civil society

 

  • Trends and Challenges in Global Civil Society

    Bernadette Johnson interviews CIVICUS’ Secretary General Danny Sriskandarajah on broad trends affecting civil society spaces globally.

    We know it’s a cliché, but the world continues to shrink. Events, trends, and emerging ideas in other countries have the potential to affect us all. This is just as true for charities and nonprofits as it is for other parts of society. Whether it’s proposals to end the restriction on partisan activities by charities in the United States, potential curbs on lobbying by charities in the UK, limits on charities accepting foreign funding in Russia, or the day-to-day challenges organizations face in countries like Turkey or Venezuela, we can learn from – and in some cases be warned by – the happenings outside our own borders.

    Raed on: Imagine Canada 

     

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

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

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

     Mohammed Ndifuna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How can international civil society help Ugandan civil society?

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

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

     

  • Uganda: CIVICUS condemns another break-in at the office of HRAPF  

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns recent attacks on the premises of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) in Uganda which left security guards wounded and in need of urgent medical attention.  In the early hours of the morning of 9 February 2018, at least nine unidentified individuals broke into the offices of HRAPF and attacked two security guards with iron bars and batons.

     

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Clément Voule meets with civil society to discuss threats to rights

     

    More than 80 representatives of civil society organisations, community leaders and academics met in Johannesburg on 30-31 May and on 3 June with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Clément Voule to discuss the impact of restrictions on freedom of assembly and association on sustainable development. Participants discussed the relationship between human rights and development and how governments perceived the two as separate from each other.  Participants were of the view that the targeting of civil society organisations using a range of restrictions slows down the attainment of development outcomes. That there are existing tensions around the rise of authoritarian models and development and that over the last decade countries like China and Rwanda have experienced some levels of economic growth despite the fact that they are under authoritarian leaders.  Other key insights from participants:

     

  • Unanswered Questions: How Civil Society’s Contributions to Sustainable Development are Undermined at the HLPF

    By Lyndal Rowlands, CIVICUS UN Advocacy Officer 

    As Colombia joined 45 other countries in New York last month to review progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda, four grassroots activists were killed as they fought for sustainable development in Colombian communities. A question posed by an Indigenous representative to the government about such killings – of which there were more than 100 last year – went unanswered, illustrating the many layers at which civil society is obstructed from meaningful participation in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, from the local level to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

    Read on: International Institute for Sustainable Development

     

  • Under threat: five countries in which civic space is rapidly closing

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    The closing of civic space is not just about people’s right to organize or protest in individual countries. This year’s Gobal Risks Report, published last week by the World Economic Forum ahead of its annual Davos meeting, looks in detail at the risks posed by threats to governments clamping down on fundamental civic freedoms. The report points out that, “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 on: Open Democracy 

     

  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘Anti-rights groups come in under the pretence of speaking about human rights’

    As part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and their allies about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks to two United Nations (UN) officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, about the increasing space that is being taken up by anti-rights groups at the UN Human Rights Council, and the strategies that need to be developed to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses.

     

  • Warm and cuddly global goals? The international community must get real

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Two years into their life, and amid the grim political realities of the last year, the sustainable development goals seem increasingly like warm words with little if any bite. With the clock counting down till 2030, we urgently need to find ways of driving real changes in behaviour, policy and investment if we are to create a more just and sustainable world. We need nothing short of an accountability revolution.

    Read on: The Guardian

     

  • We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19

    As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.

     

  • We Know We Can’t Do It Alone, But How Can We Work Together?

    By Amy Taylor

    We’re living through a crisis of democracy where progressive internationalism is under attack. It’s now clearer than ever that civil society organisations cannot realise the more just, inclusive and sustainable world by acting alone. Instead a collective effort is needed – between civil society, philanthropy infrastructure organisations and others – to achieve the kind of transformative change that we seek.

    Read on: Philanthropy in Focus

     

     

  • We need a new social movement against inequality

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Oxfam’s latest estimate that just eight super-rich people – down from 62 last year and 388 just six years ago – own more wealth than the poorest half of the world population is a clarion call to change the way we think about and try to tackle inequality.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • What future for civil society in Zimbabwe?

    By Teldah Mawarire and David Kode

    During the stand-off between the military and President Mugabe that led to his historic resignation, there was reason for hope. Zimbabwe's civil society must now re-invent itself to ensure this hope lives on.

    Read on: Open Democracy

     

  • Why Trump, Brexit and populism could be an opportunity

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Many of the business and political leaders gathering in Davos this week will be focused on how to protect the global economic order - and their interests - after a year of major political and social upheavals. That is the last thing they should be doing. For me, the greatest lesson from 2016 is that we need to build new mechanisms for airing political grievances and addressing economic frustrations.

    Read on: Huffington Post

     

  • You will agree: escalating repression

    By Mandeep Tiwana

    Mandeep Tiwana sorts through the many cloaks of authoritarianism donned by the political class as repression becomes the rule rather than the exception.

    Read on: New Internationalist 

     

  • Zimbabwe Police arbitrarily arrest trade union leaders over planned protests

    • Police arrest, assault union leaders and members ahead of planned peaceful march
    • Authorities banned demonstrations against economic crisis, citing cholera concerns
    • Protests prompted by fuel queues, new tax on money transfers impacting mostly poor
    • National, global NGO groups urge government to respect the protected rights of citizens

    Global and national civil society groups have expressed concern at the arrest of trade union leaders in Zimbabwe ahead of planned peaceful protests.

    Zimbabwean police pre-empted nationwide demonstrations against the deepening economic crisis in the country, scheduled for October 11, by banning them and arbitrarily arresting organisers belonging to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

    The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has urged the authorities to show restraint and respect the constitutionally protected rights of all Zimbabweans.

    Police banned the protests citing concerns of a cholera outbreak in recent weeks. The unions say they are being targeted because of their dissenting message as other gatherings had been allowed to proceed.

    ZCTU members were arrested in the capital, Harare as well as in the cities of Mutare and Masvingo. According to reports, police were armed with truncheons, tear smoke canisters and accompanied by water cannons during the raids. Several union members were assaulted. ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and secretary general Japhet Moyo were among those arrested.

    Following a disputed 30 July 2018 election outcome, economic uncertainty has deepened in Zimbabwe, which has been struggling with foreign currency shortages, hyper-inflation and erosion of the local currency. This has triggered fuel queues as business slowed down in response to the economic decline.

    The government also recently imposed a new 2% tax on mobile money transactions that the unions said will be borne mostly by the poor. Trade unions had organised a protest to highlight these trying economic circumstances to the government and raise concerns about the hardships the new tax would bring for the poor.

    “It had been our sincere hope that after the election in August, the authorities would open more space for citizens, civil society and trade unions to freely express their opinions including through peaceful protests,” said Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Executive Director.

    “Hence, we are disappointed that the authorities are still employing methods of an era gone by to silence dissent,” said Mandishara.

    NANGO also said civil society is awaiting with much anticipation the outcome of a commission of enquiry established after six people were shot dead by the military in Harare at an election-related protest.

    CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to engage with civil society and trade unions on the fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.

    NANGO is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation and the official, non-denominational coordinating body of NGOs in Zimbabwe. It is mandated by its membership to coordinate the activities of NGOs, represent the NGO sector and strengthen the voice of NGOs in Zimbabwe.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Director

    Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer

     

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