civil society

 

  • ‘Against hopelessness, we need to work not to lose the very small windows of freedom that we can find under this dictatorship’

    CIVICUS speaks to an Iranian woman human rights defender about the causes and significance of the recent protests in Iran, as well as the prospects for change in a country with a closed civic space and a theocratic government that maintains a firm grip on power. She asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

     

  • ‘El gobierno argentino envió un mensaje intimidatorio en relación con la participación de la sociedad civil; esta reducción del espacio cívico en las discusiones globales debe ser monitoreada’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Gastón Chillier, Director Ejecutivo del Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), una organización de derechos humanos de Argentina. El CELS fue fundado en 1979, durante la dictadura militar, para promover los derechos humanos, la justicia y la inclusión social. En sus primeros años, el CELS luchó por la verdad y la justicia ante los crímenes del terrorismo de estado. A fines de la década de 1980 amplió su agenda para incluir las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas bajo la democracia, sus causas estructurales y su relación con la desigualdad social. CELS promueve su agenda a través de investigaciones, campañas, alianzas con otros actores de la sociedad civil, incidencia y políticas públicas y litigio estratégico en foros nacionales e internacionales.

    1. Cuéntenos acerca de la decisión del gobierno argentino de revocar la acreditación de varias organizaciones de la sociedad civil para la Conferencia Ministerial de la Organización Mundial de Comercio (OMC) en Buenos Aires.

    Sesenta y cinco personas de todo el mundo cuyas organizaciones habían sido acreditadas para participar en la Conferencia Ministerial de la OMC, que se celebró en Buenos Aires del 10 al 13 de diciembre de 2017, recibieron correos electrónicos de la OMC que indicaban que las autoridades de seguridad de Argentina, el país anfitrión, había rechazado sus acreditaciones “por razones sin especificar”. Algunas de estas personas decidieron de todos modos viajar a Argentina para participar en otras actividades. Muchas de ellas fueron retenidas durante horas en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza antes de que se les permitiera ingresar al país. A dos personas - Petter Titland, un activista noruego de ATTAC (Asociación por la Tasación de las Transacciones Financieras y de Ayuda a los Ciudadanos), y la periodista británico-ecuatoriana Sally Burch, quien participaría en la Conferencia Ministerial en calidad de experta en regulación de internet – les fue denegado el ingreso y fueron posteriormente deportadas.

    El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores inicialmente emitió un comunicado de prensa explicando que las acreditaciones habían sido rechazadas porque estas personas o sus organizaciones “habían hecho explícitos llamamientos a manifestaciones de violencia a través de las redes sociales, expresando su vocación de generar esquemas de intimidación y caos”. Resultó evidente que el gobierno había estado recopilando información de inteligencia, muy posiblemente sobre la base de la afiliación organizativa o la opinión política de las personas, lo cual está expresamente prohibido por la legislación argentina.

    2. ¿Qué hizo la sociedad civil para que el gobierno de Argentina revocara su decisión?
    Las organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) de Argentina, y el CELS en particular, trabajaron para defender el derecho de los activistas puestos en la lista negra a la participación y la libertad de circulación, de modo de garantizar su ingreso a Argentina. Recopilamos y compartimos información tanto a nivel local como con sus organizaciones en sus países de origen. También alertamos a los funcionarios de las embajadas y en la justicia cuando las personas estaban siendo retenidas en el aeropuerto. Por último, tomamos medidas legales y administrativas.
    Más específicamente, el CELS presentó peticiones de hábeas data, una solicitud de información pública y un habeas corpus colectivo, a la vez que se ocupó de los casos individuales de Titland y Burch, y brindó asesoramiento y apoyo a algunas de las otras personas directamente afectadas. Además, ayudamos a hacer correr la voz entre los periodistas, a través de las redes sociales y mediante entrevistas de prensa y comunicados en los medios.
    Mediante estas peticiones legales y administrativas, solicitamos que el gobierno especificara las restricciones de seguridad establecidas para participar en el evento de la OMC y explicara los vínculos existentes entre esa evaluación y la prohibición o restricción del ingreso de activistas individuales al país.
    En una audiencia judicial sobre el habeas corpus colectivo que presentamos en nombre de los activistas de la sociedad civil que habían sido retenidos al llegar al país, el gobierno presentó una lista con los nombres de las 65 personas cuyas acreditaciones habían sido rechazadas, pero insistió en que esto no les impedía la entrada en Argentina y que no tenía ninguna relación con las deportaciones de Titland y Burch. Reconocieron, sin embargo, que el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores había enviado esta lista a la Dirección Nacional de Migraciones, en calidad de “alerta”. Tanto Titland como Burch figuraban en esa lista.
    En respuesta a nuestras otras peticiones, el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores afirmó que no podía proporcionar detalles sobre qué información se había recabado sobre esas 65 personas o cómo había sido obtenida, y remitió nuestras consultas al Ministerio de Seguridad y la Agencia Federal de Inteligencia. Todavía seguimos esperando sus respuestas.
    Gracias a la presión legal, diplomática y mediática de la sociedad civil, el gobierno argentino se vio obligado a retroceder en algunos casos. Después de que Titland y Burch fueron deportados, a nadie más se le prohibió ingresar al país. Además, el 10 de diciembre el gobierno argentino anunció que un puñado de personas que figuraban en la lista estaban siendo acreditadas nuevamente. Entre ellas se encontraba Titland, quien finalmente regresó a Argentina y participó en la conferencia.
    Sin embargo, muchas otras personas y OSC siguieron sin ser acreditadas, incluidas la organización chilena Derechos Digitales, la fundación argentina Grupo Efecto Positivo y la organización británica Global Justice Now. Algunos activistas cuyos nombres figuraban en la lista nos dijeron que se habían abstenido de viajar a la Argentina por miedo, y a otros les habían rechazado las solicitudes de visa. Algunos han manifestado temor de que estos rechazos y alertas queden registrados en su historial migratorio.

    3.¿Qué impacto tendrá la decisión del gobierno argentino sobre la legitimidad de las conversaciones de la OMC y, en términos más generales, sobre las perspectivas de participación de la sociedad civil en futuros debates globales?

    La decisión del gobierno argentino de rechazar la acreditación de activistas sobre la base de información de inteligencia que puede que haya sido recabada ilegalmente, retenerlos en el aeropuerto y, en los dos casos más notorios, deportarlos a terceros países, causó tensión con la propia OMC y con otros países, en particular Noruega. Daría la impresión de que el gobierno argentino intentó reducir la participación de la sociedad civil en esta conferencia ministerial. Independientemente de los resultados de la reunión, esto sin duda tendrá impacto sobre la legitimidad de las conversaciones.

    Esta fue la primera vez en que hubo un rechazo de activistas en semejante escala, y sienta un precedente muy negativo para la participación de la sociedad civil. Las acciones del gobierno argentino han enviado un mensaje intimidatorio que pone en cuestión el compromiso del país con la participación de la sociedad civil. Esta reducción del espacio cívico en las discusiones globales es una nueva dimensión que debe ser monitoreada. Y debería hacer sonar la alarma para que la sociedad civil global se asegure de que otros gobiernos no conviertan este precedente en una práctica de rutina.

     

    4. ¿Cómo describiría el ambiente para la sociedad civil en Argentina? ¿Qué debería cambiar para que el espacio cívico mejore en el país?

    Aunque Argentina está lejos de presentar el peor escenario en la región, el ambiente para la sociedad civil se está deteriorando. El gobierno actual ordenó la represión de protestas sociales y promovió o toleró la criminalización de los manifestantes y de algunos prominentes líderes sociales. También ha mostrado desdén por la participación de la sociedad civil, por ejemplo al nombrar por decreto a jueces de la Corte Suprema -y por lo tanto pasar por alto todas las instancias de participación pública en el proceso- y llevar adelante un intento de designación relámpago de un candidato a ocupar la vacante Defensoría del Pueblo, ignorando nuevamente a la sociedad civil en el proceso. En ambos casos, los reclamos públicos forzaron al gobierno a retroceder.

    Además, el CELS y otras organizaciones de derechos humanos nacionales e internacionales que desempeñaron un rol en el caso de Santiago Maldonado, un joven que desapareció durante la represión ilegal de una protesta de una comunidad indígena y fue encontrado ahogado casi tres meses después, fueron demonizados por algunos funcionarios nacionales.

    Para que el espacio cívico en Argentina mejore, el gobierno debe proporcionar garantías para el ejercicio efectivo del derecho a la protesta, asegurando que las fuerzas de seguridad utilicen la fuerza responsablemente y dentro de la ley. También debe dar prioridad a los canales políticos para alcanzar soluciones concertadas a los conflictos y demandas sociales, y debe respetar y promover una variedad de mecanismos para la participación de la sociedad civil en procesos políticos clave.

    • El espacio cívico en Argentina es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por el CIVICUS Monitor.
    • Contáctese con el CELS a través de su página web o su perfil de Facebook, o siga @CELS_Argentina y a @gchillier en Twitter

     

     

     

  • ‘Even the most progressive UN agencies have become vulnerable to the threat of corporate capture; fortunately, there are precedents of the UN tackling this kind of challenge’

    As the2017 State of Civil Society Report identified, private sector influence on international governance is an increasing civil society concern. CIVICUS speaks on this issue withThea Gelbspan, Membership and Solidarity Director atESCR-Net – the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.ESCR-Net is acollaborative initiative of groups- grassroots organisations, social movements, civil society organisations and academic centres -as well as individuals from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights.With over 280 members in 75 countries,ESCR-Net seeks to strengthen all human rights,with an emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights, and further develop the tools for achieving their promotion, protection and fulfilment.ESCR-Net members engage in mutual learning and exchange, deepen solidarity, enter into collaborations and join collective work in efforts to build a global movement to make human rights and social justice a reality for all.

    1. What are the current major trends in private sector partnerships with the United Nations system, particularly with regards to Agenda 2030?

    All agencies and offices of the United Nations (UN) are subject to frameworks that the UN system adopts and operates under, including the last of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 17, to revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. That goal clearly states that its “sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society.” Moreover, it cites an urgent need for action to “unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources.” Through Goal 17, the UN system has, regrettably, enshrined a mandate for its various agencies and operations to explore partnerships with companies and private investors. The UN Secretary-General's Guidelines for a Principle-Based Approach to Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector, adopted in 2000, also detail the UN’s internal rules and procedures and have provided further guidance that directs this trend.

    In the face of these developments, ESCR-Net members have expressed a growing concern about what they have termed the corporate capture of UN processes and institutions. Corporate capture refers to the means by which an economic elite undermines the realisation of our human rights and our environment by exerting undue influence over decision-makers and public institutions, in domestic and international spheres. Softening regulations, weakening regulatory powers, bankrolling elections, utilising state security services against local communities, causing judicial interference and implementing revolving-door employment practices are just some of the instances of corporate capture that ESCR-Net members have tracked.

    We are concerned that even the most progressive UN agencies and offices have become vulnerable to the threat of corporate capture. For example, on 16 May 2017 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced a new five-year partnership with Microsoft, consisting of a US$5 million grant, plus a commitment of pro-bono assistance to the OHCHR. After an exchange between the ESCR-Net Secretariat and the OHCHR, on 17 October 2017 the members of ESCR-Net’s Corporate Accountability Working Group sent a letter to raise concern regarding the actual or perceived effect that this partnership will have on the OHCHR’s independence.

    2. What do you think is motivating partnerships, both from the private sector and UN viewpoints?

    The UN Charter establishes that its member states are fiscally responsible for UN activity expenses(Chapter IV, article 17.2).Yet, as many UN member states fail to fulfil their obligations in terms of member dues and the overall financing of agreed-upon priority activities, a worrying gap has emerged that the private sector is now seeking to fill. Similarly, in the face of a substantial crisis in terms of public development financing, we have witnessed the whole-hearted embrace of public-private partnerships across the UN system, with a notable deficit in terms of critical assessments of this model.

    3. What are the implications of this on the space for civil society participation at the international and local levels?

    Human rights defenders (HRDs) play a critical role in identifying, mitigating, exposing and ensuring accountability for the adverse human rights and environmental impacts associated with some corporate activity and development projects. Yet all too often, governments have criminalised legitimate activity to defend and promote human rights and corporate accountability. We have witnessed a series of attacks, harassment, restrictions, intimidation, reprisals (including arbitrary arrest and detention), disappearances, judicial harassment, torture and killings of HRDs confronting human rights abuses that derive from private sector activity. Too often the application of restrictive or vague laws - such as those relating to national security, counter-terrorism, and defamation - inhibit the work of HRDs at the behest of private sector interests. Business actors also have been known to interfere with access to information and communication, financial freedom and trade union activities undertaken by HRDs.

    Unfortunately, as the UN system has forged more and more partnerships with private sector interests, the ability of its human rights mechanisms to uphold universally recognised standards effectively with actors who do not believe that such standards apply to them could be compromised, as could the system’s ability to provide protection for HRDs at risk.

    To counter these trends, ESCR-Net members have called on states to recognise and support the leadership and contributions made by communities affected by business-related abuses and generate sustainable economic and development models that align with human rights and minimise environmental impacts. In order to create an enabling environment for the defence of economic, social and cultural rights, states must mandate human rights and environmental due diligence, including project assessment, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and ensure the rights of people affected, or potentially affected, by corporate activity to participate actively, freely and meaningfully in those processes.

    4. What can be done in the face of these challenges?

    I think that a challenge of this magnitude truly requires collective efforts - across borders and regions - to confront these trends and elevate alternative approaches to advancing sustainable development that promote an environment that is friendly to human rights and those who defend those rights.

    This model of work can prove to be quite effective. For example, the ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group (CAWG) was central to the advocacy that led to the UN Human Rights Council’s creation of an Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises(IGWG) to begin drafting a binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. As part of this work, CAWG participants in three regional consultations and strategy meetings repeatedly raised the issue of corporate capture, as well as the possibility of using the UN process, and the international attention it attracts, to confront this trend at the national level.

    Now, as the negotiations within the IGWG have progressed, ESCR-Net members are calling attention to the risk of corporate capture of the binding treaty process itself and advocating for clear lines to be respected in terms of private sector participation.

    This is not the first time the UN system has grappled with the threat of undue influence that corporations or industry sectors may exert over the very treaties or bodies that are supposed to regulate corporate practices. The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control contains an explicit recognition that establishes the tobacco industry’s irreconcilable conflict of interest in public health matters. Its article 5.3 states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” Accordingly, precedents exist. We can insist on clear lines that keep private sector interests out of spaces that are not appropriate for their participation.

    In any accord, human rights are clear, universally accepted and non-negotiable standards that imply clear obligations for states and, progressively, responsibilities for non-state actors including those from the private sector. ESCR-Net understands human rights to transcend the UN system and the purview of law, being derived, essentially, from long legacies of struggles by social movements and communities for a life of dignity. We must stand together to support these values that we share, in the face of ongoing efforts to turn public affairs over to market forces. Together with CIVICUS and other important civil society networks, ESCR-Net envisions a world where all people can enjoy human rights and social justice.

    Get in touch with ESCR-Net through their websiteor Facebookpage, or follow @ESCRNet on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Market discourse has captured the development agenda to a point that may be incompatible with UN mandates’

    CIVICUS speaks with Barbara Adams, senior policy analyst at the Global Policy Forum (GPF),an independent policy watchdog that monitors the work of the United Nations and scrutinises global policy-making. Founded in 1993 by a group of progressive scholars and activists, GPF promotes accountability and citizen participation in decisions on peace and security, social justice and international law. It does so by gathering information and circulating it through a comprehensive website, playing an active role in civil society networks and other advocacy arenas, organising meetings and conferences and publishing original research and policy papers.

    1. What is driving the turn towards the private corporate sector for development funding?

    To implement the 2030 Agenda, many in the international community have addressed the financing gap, proclaiming the need to go from “billions to trillions” of dollars. This has propelled a turn to the private sector, and not just the private sector - given the trillions needed - but more so the corporate sector.

    According to this view and the analysis of multilateral development banks, as reflected in a 2015 report by the World Bank, the global community needs to move the discussion from billions in official development assistance to trillions in investments of all kinds, to meet the investment needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While admitting that the majority of development spending happens at the national level in the form of public resources, advocates stress that the largest potential for additional funds is from private sector business, finance and investment - working in partnership with governments. Assessments, however, have not adequately addressed the accompanying policy influence,  programme distortions and undermining of the 2030 Agenda and ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This has been the conclusion recently reached by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda.

    A related trend is the emphasis put on multi-stakeholder partnerships by some governments and United Nations (UN) agencies and the former UN Secretary-General. This has been reinforced by the 2030 Agenda, and the push for its implementation and achievement of the SDGs.

    For instance, a report released in 2015 by the UN Environment Programme emphasised the need to “access private capital at scale, with banking alone managing financial assets of almost US$140 trillion and institutional investors, notably pension funds, managing over US$100 trillion, and capital markets, including bond and equities, exceeding US$100 trillion and US$73 trillion respectively.”

    2. To what extent has market discourse captured the development agenda, and why has this happened?

    The fact that the action phase of the ‘big three’ landmark agreements - the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and the Paris Agreement - is dominated by attracting private financing demonstrates the extent to which market discourse has captured the agenda. On a planetary scale this discourse or narrative capture continues patterns well underway at national and global levels.

    Inadequate quantity and quality financing of the UN and its mandates by the member states has prompted different patterns of finance, including through philanthropists and big business. Core or un-earmarked resources have plummeted from nearly half of all resources in 1997 to less than a quarter today. According to a recent report by the UN Secretary-General, some 91 per cent of all UN development system activities in 2015 were funded with non-core and earmarked or project-based resources. A report that we published a couple of years back showed that between 1999 and 2014, total non-core resources for UN-related activities increased by 182 per cent in real terms, while core resources increased by only 14 per cent. Much of this increase has gone through a proliferating number of UN trust funds.

    The growing use of trust funds - where contributions have jumped by 300 per cent over the last decade - allow donor governments and corporate interests to direct UN funding choices outside the ‘one country, one vote’ UN policy processes. This represents a substantial change in the funding architecture of the UN development system, characterised by the growing ‘bilateralisation’ of funding for multilateral aid.

    The Third International Conference for Financing for Development launched the Financing for Development Business Compendium, which highlights 33 efforts aimed at mobilising business sector capital, claiming these provide “a strong indication of the broad scope of ongoing initiatives and the potential for scaling up to achieve the demands of the Sustainable Development Goals.” It also launched the Global Infrastructure Forum to bridge the “infrastructure gap.” The AAAA conference outcome document agreed that “to bridge the global infrastructure gap, including the $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion annual gap in developing countries, we will facilitate development of sustainable, accessible and resilient quality infrastructure in developing countries through enhanced financial and technical support.”

    To mobilise this support, the AAAA endorsed blended finance and emphasised public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a method of high potential among the instruments of blended finance. In order to assess this potential, it called for “inclusive, open and transparent discussion when developing and adopting guidelines” for PPPs and iterated that they “should share risks, reward fairly, include clear accountability mechanisms and meet social and environmental standards.”

    To date, PPPs have been more commonly executed in developed countries, as lower-income countries are less likely to attract large private investors. The extensive use of PPPs in Portugal and Spain contributed to their domestic financial crisis, yet domestic experiences are not informing the donor push for PPPs in developing countries. This is despite warnings that modalities that were unsuccessful in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries are even more unlikely to succeed in less developed countries, where cost recovery is more difficult.

    At a global level, the embrace of partnerships with the business sector brings with it a number of risks, side-effects and spill-over effects that have not received careful consideration and adequate independent scrutiny regarding compatibility with UN mandates for human rights and sustainable development; and their extra-budgetary funding lines remove the global partnerships from regular review and impact assessment.

    3. Are civil society actors being recognised as UN partners alongside corporate actors?

    The emphasis on public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder partnerships has technically included civil society organisations (CSOs). For example, member states have adopted mechanisms to support such engagement, such as in the resolution of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and in structuring the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a multi-stakeholder forum (A/RES/68/1). However, this inclusion tends to be procedural and more needs to be done to recognise the expertise and experience of civil society and its contribution in enriching substance in the context for policy decisions as well as in implementation strategies and monitoring. It is essential to differentiate the classifications of non-state stakeholders, rather than lumping them together as partners, and to recognise their different mandates and commitments to the public good.

    However the emphasis on multi-stakeholder partnerships tends to be driven by the funding gap issue and it favours the corporate sector.

    While CSOs focus on the enabling environment for their participation in key policy streams, it is important to broaden this attention. While the embrace of partnerships continues, the UN Secretary-General’s June 2017 report, ‘Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: ensuring a better future for all’, (A/72/124) has put in motion the mandate from the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) (A/RES/71/243) to “recalibrate and enhance other critical United Nations skill sets to match the needs of the 2030 Agenda,” and seeks “revamped capacities in partnerships and financing.”

    Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council resolution establishing an Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights (OEIGWG), seeks “an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises” (A/HRC/RES/26/9).

    The UN General Assembly partnership resolution has been on the General Assembly’s agenda since 2000 and is the main intergovernmental framework in place to govern non-state partnerships and hold them to account. But it lacks robust reporting and implementation. Its latest iteration is ‘Towards global partnerships: a principle-based approach to enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners’ (A/RES/70/224). While it references for the first time the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, its main emphasis continues to be the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles, which pre-date and are inadequate for the comprehensive 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

    In December 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted decision A/72/427, in which member states decided to “defer, on an exceptional basis, the consideration of the item entitled ‘Towards global partnerships’ and to include it in the provisional agenda of its seventy-third session.”

    4. What can civil society do to respond to these trends?

    There are a number of ways to respond, starting with an analysis and understanding of the overall context within which partnerships are promoted - the inadequate financing of the UN and its mandates by the member states. Crucial for CSOs is to assess their own situation and actions and the extent to which organisations have become passive participants in processes that are very limited, if not counter-productive to the pursuit of human rights and to strengthening the normative ability of the UN.

    Another way to take action is to monitor these trends at the UN more broadly than in specific processes and siloes, and be more actively involved in the partnership resolution dynamics and the importance of championing the public interest. This will require strategic substance-led alliances, not ‘big tent’ groupings in which strategies based on substance tend to evaporate.

    Additionally, it is important for civil society to undertake monitoring and to mobilise to prevent UN system activities, practices and appointments that undermine UN values-based mandates and that contradict the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

    Finally, civil society actors need to support each other to strengthen the independence of civil society monitoring, not only in developing countries but all countries. An independent civil society cannot rely only on financing through development assistance that focuses primarily on developing country policies and programmes.

     

  • ‘There are signs of hope, but we are not waiting with our arms crossed but pushing for reforms that improve our lives’

    Angola saw a change at the top in 2017, when President José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after a staggering 38 years in power, to be replaced by President Joao Lourenco. His rule was characterised by close control of the nation’s oil wealth, to the benefit of his family and the ruling elite, which necessitated a tight grip on civil society to prevent it exposing corruption and demanding a fairer distribution of wealth. As part of the state’s repression of civil society, in 2015, 15 young activists were arrested and detained for taking part in a group that discussed a book on liberation. The group were held in poor conditions, mistreated and, after an unfair trial, found guilty of rebellion. One of that group, activist and rapper Luaty Beirão, speaks to CIVICUS about what changes may be underway in Angola, and how civil society is trying to engage constructively to seek reform under the new president.

    1. What changed for Angolan civil society in 2017?

    2017 was a very interesting year for us. After six years of struggle aimed at our President, José Eduardo dos Santos - who when we started had been in power for 32 years, and in 2017 marked 38 years in power - he finally did not run for the presidency again. So we have a new president for the first time. I was born under dos Santos, and finally I have a second president.

    It’s the same regime and the same party that has been in power for 42 years, so we were not expecting the new president to act against his predecessors. What dos Santos did towards the end of his term was put his family, especially his children, in very sensitive positions in our economy. His daughter Isabel dos Santos was chair of the national oil company, Sonangol - oil is our main resource - and his son José Filomeno dos Santos managed the US$5 billion sovereign wealth fund. We did not expect the new president to move so swiftly, but in under 90 days he’d sacked Isabel dos Santos and got José Filomeno dos Santos under control: he should not last much longer because he’s recently been implicated in the Panama Papers scandal. Two other children - Welwitschia and José Paulinos dos Santos - were in charge of two private companies, Westside and Semba Comunicações, which had a US$30 million contract with the state to run public TV service Channel 2. But now they have lost the contract and Semba Comunicações has closed.

    The new president is also giving some space for judicial and state investigators to track how public money was used. Some cases are starting to arise, including some that affect the former president’s family interests. Isobel dos Santos, the richest woman in Africa, is also being sued abroad. Things are starting to catch up on them really quickly. It is interesting to see the new president allowing this to happen, although it might come back to bite him: it is impossible for him be clean because he has been in government for so many years.

    One of the main reasons why we thought the new president would not do anything is that under the Angolan electoral system we vote for a party, not a candidate for president, and dos Santos remains the president of the ruling party. We expected him to tell party members what to do. We knew there was disruption within the ruling party, but the level of disruption is only now becoming apparent.

    2. How is civil society reacting to these changes and the new opportunities that may open?

    For us, there are signs of hope. The new president’s intentions appear to be good, so we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

    In 2011, we decided that confrontation was the only way to go, because if we tried to do small projects on the side, they would only come and shut us down. We decided that to get our ideas working, we first needed to liberate ourselves from totalitarian rule.

    Now the old president is gone and the new president is showing some openness, so we want to explore the situation and find out how far this openness reaches. Instead of looking for confrontation, as we had to do in the past, we have started to propose ideas, especially on social media. This is because to cast an image of himself as more democratic and open to modern society, the new president has official accounts on Facebook and Twitter, as do the Minister of Communication and the Governor of the capital city, Luanda. So we know they are reading our comments and they know we are there not just to be critical, but that we want to give them the benefit of the doubt. There are things we want to propose and see how they react to them, so we are testing them. I hope this interesting phase we're now in will shift us away from the need that we had before to be confrontational.

    Even huge opponents of the old regime are applauding some of the new president’s initiatives. Hope is rising in Angola. We hope he is wise enough to keep it going longer. I hope he takes in all this positive energy and he finds it contagious and carries on going.

    But we are not just waiting with our arms crossed. We are pushing for reform initiatives and showing the government that we are ready to back its actions if they are going to have positive repercussions in improving our lives and lifting the limitations we suffered from 1975 to 2017.

    3. What changes should take place to show that the new president is serious in seeking reform?

    There are many simple things that can be done, and small steps can keep hope alive. We want to carry on believing. We don't want to be disillusioned.

    The new president should acknowledge the need for a strong civil society, rather than try to co-opt it into government. It would help if civil society actors saw their points of view taken into consideration when major decisions are made. The government should show more openness, for instance by being more present on social media and making live broadcasts of meetings.

    There should be a constitutional reform. The 2010 constitution was designed to suit dos Santos. It gives too many powers to a president that is not even directly elected by the people. The president appoints judges to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Military Court, and these judges report directly to the president, so there is no separation of powers. This needs to change. If the president wants to effect real change, he should reduce his own powers.

    Regarding corruption, the new president should open a public debate and the public should accept that it is useful to know who were guilty of stealing public money and where the money went. But rather than focusing on sending those people to prison, we need to find a way to recover the money and have it invested in Angola.

    We don’t expect the new president to transform the country in two days, but we do want him to show he is willing to listen and put into practice other people’s ideas, to experiment and open up.

    We want to not have to be constantly fighting and confronting the powers that be. It’s exhausting, especially when you get beaten up, you get stitches in your head and you have to spend a year in prison. I would really love to shift my activism. I just want to feel like an active citizen. I want to carry on sharing my thoughts and ideas without being involved in conflict the whole time.

    4. Apart from corruption, what are the major challenges that the new president faces?

    There is urgent need to invest in education and health. Although theoretically we have free access to these public services, in practice that is not the case, and people in the ministries that are supposed to make these services work have stolen money, so we lack basic equipment and supplies. There is need for serious investment, starting with education, which will also help with public health knowledge. We need educated Angolans to manage the country. We are still very reliant on foreign capacities and foreign consultants, who charge huge amounts of money. We should also be developing tourism, but for the time being it is very hard to get visas for Angola.

    Long-term investment is needed. Our national budget for the last 15 years has had double the amount going to security than to education and health. We are not at war and face no military threat. The only explanation for this is that the military control society. In fact, there are three different secret services operating in Angola.

    Holding local elections is another important task for the new president. Local elections have been delayed for over seven years so far, with excuses such as lack of money or the need for a new law that has not been drafted. Of course, the ruling party doesn’t want elections because it risks losing constituencies.

    There are good things going on in this part of the continent. Why can’t we follow the good examples instead of always comparing ourselves to the worst cases?

    5. What role should the international community and civil society play? Do we need to change our approach to Angola?

    When we started our movement in Angola, we were not thinking about finding supporters. We just did it out of urgency. But when you act following your heart and convictions, you draw international attention. Luckily for us, when we landed in prison a worldwide civil society movement advocated on our behalf.

    There are always more things that can be done. But the situation on the ground is so dynamic that it's hard for big structures to follow through and adapt quickly. One of the things big structures need to do is acknowledge their difficulty to adapt and recognise that civil society movements worldwide are becoming increasingly less formalised. On the other hand, for informal groups it is also hard to adjust to the formal ways of access to international civil society organisations. We don't even know the jargon or terminology. We don’t know how a letter to the UN should be structured. There may be a need for capacity building in that regard. It might help if we were shown how to identify and reach out to the right people in the right places, and if we had help in building networks and identifying similarities and parallels that could serve as a basis for dialogue.

    • Civic space in Angola is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating serious restrictions in the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
    • Get in touch with Luaty Beirão through his Facebook page, or follow @LuatyBeirao on Twitter.

     

  • “Fake news” violates citizens’ right to be informed

    CIVICUS speaks to Lyndal Rowlands, United Nations Bureau Chief at Inter Press Agency on what is “fake news”, its effect on civil society and how civil society can respond to it.

    1. How would you define fake news? How is this different from propaganda and established forms of political campaigning?
    Fake news only very recently became a part of our collective vocabulary. During the 2016 United States of America presidential election “content mill” websites created articles which mimicked the real news but were in fact entirely made up with the sole intention of going viral to make money from “clicks” or people visiting their websites. Yet before most of us had even begun to wonder what exactly fake news was, the term was co-opted by the very people who arguably benefited from fake news in its original form, and I think that it is important for civil society to pay attention to this later shift in how the term fake news has been employed.

    As comedian John Oliver has said, audiences need the press to help them to sort out fact from fiction and yet now that same press finds itself under attack. Even small mistakes made by journalists, have been seized upon by political figures as a way to discredit and delegitimise the so-called fourth estate. In light of this, I think it’s important to try and restore trust in the vast majority of the media who do uphold the professional standards that differentiate them from fake news.

    So, rather than trying to define fake news, I think that it’s better to focus on how we can discern which news audiences should trust and why. A few things that I would suggest would include making sure that you get your news from a wide variety of sources, finding out who owns the media companies you are getting your news from, and making sure that you double-check check anything that seems unusual against a primary source.

    2. Why do you think we are seeing a rise in fake news?
    The motivation for the initial rise in fake news was advertising revenue, however the disinformation that we are now seeing shared is more complex. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says that the spread of disinformation can help benefit a political side because it makes it more difficult for undecided voters to find out the truth. These undecided people may hear so much shouting and disagreement going on that they decide that it’s simply easier to go about their everyday lives, than to try and work out exactly who is telling the truth.

    This may explain why USA President Donald Trump’s team have now referred to three separate incidents which haven’t happened: namely Trump’s reference to “last night in Sweden”, Kelly Anne Conway’s reference to the Bowling Green Massacre and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s three references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta.

    As professor Rosen says, many of the Trump/Republican administration’s policies are not necessarily popular so by surrounding them with “fog and confusion” the administration “can get a lot more done”. However it’s also another reason why it’s so important that we all commit to not add to that fog and confusion ourselves, by making sure we don’t inadvertently share disinformation.

    3. Why do you think some citizens believe fake news?
    Sometimes we may believe a fake news story because it confirms our world view. We may then not be corrected, because for most of us, our world view has become increasingly polarised because of social media bubbles, which mean that we now almost exclusively see news which confirms our pre-existing opinions and values.

    4. How does fake news impact on civil society and human rights defenders?
    Attacks on press freedom affect civil society and human rights defenders because it is the job of the media to hold the powerful to account. If the vital democratic role of a free press is endangered through accusations that they are fake news and should be censored, then who will be there to report when the government or others in positions of power attack people demonstrating in the street or imprison them?

    Those who spread disinformation may also use it to discredit human rights defenders and civil society organisations. They may make up information about how many people attended a demonstration or argue that protestors are “paid”. Disagreements have begun to emerge over which protestors are violent, and whether they have been planted by the opposition, in order to discredit one side or the other. This may lead eventually to a curtailing of the right to protest, if peaceful protestors are successfully discredited.

    5. How should civil society respond to fake news?
    Sadly, the same people who seek to curb the freedoms of civil society organisations often also seek to control the media, so I definitely think that civil society and the media should work together to address these issues. Many media organisations are now also set up to serve the public interest as non-profit organisations, and many journalists are also freelancers, so there are other things that the media and non-profits have in common. If you rely on high quality journalism to get your story out, don’t forget to also support the journalists who produce these stories. If you can’t afford to buy a subscription, find other ways to support journalists, even through messages of support. Foundations and other funding organisations should also seriously consider supporting public interest journalism.

    In countries where the media is not free or where due to ownership interests they only partially or incompletely cover civil society issues, civil society organisations have also successfully begun using social media to tell their own narrative. By telling their stories directly to the public civil society organisations can also counter the sharing of disinformation. However, I would also encourage civil society to work together with the media, since there are many journalists who are committed to accurately representing issues on a wide range of topics in the public interest from human rights to climate change. 

    Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter at @lyndalrowlands

     

  • 25 years later, looking back at my CIVICUS journey

    French 

    by Anabel Cruz, Board Chair 2016-2019

    Anabel Cruz Action ShotIn early 1993, democracy was rather “young” in many parts of the world. Only less than four years had passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall; Apartheid had not yet been totally dismantled and the first elections in South Africa held with universal suffrage were to happen the year after, in 1994. At the same time, the early nineties saw several countries in Latin America taking their first steps towards elected democracies, after more than a decade of military dictatorships.

    Internet did not exist yet, and global communications were something at least very new, slow and difficult. Only one year earlier, in 1992, a professor of sociology at the University of Aberdeen had described globalisation as the compression of the world and the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole.

    So, in that context, isn’t it really admirable that a group of individuals, from diverse regions and parts of the world, came together to found CIVICUS, as a global alliance of civil society organisations? Those visionaries defined the mission of the new Alliance as: “to strengthen citizen action and influence, based on the underlying principle that free and effective societies exist in direct proportion to their degree of citizen participation and influence." (CIVICUS Organising Committee, minutes Lisbon meeting January 1993).

    Today, more than 25 years later, this mission is still valid and current, and it is also our permanent challenge. Freedom, participation and solidarity remain as one of our basic goals and fundamental values.

    My 25-year journey with CIVICUS

    As I reflect on my own journey with CIVICUS, a series of images come to my mind, and I relive my first contacts with CIVICUS like one of those high-speed movies. I learned of the new organisation in the first months of 1993: while helping to consolidate local democracy, civil society organisations in Latin America were seeking new international horizons and collaborations.

    I never imagined that my visit to Independent Sector in Washington DC, at that moment hosting the recently founded Alliance, would result in such a long-lasting and enduring relationship. For the last 25 years, I have had the privilege of following and participating in CIVICUS history, its achievements, challenges, strategies and course corrections, from diverse positions: I have been a member, a partner, a Board member, the Chair of Board in two different opportunities.

    One of CIVICUS first successful steps was probably its first international meeting. Soon after the organisation was founded, in 1995, the first CIVICUS World Assembly took place in Mexico City: 500 people from more than 50 different countries came together to learn about the new organisation and to have conversations on how to strengthen citizen action and cooperation opportunities. Since that moment, 16 global events have been organised in all parts of the world, global gatherings for civil society to connect, debate and create shared solutions, now known as International Civil Society Week (ICSW). The most recent one, in Belgrade, Serbia happened just last month, and was a vibrant gathering attended by over 700 delegates from 92 countries.

    From the very beginning, CIVICUS prioritised activities such as networking, information-gathering and building the capacity of existing and new national and regional associations. Consistent with this, the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) was one of CIVICUS’ first, and still enduring, programmes, bringing together national associations and regional platforms from around the world for more than 20 years to foster greater cooperation across boundaries.

    Building civil society knowledge in a changing world

    From its inception in 1993, CIVICUS has sought to make a significant contribution to recording the rise of civil society around the world, and to building a knowledge base on civil society by civil society. A first World Report on Citizen Participation came out as early as 1995, intended to get a grasp on the state of civil society worldwide. Later in 1997 The New Civic Atlas was published, as a compilation of civil society profiles from 60 countries around the world. In order to provide consistency with regard to the issues covered and a more rigorous comparative framework and after a number of consultations, in 1999 CIVICUS was ready to launch a new idea, the Civil Society Index (CSI).

    I remember so well the words of former CIVICUS Secretary General Kumi Naidoo, reporting years later that participants of the CSI consultations had described the project as “an exercise in madness,” especially due to the lack of data on civil society in most countries, and the contested definition of civil society that would not allow comparisons or global analysis. But CIVICUS challenged the paradigms once again and the so-called Diamond Tool was presented in the CIVICUS World Assembly in Manila, as the preliminary methodological design for the CSI project.

    Subsequently, CIVICUS developed a fully-fledged project design and the CSI had its pilot phase from 2000 to 2002, with the CSI implemented in 13 countries. The evaluation of the pilot phase recommended modifications in the methodology and considered the Index project as “an innovative, contextually flexible, empowering and uniquely participatory tool for self-assessment by civil society stakeholders of the state of civil society in their countries” Two full phases followed, from 2003 to 2006, with the participation of 53 countries, and from 2008 to 2011, with the CSI implemented in 56 countries and also at regional level in six African countries.

    The results of the decade of CSI implementation yielded an enormous contribution to the body of knowledge about civil society around the world. The world was changing very fast, new actors burst onto the scene: The Indignados Movement in Madrid, the student protests in Chile and in other countries, the Arab Spring, all these new started to rise in late 2010 with peaks during 2011 and 2012. The CSI findings were clear and very well oriented, pointing out a noticeable disconnect between established civil society organisations and the increasing number of citizens involved in both new and traditional forms of activism. It does not come as surprise that the final CSI report title was “Bridging the gaps: citizens, organisations and dissociations” (2011) and concluded that the CSI needed to evolve to encompass the changing landscape.

    Conditions for civil society proved to be volatile and can change very rapidly, so information cannot be out of date. Indeed, more agile tools were needed, without compromising the rigor that characterized the CSI tool, in order to continue providing a leading barometer of that human impulse to freedom, justice and collective endeavour.

    CIVICUS has listened and has tried to respond to the changing situations and the multiple demands. The State of Civil Society Report, published annually since 2013 and the CIVICUS Monitor launched in 2016, are part of that necessary evolution. The State of Civil Society Report has become CIVICUS' flagship annual publication, providing the key trends affecting civil society organisations (CSOs) and citizen movements. Furthermore, the CIVICUS Monitor is a research tool aimed to share reliable, up-to-date data on the state of civil society freedoms in all countries. Danny Sriskandarajah, our Secretary General from 2012 to 2018, defined the CIVICUS Monitor as “the first robust and comprehensive tool to track conditions for civil society around the world”.

    The road ahead…

    CIVICUS is indeed one of the few organisations whose main job is to protect and promote civil society writ large, all over the world. And in the years to come, no doubt that CIVICUS will continue listening to our members, partners, to our primary constituencies and will always be ready to innovate, will work hard to understand realities to defend civic and democratic freedoms, to strengthen the power of people, and to empower a more accountable and innovative civil society.

    As we prepare to address new challenges, we are fortunate to find ourselves in a position of strength at CIVICUS: with a stable financial base, a committed and diverse board, a broad and growing membership and a talented secretariat team led by Lysa John, our inspiring new Secretary General. We have the best conditions to continuing strengthening citizen participation around the world.

    As I step down from the Board soon, I can only say how privileged and grateful I feel. Thank you for the opportunity of having served for so many years, for all the learnings, for the love and friendship that I have received, for having met the most committed people to justice that can exist. CIVICUS is about shared values, solidarity and inclusion. I will always be a champion for those values. Thank you CIVICUS!

    Anabel Cruz

    Chair of the Board of CIVICUS 2016-2019

     

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

    By David Kode and Mouna Ben Garga

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

    Read on: Pambazuka 

     

  • Addressing Civic Space Restrictions in Uganda: What Role for the UPR?

    This policy action brief, prepared by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), examines a range of restrictions on civil society’s fundamental rights recently experienced in Uganda. In particular, these have included a series of break-ins on the premises of civil society organisations (CSOs), in which CSO information has been stolen; attacks on the media, which have included physical attacks on journalists and the closure of private radio stations; the introduction of restrictive legislation, including on CSO operations, the media and the freedom of assembly; and increased restriction of peaceful assemblies, including through the use of excessive force to break up protests.

     

  • Adjournment of Civil Society Activists’ Trial in Cameroon Shows State Has No Case

    JOHANNESBURG – Three civil society leaders in Cameroon remain imprisoned in solitary confinement and on trial for leading peaceful protests, following their court appearance on 27 July.

    The trial of Felix Balla Nkongho, Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy in a military court in the capital, Yaoundé, was adjourned for the third time since it began over six months ago. The activists face various spurious charges, some which, like treason and terrorism, carry the death penalty. A fourth activist, Justice Ayah Paul Abine is being held incommunicado at the Secretariat for Defense while hundreds of others remain detained at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé. 

    The activists were arrested in January 2017 after publicly raising concerns against the marginalisation of Cameroonians in the country’s Anglophone North West and South West regions, by the Francophone regime of President Paul Biya. They had called for the reforms in the legal and education system. Their organisation, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), has been banned. 

     “We strongly condemn the ongoing arbitrary arrests and unjustified prosecution of individuals opposing the atrocities in defiance of human rights standards. The international community has a responsibility to help end the cycle of persecution in Cameroon.”  Said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS:

    The trial itself has been marked by irregularities and a lack of due process. In the latest proceedings, the judge began by kicking one of the defence attorneys out of court. The defence team’s representations in English were also mistranslated into French by the court interpreter.  In addition, the judge claimed that the state was not aware of the trial of the activists. 

    CIVICUS also expresses growing concern at the deepening human rights crisis. Reports of human rights violations in the Anglophone regions include the shooting and killing of unarmed protesters; arbitrary arrests; detention without trial; torture; legal harassment and unjust prosecutions; the targeting of journalists and media outlets; and the shutdown of the internet for months. 

    We call on the Cameroonian authorities to release all detained protesters and ensure that democratic rights to freedom of expression and assembly are respected. 

    We further call on the international community to increase efforts to engage the Biya regime to find lasting solutions to the conflict. We particularly urge the United Nations to intervene on behalf of barrister Nkongho, who has served the UN as a human rights and legal advisor to the UN Mission in Afghanistan, and the other activist leaders on trial. 

    Note: Civic space in Cameroon is rated as “repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global tracking tool of violations against the freedom of expression, association and assembly.

    Ends.

    For more information, contact:

    Grant Clark

    CIVICUS Media Advisor

     

  • Afghanistan's Peace Talks: Women & Civil Society Must Have a Real Seat at the Table

    By Horia Mosadiq, a prominent Afghanistan women’s rights defender & Sonya Merkova, a researcher with CIVICUS.

    This story was facilitated and commissioned by CIVICUS. 

    On the face of it, the rare, major gathering of Afghan leaders last week in the capital of Kabul, looked to be a positive effort towards an inclusive peace process. Restrictions on civic space—the space for civil society—and women’s rights in Afghanistan remain under serious threat. And a successful outcome for peace negotiations does not automatically translate to a positive result for fundamental freedoms in that country.

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier

     

  • After elections, hard work starts for Zimbabwe’s civil society

    By Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Officer

    For many Zimbabwean voters, casting their ballots on July 30 is sure to be a somewhat surreal experience. For the first time since the country’s independence, the ever-present face of Robert Mugabe will not be staring back at them on the ballot paper. But that new experience – while perhaps inspiring hopes for positive change among some – is likely to be preceded by an old, familiar feeling of déjà vu. The road to the 2018 general election has been littered with the same potholes of electoral irregularities and restrictive laws of previous polls.

    Read on: Inter Press Service 

     

  • Against all odds: Civil society under fire

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Civil society is under fire—sometimes literally—in many countries and in all regions of the world. Governments are clamping down on fundamental civic freedoms. This year’s Global Risks Report highlights the threat to civic space, noting “a new era of restricted freedoms and increased governmental control could undermine social, political and economic stability and increase the risk of geopolitical and social conflict.”

    Read more: BRINK

     

  • AGAINST DISINFORMATION: ‘Enabling each to tell their story offers an opportunity to share our truths’

    CIVICUS speaks to Chris Worman, Vice President of Alliances and Program Development at TechSoup, a non-profit international network that provides technical support and technological tools to civil society organisations (CSOs). TechSoup facilitates civil society access to donated or discounted software, hardware and services; supplies CSOs with the information they need to make smart decisions about technology; connects like-minded people, online and in person; and works on the ground to create social good solutions.

    A person posing for the cameraDescription automatically generated

     

    What is TechSoup and what does it do?

    TechSoup is a complicated beast. We are a network of civil society capacity-building organisations working together to help ensure civil society has the resources it needs. We are also a community builder and philanthropic infrastructure. Founded in 1987, TechSoup is primarily known for the first part, for helping CSOs get and use technology. To date, the TechSoup Global Network has helped more than 1.2 million organisations, primarily grassroots community-based organisations, access roughly US$12 billion in technology products and services and millions of hours of free training and support. We also sometimes build technology with civil society through the organisation’s apps division, Caravan Studios.

    TechSoup then works through partnerships to help understand technology in context and community. This manifests differently depending on particular needs. The TransparenCEE programme brings together technologists and civil society to build tools and campaigns to encourage participatory democracy. A myriad of other projects through the TechSoup Network address everything from increasing internet access for rural farmers in Colombia’s demilitarised zone, to working on STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) skills with teachers in rural Romania, to developing tools to support social services for Australia’s homeless people.

    Finally, as philanthropic infrastructure, we provide a variety of tools and services, such as NGOsource, which leverages our network and community to help US foundations meet their regulatory requirements related to grantmaking across borders. Used by nearly 400 US foundations and common infrastructure for grantmaking abroad, in its first six years of operations NGOsource has helped lower the cost of international grantmaking by more than US$60 million and saved CSOs and funders more than 120 years of human labour by reducing duplicative due diligence processes.

    What makes TechSoup necessary in the current tech environment?

    We have been dwelling on two trends of the current – and coming – tech environment: contested digital space and the shift of technology to the cloud.

    In terms of contested digital spaces – another way of saying ‘closing digital space’, manifesting as a combination of anti-civil society narratives, digital surveillance and policies that challenge rights online, or the lack of any relevant policy at all – TechSoup believes there is an urgent and critical need for CSOs to secure and build their digital reputations, and have the opportunity to join or lead digital campaigns that help build positive, pro-civil society narratives across digital media. The collective impact of individual CSOs that are more able to raise their voices online offers some hope of undermining anti-civil society narratives that would paint us all as foreign intermediaries intent on undermining culture and national identity instead of what we are – an important part of society, locally rooted and locally driven by community-based organisations intent on leaving the world better than they found it.

    While increasing the capacity of individual organisations, we need to offer better tools to those who would join or lead digital campaigns. Our work with civil society to design and build the kinds of campaigns and tools they might hope to use to organise their communities from online to offline has shown that through such work, organisations that adopt digital tools for campaigning purposes become more savvy consumers of technology in general, and more committed stakeholders in and advocates for building and preserving rights online – a critical element in bringing in organisations that might not be policy-focused into the struggle for better digital policies.

    Finally, these tools, campaigns, practices and communities need to be carefully considered and crafted to ensure safety. As a colleague from a context with closing space recently noted, with the internet came easy surveillance. This is an important point and dovetails into the other main shift we see, the shift to the cloud. All on-premise tools – think everything that isn’t Google Suite or Microsoft O365 –will go away in the coming years. This is both really good and really less good news. On the less good side, most CSOs are not ready to be fully in the cloud due to connectivity issues. Further, for many the cloud is not a safe place due to issues relatred to bad policies or no policies, such as who can access data in the cloud and on what terms.

    On the good side, moving to the cloud can lower costs while opening opportunities for CSOs to link data for evidence, to drive advocacy and support new tools. One good example of this is a project conducted by our Irish partner, Enclude, who worked with Irish social service organisations to design a fit-for-purpose case management solution. The tool they built together met, for the first time, the needs of participating organisations, thus lowering their costs to provide services. Perhaps of equal or greater importance, it allowed organisations to pool data and use that data to learn from each other and build evidence for advocacy.

    So, whether we like it or not, we are all going to the cloud. This offers opportunities but also necessitates increased capacity to represent and build our communities online, and work to ensure the cloud is a safe place for us all. TechSoup has been working to address these issues in a variety of ways and is in the middle of growing our programmes in these areas from pilot phases to our entire global community, effectively building the infrastructure upon which we can link the million-plus organisations we serve to partners who have technology or policy training capacities and interests and might want to engage the grassroots organisations we reach.

    What are the barriers that CSOs experience to access existing technologies?

    For more than 30 years, our mantra has been ‘democratising access to technology’. The main barriers to doing so seem related to CSOs choosing and being able to use the best tools for their work. TechSoup tries to lower that barrier in two main ways. First, by being a trusted source for curation and education, helping CSOs know what technologies are available and how to use them through online communities and courses. Though historically we have been quite focused on corporate technologies, this is fast expanding into ‘tech4good’ through projects like our Public Good App House, where CSOs can begin exploring tools that are specific to each Sustainable Development Goal and were built for CSOs and audited for security purposes by us.

    Second, we lower access barriers by helping reduce the price point. Through our technology donation programme we are able to offer technologies at an extreme discount – what our French partner used to call ‘solidarity pricing’. The discount makes technology accessible at a price point most can afford – more than 80 per cent of the CSOs we have served have fewer than five staff – while generating revenues that help us provide free or steeply discounted training and support.

     

    What does the data that you have collected through your work tell you about the ways CSOs use or don’t use technology?

    The data tells us CSOs use technologies in about as many ways, and at about as many levels, as there are shapes and sizes in civil society. Some organisations are incredibly advanced and teach us new things they have learned or developed every day. Many could use some guidance and support on things that could improve their operational efficiencies so they can spend more time on their programmes. Most, let’s face it, don’t care about technology as long as it works. And that is fine!

    The challenge, perhaps, is that very few organisations are fully aware of the ramifications of their technical choices. For instance: do you know where all your data is right now? Who has access to it? When did you last change your passwords? Few are also aware of how deeply we rely on technological infrastructure that is owned, operated and accessible by actors who may have interests contrary to our own. This lack of understanding, and the potentially negative ramifications of it, are exacerbated by the acceleration towards the cloud and increasing digitalisation of society. There are excellent thought leaders in this space – such as The Engine Room and the Stanford PACS (Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society) and its Digital Civil Society Lab – and I think we are beginning to understand and work on how we can partner, contextualise and bring civil society into critical discussions about digital access and rights – individually, collectively and in relation to digital policy.

    We have to. Technology does not seem to be going away and as the world digitises, civil society needs to understand, craft and advocate for digital rights. Civil society is and always has been the champion of human rights. We must do so in the digital space. It will take all of us but it must be done.

    What are the typical needs of advocacy CSOs that you seek to respond to?

    We primarily help in choosing and using tools, but also we are increasingly providing training on digital storytelling, digital marketing and analytics to make sure stories are reaching their intended audiences, and training on how to work in an online environment cluttered with misinformation. These skills are certainly important for advocacy but are equally relevant for digital community-building and fundraising – both helpful in building a local base in the face of closing spaces.

    Digital security is another big area for many. We provide some tools and guidance but those who are truly threatened need a much more personal level of support to map risks and develop plans than we can easily do en masse. We are working on more there but are always happy to recommend partners.

    A third area is supporting base-building needs. We are piloting a variety of ways to connect advocacy organisations to the ‘rest’ of civil society – at least the million-plus CSOs in our community. Doing so, however, presents an interesting exercise in framing, communications and community building. Very few of the community we reach would consider themselves advocacy organisations. Fewer still sit around dwelling on rights-based frameworks. Regardless, they do their best to support, defend and enable their communities in their own ways. They can be reached and invited to engage in solidarity with those who are more particularly vocal about rights but it takes work to meet them where they are. We have seen some incredibly encouraging examples of broader bases of support and hosts of unlikely allies when advocacy organisations have the tools to appeal to the broader community, and look forward to more work in this area.

    You mentioned the fact that the online space is increasingly cluttered with misinformation. Why do you think misinformation is so easily propagated on social media, and what tools can civil society use to stop it?

    A funder recently asked me: ‘won’t we soon have a tool that simply tells us what is fake news?’ Sure. But a lot of disinformation is either fun or empowering to those who propagate it, or both. Our job in civil society will be to help educate voters and policy-makers about why facts are important and disinformation is a threat. We could do that by spending all of our time trying to stop the spread of misinformation. Some people think that is the way to go and not they are not necessarily wrong. On the other hand, technology platforms across which misinformation is spread are much more able to do that than we are. They can incorporate tools that spot deep fakes, monitor stories that are going viral around key words and work with civil society to interpret and distinguish what is harmful and threatening and what is not. They already have human moderators doing much of that work around obvious issues, but they are not trained to know that, for instance, a certain cat meme or dumpling joke is actually a political smear. We know and need partnerships – some of which are emerging around elections in particular countries – to help platforms and civil society meet in the middle.

    Another approach, and one that we work with through our programmes, is described earlier: helping CSOs have the tools to build their own narratives, better use analytical tools to understand when their narratives are working and whether they are reaching their intended audiences, and helping to form narrative communities. There are hundreds of trolls, thousands who spread their lies and millions who see it. There are millions of CSOs, hundreds of millions who follow or ‘hear’ them on social media. Enabling each to tell their story, and enabling the collective to coordinate in solidarity, offers an opportunity to flood the digital space with our truths. Once all are moving, we will have more messaging, more quickly, and tapped into more local realities than a handful of trolls could ever manage. If we incorporate analytical tools to understand what messages are working and coordinate around successful messaging across our communities, our collective weight will overwhelm opposition. Until the government shuts off the internet… worth trying until then!

    We are building a repository of specific tools and successful campaigns, such as the one we have built at TransparenCEE, focused on digital campaigning. But there are a lot of great resources out there, produced by JustLabs, MobLab and others.

    Can you tell us a success story from your recent work?

    One of my favorite stories – one that opened my eyes – happened nearly 10 years ago when I was living in a small town in Romania. I had launched TechSoup Romania through a community foundation I had started a few years before. Some funders had supported us to run a convening of technologists and CSOs we were calling the ‘Local Philanthropy Workshop’, through which tech people and CSO people worked on digital storytelling, tools and projects.

    On one of the first afternoons, the leader of a local environmental CSO and a tech guy were talking. The environmentalist was sharing that he wanted to make a map of illegal garbage dumps in the county. The technologist asked if he had them in a spreadsheet with geocoordinates. The environmentalist emailed him the list and three minutes later the technologist showed him a googlemap version of what he had been hoping for. The environmentalist walked it across the street to the newspaper and it ran on the front page the next day with an article about illegal dumping.

    Three minutes of tech and advocacy campaign came true because the right skills came together at the right time. It is a simple story compared to some of the much larger and more complex ones that have come since, but perhaps more indicative of what success might look like for most of us. Big data and artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning, digital ID and quantum are all good and shiny and important for those who have the data, tools and resources to work with them. For most of us, I believe, simpler solutions supporting the resolution of local challenges – where communities and civil society come together – are perhaps more in reach and perhaps, in aggregate, more meaningful as we seek collectively to come to grips with the influence of technology on society, and learn how to navigate the good and the bad of it as the world digitises.

    Get in touch with TechSoup through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@ChrisWorman on Twitter.

     

     

  • Alaa Abdel Fattah

    Alaa Abdel Fattah

    Name: Alaa Abdel Fattah

    Country: Egypt

    Update:

    He was again sentenced to 5 years in prison by a Criminal Court in Cairo during a re-trail of the case on 23 February 2015 for participating in a protest and assaulting a policeman.

    Reason Behind Bars:

    On 11 June 2014 civil society activist and blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to 15 years in prison and handed a fine of EGP 100000 (approximately US $14000) for participating in a peaceful protest. Alaa was among a group of activists who protested against the use of military courts to try civilians. The protests took place on 26 November 2013 outside the Shuna-Council – Egypt’s Upper House of Parliament. He was charged with “demonstrating without prior notification,” “assaulting security forces,” “stealing a public radio,” and “interrupting the work of national institutions.”  He was sentenced in absentia as he was denied access to the court when the sentencing was done.

    On 28 November 2013, about 20 security agents physically assaulted Alaa and his wife Manal Bahey el Din who is a blogger and activist and confiscated computers and telephones at their home before he was arrested.  He was detained for close to four months and later released on bail. 

    Background information 

    Alaa has been arrested and detained several times in the past for his activism and played an instrumental role in the protests during the Arab Spring that led to the down fall of former President Hosni Mubarak.   He was detained in 2006 for a month and a half for his online activities and was summoned by the Egyptian authorities in October 2011 for taking part in a peaceful demonstration organised by Egypt’s Coptic Christians in October 2011. 27 protesters and a military officer were killed during the demonstrations. 

    On 5 January 2014, the North Giza Criminal Court sentenced Alaa to one year in prison on charges of  arson, damage to property and danger to public safety. The charges were based on allegations that Alaa and another activist attacked the campaign headquarters of former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq on 28 May 2012. The one year sentence was suspended for three years.   

    Alaa was given a summons for his arrest by the Office of the Public Protector and on 28 November he wrote to the Public Protector confirming that that he will respect the summons.  He was however arrested on 28 November 2013, and held in pre-trial detention until he was provisionally released in March 2014 by the South Cairo Criminal Court on bail of EGP 10000 (approximately us $ 1400).  He is a prisoner of conscience and is in jail on fictitious charges for his human rights campaigns.  

    On 18 August 2014, Alaa began a hunger strike following news that his father Ahmed Seif El-Islam, a prominent human rights lawyer, was taken into an extensive care unit after his open heart surgery. According to a statement released by Alaa’s family the hunger strike followed a “decisive moment” when Alaa decided he “will not cooperate with this absurd and unfair situation, even if it costs him his life." Alaa’s family and friends stated that they are holding the Egyptian government accountable for any deterioration in Alaa’s health, since it was the draconian Egyptian government that imprisoned him for the third time since 25 January 2014 based on trumped up charges. 

    For more information 

    Amnesty International: Egypt – heavy jail sentences for peaceful protests

    Egypt: Sentencing to 15 years of prison of Mr. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman  

    Egypt: 15 year sentences for 25 peaceful protesters

    Egypt: Update- suspended sentences on trumped-up charges for human rights defenders Ms. Mona Seif and Mr. Alaa Abd El Fattah  

    Take Action 

    Write immediately to the Egyptian authorities urging them to release Alaa Abdel Fattah and other activists arrested for exercising their rights of assembly and association.  

    Send Appeals to 

    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 

    Office of the President 

    Al Ittihadia, Cairo 

    Arab Republic of Egypt 

    Fax: 0020223911441

     

    Deputy Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights 

    Mahy Hassan Abdel Latif 

    Multilateral Affairs and International Security Affairs 

    Corniche al-Nil, Cairo 

    Arab Republic of Egypt 

    Fax: 00202 25749713

    Email:

    Write to the Egyptian diplomatic representation in your country.  See a list of Egyptian diplomatic representation abroad here.

     

  • Angolan elections: Different name, same game for civil society?

    By David Kode

    Over the last 38 years, particularly since the end of the civil war in 2002, President Dos Santos has ruled Angola through securitisation of the society, repressing all dissent and restricting freedom of expression, association and assembly. Will space for civil participation open up after one of Africa’s longest serving rulers leaves power following elections this week?

    Read on: Pambazuka

     

  • 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 

     

  • Armenia: ‘For the quality of democracy to improve, judicial independence must be guaranteed and labour rights need further protection’

    Elections held in Armenia in 2017 resulted in the ruling party holding onto power, but were marred by allegations of fraud, including vote-buying and misuse of state resources.CIVICUS speaks to Artur Sakunts, chairman of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly - Vanadzor Office (HCA Vanadzor), a non-political, non-religious and not-for-profit civil society organisation that seeks to advance the values of human rights, democracy, tolerance and pluralism in Armenia. HCA Vanadzor works in the areas of research, dissemination, litigation, training, lobbying, campaigning and the promotion of public debate.

    1. How would you describe the current state of democracy and human rights in Armenia?

    Since 2013, human rights and democracy have considerably regressed in Armenia. The constitutional referendum, held in 2015, and elections to the National Assembly and Yerevan City Council in 2017 were marked by fraud and procedural violations. As a result of the constitutional referendum, Armenia changed from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic, and the changes began to be implemented during the 2017 elections. The new parliamentary system strengthened the dominant position of the Republican Party, which is the main party, and the power of its leader. A number of opposition figures have suffered and still suffer persecution. Any demonstration of civic activism has faced a harsh reaction and pressure by law enforcement agencies, and the space for civil society organisations (CSOs) and civil society initiatives has further shrunk. Additionally, the Four Day War with Azerbaijan in April 2016 led to a large loss of human lives and exposed the country's vulnerability to external threats. All these processes have occurred in an atmosphere of impunity. Meanwhile, the steps towards reform taken by the authorities have been reactive or aimed at solving problems by increasing the social burden on citizens rather than by making systemic changes.

    In December 2015, a new phase of negotiations was launched between Armenia and the European Union (EU). The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was initialled in March 2017 and eventually signed in November 2017. However, the unpredictable behaviour of the Armenian authorities creates uncertainty in terms of the expected developments in EU-Armenia relations, even after the agreement has been signed.

    2. Have recent changes in CSO regulations affected civil society’s ability to contribute to democratic governance?

    On 16 December 2016, after long-held discussions, the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations was adopted, entitling CSOs to represent the public interest in court, albeit only in the field of environmental protection. It should be noted, however, that in its ruling of 7 September 2010, the Armenian Constitutional Court recognised the right of CSOs to represent the public interest in national courts without any limitation.

    Another risk associated with the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations was that it initially prescribed state supervision over the financial activity of all CSOs. However, as a result of public debate, this requirement was eventually prescribed only for state-funded CSOs.

    In short, contrary to expectations, the new regulations ended up being a positive development for civil society.

    3. What is the environment like for human rights defenders in Armenia?

    In early 2016 a well-known human rights defender, Karen Andreasyan, stepped down as Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman without providing any reasons. It should be noted that in the autumn of 2015, during the presentation of his annual report to the National Assembly, Andreasyan was strongly criticised and personally insulted by Republican Party deputies. His resignation exposed the vulnerability of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office. In December 2013 Andreasyan had published a well-substantiated report on the spread of corruption in courts and the lack of independence of judges, which was harshly criticised by the Prosecutor General's Office, the Republican faction of the National Assembly and several judges. None of the concerns raised by the report on the state of the judiciary have been considered or examined.

    Following the National Assembly’s appointment of a new Human Rights Ombudsman, the concentration of oversight and protection mechanisms over different fields of human rights, including children’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities, has increasingly raised serious concerns. Along with such centralisation, space for other human rights institutions is becoming more limited and the variety of human rights protection mechanisms is being reduced. Given that since the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office was introduced, all Ombudsmen have resigned before the end of their term under pressure from political and executive powers, the concentration of protection mechanisms in the hands of a single person makes the Human Rights Ombudsman and human rights protection mechanisms extremely vulnerable.

    In early July 2016, an armed opposition group known as Sasna Tsrer seized a police station and took hostages. As Sasna Tsrer members underwent trial, significant restrictions were imposed on various stakeholders engaged with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, and particularly on attorneys and on the public monitoring group on penitentiary institutions. Before Sasna Tsrer’s surrender, members of the Group of Public Observers Conducting Public Monitoring in Penitentiary Institutions and Bodies of the Ministry of Justice were illegally banned from meeting Zhirayr Sefilyan, a political prisoner detained at the Vardashen penitentiary institution. Later, members of the Group of Public Observers were also banned from meeting Sasna Tsrer members detained at the Nubarashen penitentiary institution, after information was aired that on 28 June 2017 Sasna Tsrer members had been subjected to violence at the General Jurisdiction Court of the Avan and Nor Nork administrative districts.

    It should be also noted that during the former Minister of Justice’s tenure, draft regulations were put forward suggesting that any new members of the Group of Public Observers would need to be confirmed by the Ministry of Justice, although the Group's Charter states that new members only need to be accepted by the Group itself. The draft regulation was rejected, but it was an attempt to restrict the activities and independence of the Group of Public Observers. The current Human Rights Ombudsman has not reacted in any way to this attempt, which is yet further evidence of the dangers of concentrating human rights defence mechanisms.

    Illegal attempts were made to search the defence attorneys of Sasna Tsrer members before they entered the courtroom. As the attorneys resisted those searches, the court adopted a tactic of imposing sanctions on the attorneys and replacing them with public defenders, which posed a risk of substantially reducing the protection of Sasna Tsrer members. The legal community also faces pressures through disciplinary proceedings initiated against lawyers on suspicious grounds. An added challenge is the behaviour of the Bar Association, which imposes its own disciplinary sanctions on individual attorneys. The Bar Association’s chairman has openly argued against laws preventing domestic violence and has repeatedly made homophobic statements.

    The environment has also been unfavourable for journalists, including legislative restrictions and physical attacks, particularly during protests, as well as legal actions meant to silence them.

    4. How have the authorities responded to peaceful protests over the years?

    President Serzh Sargsyan's second term in office, which began in 2013, has been marked by increasing civic activism, which has in turn been suppressed by the police and other state bodies. Citizens’ protests have mostly been related to various issues of public or social significance, particularly transportation and electricity price hikes, the introduction of a mandatory funded pension system, the dismantling and destruction of cultural monuments and environmental issues.

    On 2 December 2013, the day of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Armenia, a large number of citizens held protests in Yerevan, the capital, against Armenia joining the Eurasian Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union. The police dispersed the protests using violence and apprehended 110 peaceful protesters, who were kept in police stations for eight hours without access to legal assistance.

    The summer of 2015 was marked by the so-called ‘Electric Yerevan’ protests against the hike in electricity prices, which lasted almost two weeks. On 23 June 2015 at 5am, the police used water cannons to disperse a peaceful sit-in on Baghramyan Avenue. Using physical violence, the police apprehended around 240 protesters and attacked 21 journalists, damaging their equipment. Following the police violence, the number of sit-in participants dramatically rose, but at the end of June 2015 protesters split up as some of them obeyed police warnings and moved to Liberty Square. The number of sit-in participants on Baghramyan Avenue gradually decreased, and on 6 July 2015 the police eventually dispersed the demonstration. Criminal proceedings were initiated, against both protesters and police officers that used violence against them. Four police officers faced charges for using violence against journalists, but none has so far been held liable for the violence.

    In July 2016, following the Sasna Tsrer incident, a series of mass protests was held in Khorenatsi Street and Liberty Square in Yerevan, and the police again used violence against the demonstrators. Hundreds of people were illegally apprehended and the protests were brutally dispersed through excessive force. According to official data, between 17 July and 4 August 2016, 775 people were arrested. On 20 and 29 July 2016 police used unprecedented violence against protesters; as a result, several protesters and journalists received serious bodily injuries. For the first time in the entire history of the Republic of Armenia, protesters were violently taken to the Police Internal Troops barracks and illegally deprived of their freedom. Many people compared this with the situation in Chile in 1973 when dictator Augusto Pinochet kept people captive in a football stadium.

    As a rule, no police officer that uses violence against protesters or violates their rights in any way are held accountable, while protesters are liable for administrative and criminal offences. In this regard, it should be noted that in 2012 a Police Disciplinary Commission was created with a provision allowing for the inclusion of representatives from five CSOs. The Disciplinary Commission’s membership and procedures were decided by the government. However, through a decree issued on 31 March 2016, the government handed this power over to the Chief of Police. This change may lead to a conflict of interests and to a further reduction of the Commission’s independence.

    5. Have any civil society freedoms been restricted around the 2017 elections?

    The new draft Electoral Code resulting from the constitutional amendments first became available on 22 February 2016 on the official website of the Venice Commission (the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters), in English. Its Armenian version was posted on the Armenian government’s website no sooner than 3 March 2016.

    Unlike what had happened with the draft constitutional amendments and the initial draft of the Electoral Code, which had been prepared within a narrow pro-government circle, wider participation was ensured during the further amendment of the Electoral Code. At the suggestion of Levon Zurabyan, a deputy with an opposition party, the Armenian National Congress, negotiations on the draft Electoral Code started between the ruling party, the political opposition and civil society in a 4+4+4 format. As a result, the Electoral Code included a number of recommendations, mostly of an administrative nature, put forward by the opposition and civil society. However, the authorities made no concessions on issues of political significance or that would affect the distribution of power in the parliament to be formed. It should be noted that civil society members took part in the negotiations only at the initial stage and refused to sign the agreements that were eventually reached by the government and the opposition.

    The Electoral Code adopted in May 2016 imposed significant restrictions on observers and mass media representatives. In particular, the Code gave precinct electoral commissions the right to set a maximum number of observers and mass media representatives allowed at a polling station. The Code set a requirement for election observation organisations to have had a provision on human rights and democracy in their statutory goals for at least the past year and imposed an accreditation requirement for mass media, allowing for only a limited number of representatives. As a result, a media outlet may have a maximum of 50 representatives throughout the country. The new Electoral Code also stipulates that commission members may remove observers, mass media representatives and proxies from a polling station by a vote.

    It is noteworthy that the Electoral Code considers CSOs as the main entities engaged in civic oversight and particularly in electoral observation, but it gives them no right to appeal against the actions or inactions of electoral commissions, or election results, or to file any other complaints.

    The Code extended the voting population, as the right to vote was granted to persons who have committed crimes of minor and medium gravity and have served their sentences, and to persons doing military study abroad; however, the rest of the approximately 450,000 to 500,000 Armenian nationals living abroad were not granted the opportunity to vote.

    As a result of amendments passed a few months later, the Electoral Code also provided for the publication of signed voter lists, something that the opposition and civil society had been demanding for years. Citizens were given the right to file an application for voter impersonation cases, although the Armenian Criminal Code included an article on false statements regarding such applications. According to the Central Electoral Commission’s report, only one person filed an application on voter impersonation in the context of the National Assembly elections of 2 April 2017. Among other reasons, this might have been due to the relevant article of the Criminal Code, though it is widely held that the number of cases of multiple voting or voter impersonation during the elections was not considerable, and the authorities mostly distorted the election through the abuse of administrative resources and vote-buying.

    During the National Assembly elections of 2 April 2017 and the Yerevan City Council elections of 14 May 2017, widespread abuses were identified that took the form of fake observation. The Central Electoral Commission accredited around 28,000 observers from 49 organisations to observe the National Assembly elections. The overwhelming majority of those observers acted at polling stations mostly as proxies representing the interests of the Republican Party or the Tsarukyan Bloc, which came second in the election.

    6. What needs to change for the quality of democracy to improve in Armenia?

    First, more protection of labour rights is needed in both the government and business sectors, where rights are not protected. This was explicitly revealed during the recent elections. At the same time, the independence of the business sector and the protection of their rights from the ruling elites should be ensured as well.

    The second important issue is judicial independence from executive power. Control of the judiciary is the main tool that the government uses to reinforce impunity, and this is an obstacle for the effective protection of citizens and civil society groups.

    • Civic space in Armenia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating the existence of significant restrictions on civil society rights.
    • Get in touch with HCA Vanadzor through their websiteor Facebookpage, or follow @HCAVanadzor on Twitter

     

  • As NGOs speak out, expect clampdowns to grow

    By David Kode

    Across the globe, from East Africa to eastern Europe, there is a trend of increasing attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that support reforms governments are opposed to.

    Read on: Open Global Rights

     

     

  • Attacks On Citizen Rights In SA: Five Trends And Countrywide Threats

    By Kgalalelo Gaebee 

    From the large city centres to the rural townships, South Africans are witnessing a nationwide crackdown on their civic rights. Citizens’ ability to speak out, organise and take action on social issues in South Africa is becoming increasingly restricted. For those critical of business and government elites, there are much higher rates of harassment and detention by security forces. Social activist Kgalalelo Gaebee lists five threats to our basic freedoms that we should be concerned about.

    Read on:The Daily Vox

     

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