e intimidación contra personas defensoras de los derechos humanos fueron tácticas habituales documentadas a lo largo del año.

    “Utilizar la detención como principal táctica para restringir las protestas solamente demuestra la hipocresía de los gobiernos que emplean la COVID-19 como pretexto para reprimir protestas -es más probable que el virus se propague en espacios confinados como las cárceles”, declaró Marianna Belalba Barrero, Investigadora principal sobre espacio cívico de CIVICUS. “Nuestra investigación refleja una profundización de la crisis del espacio cívico en todo el mundo y resalta cómo los gobiernos están utilizando la pandemia como una excusa para restringir mucho más los derechos, por ejemplo, a través de la aprobación de legislación para penalizar la expresión”.


    Este año, once países han empeorado y solo dos han mejorado su calificación. El CIVICUS Monitor está particularmente preocupado por las restricciones al espacio cívico en las Américas, donde cuatro países empeoraron su calificación: Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador y los Estados Unidos. Asimismo, resulta alarmante el deterioro del espacio cívico en África Occidental, donde cuatro países -Costa de Marfil, Guinea, Níger y Togo- pasaron de ‘obstruido’ a ‘represivo’.

    Existe una creciente preocupación sobre el declive de los derechos democráticos y civiles en Europa, donde Eslovenia también empeoró su calificación. El empeoramiento de las condiciones del espacio en Asia sigue siendo motivo de preocupación, donde Filipinas pasa de ‘obstruido’ a ‘represivo’. Oriente Medio y África del Norte, una región donde la mayoría de los países se encuentran en la categoría ‘cerrado’, agrega un país más a la lista, Irak, que pasa de ‘represivo’ a ‘cerrado’.

    Con mejoras limitadas pero esperanzadoras, la República Democrática del Congo y Sudán mejoraron su calificación, pasando en ambos casos de ‘cerrado’ a ‘represivo’.

    “En la mayoría de las regiones, la situación de las libertades cívicas es sombría este año. En una época en la que los derechos cívicos son más necesarios que nunca para exigir cuentas a los gobiernos, el espacio para hacerlo se encuentra cada vez más restringido. Es crucial que los gobiernos progresistas trabajen de cerca con las y los defensores de derechos humanos y la sociedad civil para detener este declive y ejercer resistencia contra las fuerzas autoritarias”, afirmó Belalba Barreto.

    Sin dejarse intimidar por las restricciones, las y los defensores de derechos humanos y la sociedad civil continúan operando, adaptándose y resistiendo. Las protestas masivas fueron a menudo un factor clave que generó cambios positivos. En Chile, las protestas masivas forzaron al gobierno a realizar un referéndum para el cambio de la constitución. En los Estados Unidos, algunos Estados se comprometieron a desmontar o realizar reformas estructurales a sus fuerzas policiales tras las protestas del movimiento Black Lives Matter. Mientras en Malawi, meses de protesta dieron como resultado una histórica repetición de las elecciones presidenciales y la transición de poder.

    Más de veinte organizaciones colaboran en el CIVICUS Monitor con el objetivo de proporcionar una base empírica para llevar a cabo acciones destinadas a mejorar el espacio cívico en todos los continentes. El Monitor ha publicado más de 500 actualizaciones sobre el espacio cívico en el último año, las que se analizan en El poder Ciudadano Bajo Ataque 2020. El espacio cívico de 196 países se clasifica como cerrado, reprimido, obstruido, estrecho o abierto, siguiendo una metodología que combina varias fuentes de datos sobre las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión. 

     

  • CIVICUS Monitor: Nouveau rapport mondial et classifications

    Onze pays déclassés dans un nouveau rapport international sur les libertés civiques

    • Un nombre croissant de personnes vit dans des pays classés comme « fermés », « réprimés » et « obstrués »
    • Les pays déclassés comprennent les États-Unis, les Philippines, la Guinée, Niger, Côte d'Ivoire et l'Irak.
    • Les principales violations incluent la détention de manifestants, la censure et les attaques contre des journalistes.
    • Les libertés d'expression, d'association et de réunion pacifique se sont détériorées pendant la pandémie de COVID-19.

    Les libertés fondamentales d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression continuent de se dégrader dans le monde entier selon un nouveau rapport publié aujourd'hui par CIVICUS Monitor, un projet collaboratif de recherche qui fait un suivi des libertés fondamentales dans 196 pays. Ce nouveau rapport intitulé « Le pouvoir du peuple attaqué 2020 », montre que le nombre de personnes qui vivent dans des pays imposant d'importantes restrictions sur l’espace civique continue d'augmenter d'année en année.

    Désormais, 87 % de la population mondiale vit dans des pays considérés comme « fermés », « réprimés » ou « obstrués », soit une augmentation de plus de 4 % par rapport à l'année dernière. Plus d'un quart de la population mondiale vit dans des pays se trouvant dans la pire catégorie, celle des pays « fermés », où l’on permet régulièrement que des acteurs étatiques et non étatiques emprisonnent, blessent et tuent des personnes pour avoir tenté d'exercer leurs libertés fondamentales. La Chine, l'Arabie saoudite, le Turkménistan et vingt autres pays se trouvent dans cette catégorie.

    La pandémie de COVID-19 a eu des conséquences désastreuses sur les libertés civiques partout dans le monde. En temps de crise il est fondamental de disposer d’un espace de dialogue ouvert et constructif entre les gouvernements et la société civile, ainsi que d’avoir un accès à des informations rapides et fiables. Cependant, nos recherches montrent que les gouvernements ont emprunté une autre voie et qu'ils utilisent la pandémie comme une opportunité pour introduire ou appliquer des restrictions supplémentaires sur les libertés civiques.

    Nos données montrent que la détention de manifestants et l'usage excessif de la force à leur encontre sont les tactiques les plus couramment utilisées par les autorités gouvernementales pour restreindre le droit de réunion pacifique. Même s'il s'agissait d'une violation fréquente au cours de l'année dernière, les autorités ont utilisé la pandémie comme un prétexte pour restreindre davantage ce droit. La censure, les attaques contre des journalistes et le harcèlement et l'intimidation des défenseurs des droits de l'homme ont également été des tactiques courantes documentées tout au long de cette année.

    « L'usage de la détention comme tactique principale pour restreindre les manifestations ne fait que montrer l'hypocrisie des gouvernements, car ils utilisent la COVID-19 comme un prétexte pour réprimer les manifestations et le virus se propage plus facilement dans des espaces restreints, comme les prisons », affirme Marianna Belalba Barreto, responsable de la recherche sur l'espace civique chez CIVICUS. « Notre recherche reflète une crise croissante de l'espace civique dans le monde et met en évidence la façon dont les gouvernements utilisent la pandémie comme excuse pour restreindre davantage les droits, notamment en adoptant des lois qui criminalisent l'expression. »

    Cette année onze pays ont été déclassés et seulement deux ont vu leur classement s'améliorer. Le CIVICUS Monitor est particulièrement préoccupé par les restrictions pesant sur l'espace civique dans les Amériques, où quatre pays sont descendus de catégorie — le Costa Rica, le Chili, l'Équateur et les États-Unis —. La détérioration de l'espace civique en Afrique de l'Ouest est également alarmante et quatre pays — la Côte d'Ivoire, la Guinée, le Niger et le Togo — sont passé de la catégorie « obstrué » à celle de « réprimé ».

    Le déclin des droits démocratiques et civiques en Europe est de plus en plus préoccupant. D'ailleurs, la Slovénie a aussi été déclassée. La dégradation de l’espace civique en Asie demeure une source de préoccupation, les Philippines étant passées de la catégorie « obstrué » à celle de « réprimé ». La région MENA compte le plus grand nombre de pays dans la catégorie « fermé » et un pays de plus est venu s’ajouter à la liste, l'Irak passant de la catégorie « réprimé » à celle de « fermé ».

    Avec des améliorations limitées mais toujours bienvenues, la RDC et le Soudan ont amélioré leurs classements et sont passés de la catégorie « fermé » à celle de « réprimé ».

    « Cette année dans la plupart des régions le panorama des libertés civiques semble sombre. À un moment où les droits civiques sont plus que jamais nécessaires pour demander des comptes aux gouvernements, les opportunités pour le faire se font de plus en plus rares. Il est essentiel que les gouvernements progressistes travaillent en étroite collaboration avec les défenseurs des droits de l'homme et avec la société civile pour mettre un terme à cet engrenage pernicieux et pour repousser les forces autoritaires à l'œuvre », affirme Belalba Barreto.

    Sans se laisser décourager par les restrictions, les défenseurs des droits de l'homme et la société civile continuent de travailler, de s'adapter et de résister. Les manifestations de masse ont souvent été le facteur clé ayant conduit à des changements positifs. Au Chili, des manifestations de masse ont forcé le gouvernement à organiser un référendum pour changer la constitution. Aux États-Unis, certains états se sont engagés à démanteler ou à entreprendre une réforme structurelle de leurs forces de police à la suite des manifestations Black Lives Matter. Au Malawi, des mois de manifestations ont conduit pour la première fois à l’annulation de l'élection présidentielle, à la tenue de nouvelles élections et à la passation du pouvoir.

    Plus d'une vingtaine d'organisations collaborent au sein du CIVICUS Monitor afin de fournir une base empirique pour les actions visant à améliorer l'espace civique sur tous les continents. L'année dernière le Monitor CIVICUS a publié plus de 500 mises à jour sur l'espace civique, lesquelles sont analysées dans le rapport « Le pouvoir du peuple attaqué 2020 ». L'espace civique de 196 pays est classé dans une des cinq catégories disponibles, soit fermé, réprimé, obstrué, rétréci ou ouvert, selon une méthodologie qui combine plusieurs sources de données sur les libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression.

     

  • Government repression undermines legitimacy of Cambodian elections

    The assault on civic freedoms in Cambodia has narrowed the democratic space in the country and raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the 29 July elections. Over the last year, monitoring by the CIVICUS Monitor shows how the authorities have outlawed the leading opposition party, shutdown or arbitrarily interfered with media outlets, introduced laws to restrict and silence civil society and jailed its critics.

     

  • Journalists on the front lines of global assault

    By Cathal Gilbert, David Kode and Teldah Mawarire

    With reporters under attack the world over, it is imperative that citizens rally to protect press freedom. We live in a time when hard-won human rights protections are at risk of being swept aside by a rising tide of authoritarianism, fear mongering and xenophobia. The resulting global assault on fundamental civic freedoms is, in turn, devastating press freedom and exposing an increasing number of journalists to the threat of censure, the loss of livelihood and physical attack.

    Read on: News24

     

  • Maldives: release judges immediately and respect citizens' civic freedoms

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Voice of Women (VOW) Maldives condemn the ongoing attacks on the Maldivian judiciary, which has included targeting judges for simply upholding the rule of law and the constitution.  On 6 February 2018 authorities arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, just one day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency.   Justice Saeed is now in an intensive care unit at the Indira Ghandi medical Hospital in the capital, Male.

     

  • Right to protest and civic freedoms

    By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

    The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental freedom and key pillar for civic space. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations are able to organise, participate, and communicate without hindrance. They will also be able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respects the right to protest.

    However, for many Bangladeshis going out on to the street to protest can be a terrifying experience. You could end being arbitrarily arrested, beaten up, face rubber bullets and tear gas. You could also be ill-treated by police and even prosecuted for organising or participating in a peaceful protest. Even after the protests end, you could face intimidation and surveillance.

    Read on New Age

     

  • UGANDA: ‘No candidate can possibly win the election without young people’s votes’

    CIVICUS speaks with Mohammed Ndifuna, Executive Director of Justice Access Point-Uganda (JAP). Established in 2018, JAP aims to kickstart, reignite and invigorate justice efforts in the context of Uganda’s stalled transitional justice process, its challenges implementing recommendations from its first and second United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews and the backlash by African states against the International Criminal Court.

    Mohammed is an experienced and impassioned human rights defender and peacebuilder with over 15 years of activism in human rights and atrocity prevention at the grassroots, national and international levels. He was awarded the 2014 European Union Human Rights Award for Uganda, has served on the Steering Committee of The Coalition for the Criminal Court (2007-2018) and the Advisory Board of the Human Rights House Network in Oslo (2007-2012), and currently serves on the Management Committee of The Uganda National Committee of Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

     Mohammed Ndifuna

    What is the state of civic space in Uganda ahead of the much-anticipated 2021 elections?

    Civic space in Uganda may be characterised as harassed, stifled and starved. It would seem like civil society has been on a slippery slope of sorts, with things turning from bad to worse. For instance, civil society organisations (CSOs) have witnessed a wave of brazen attacks against their physical space in the form of office break-ins and broad-daylight workplace raids. In the meantime, there seems to be no let-up in the waves of attacks against CSOs, and especially against those involved in human rights and accountability advocacy. Over the past few years, an array of legislation and administrative measures has been unleashed against CSOs and others, including the Public Order Management Act (2012) and the NGO Act (2016).

    Ahead of the general and presidential elections, which will be held on 14 January 2021, the Minister of Internal Affairs has ordered all CSOs to go through a mandatory validation and verification process before they are allowed to operate. Many CSOs have not been able to go through it: by 19 October 2020, only 2,257 CSOs had successfully completed the verification and validation exercise, including just a few that do mainstream advocacy work on governance.

    Ugandan CSOs are largely donor-dependent and had already been struggling with shrinking financial resources, severely affecting the scope of their work. This situation became compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown that was imposed in response, all of which impaired CSO efforts to mobilise resources. Therefore, these three forces – harassment, restrictions and limited access to funding – have combined to weaken CSOs, pushing most of them into self-preservation mode.

    The stakes for the 2021 elections seem to be higher than in previous years. What has changed?

    The situation started to change in July 2019, when Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, announced his bid to run for president as the candidate of the opposition National Unity Platform. Bobi Wine is a singer and actor who is also an activist and a politician. As a leader of the People Power, Our Power movement, he was elected to parliament in 2017.

    Bobi’s appeal among young people is enormous, and let’s keep in mind that more than 75 per cent of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30. This makes young people a significant group to be wowed. No candidate can possibly win the Ugandan election without having the biggest chunk of young people’s votes. In the upcoming presidential race, it is Bobi Wine who appears most able to galvanise young people behind his candidature. Although not an experienced politician, Bobi is a charismatic firebrand who has been able to attract not just young people but also many politicians from traditional political parties into his mass movement.

    Bobi Wine, long known as the ‘Ghetto President’, has taken advantage of his appeal as a popular music star to belt out political songs to mobilise people, and his roots in the ghetto also guarantee him an appeal in urban areas. It is believed that he has motivated many young people to register to vote, so voter apathy among young people may turn out to be lower in comparison to past elections.

    Given the ongoing cut-throat fight for young people’s votes, it is no surprise that the security apparatus has been unleashed against young people in an apparent attempt to stem the pressure they are exerting. Political activists linked to People Power have been harassed and, in some instances, killed. People Power’s political leaders have been intermittently arrested and arraigned in courts or allegedly kidnapped and tortured in safe houses. In an apparent attempt to make in-roads into the ranks of urban young people, President Yoweri Museveni has appointed three senior presidential advisors from the ghetto. This raises the spectre of ghetto gangster groups and violence playing a role in the upcoming presidential elections.

    Restrictions on the freedom of expression and internet use have been reported in previous elections. Are we likely to see a similar trend now?

    We are already seeing it. Restrictions on the freedoms of expression and information are a valid concern not just because of hindsight, but also given recent developments. For instance, on 7 September 2020 the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a public notice stating that anyone wishing to publish information online needs to apply for and obtain a licence from the UCC before 5 October 2020. This will mostly affect online users, such as bloggers, who are paid for published content. Obviously, this is meant to stifle young people’s political activities online. And it is also particularly concerning because, as public gatherings are restricted due to COVID-19 prevention measures, online media will be the only method of campaigning that is allowed ahead of the 2021 elections.

    There is also increasing electronic surveillance, and the possibility of a shutdown of social media platforms on the eve of the elections may not be too remote.

    How has the COVID-pandemic affected civil society and its ability to respond to civic space restrictions?

    The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response have exacerbated the already precarious state in which the CSOs find themselves. For instance, civil society capacity to organise public assemblies and peaceful demonstrations in support of fundamental rights and freedoms or to protest against their violation has been restricted by the manner in which COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been enforced. This has resulted in the commission of blatant violations and onslaughts against civic space. For instance, on 17 October 2020, the Uganda Police Force and the Local Defense Units jointly raided thanksgiving prayers being held in Mityana district and wantonly tear gassed the congregation, which included children, women, men, older people and religious leaders, for allegedly flouting COVID-19 SOPs.

    As the enforcement of COVID-19 SOPs gets intertwined with election pressure, it is feared that the clampdown on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association will be aggravated. Regrettably, CSOs already find themselves restricted.

    How can international civil society help Ugandan civil society?

    The situation in which Ugandan civil society finds itself is such that it requires the urgent support and response of the international community. There is a need to turn the eyes towards what is happening in Uganda and to speak up to amplify the voices of a local civil society that is increasingly being stifled. More specifically, Ugandan CSOs could be supported so they can better respond to blatant violations of freedoms, mitigate the risks that their work entails and enhance their resilience in the current context.

    Civic space inUganda is rated repressedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Justice Access Point through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@JusticessP on Twitter.

     

  • Upcoming UN review critical moment for Maldives to address civic freedom gaps

    CIVICUS and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call on UN member states to urge the Government of the Maldives to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN on 4 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

     

  • Why we need a digital Geneva Convention

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    As Western governments look for ways to punish Russia for its brazen attacks abroad, one idea that has been getting a lot of media attention is the possibility of state-sponsored cyberattacks on Russia. Cyber operations may well be one of the most effective tools left in a depleted foreign policy toolbox but we cannot afford for rights and freedoms to become collateral damage in the new cyber arms race. We urgently need new norms and conventions that will protect civilian interests: a Geneva Convention for the digital world.

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier