civil society

 

  • CIVICUS urges the Nicaraguan Government to make Civil Society its partner in development

    27 January 2009. Johannesburg, South Africa


    A fact-finding cum solidarity mission to Nicaragua undertaken by CIVICUS with the support of its members, the Coordinadora Civil (CC) and the Red Nicaraguense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local (RNDDL), has found evidence of pressure being applied by the authorities on independent civil society groups. Nevertheless, talks with officials have been positive raising hopes for better government-civil society relations.

    The mandate of the mission included: (i) expressing solidarity with civil society groups in Nicaragua who have had to contend with decreasing space to carry out their legitimate activities through 2008-2009 and, (ii) persuading the authorities to protect civil and political freedoms in the country, particularly the right to express democratic dissent.

    The mission members met with a number of civil society groups, including members of the women's movement who have had to face restrictions in recent times as well as parliamentarians and government officials. The mission noted the positive strides made by the government in providing health care and education resulting in an increase in the overall literacy rate.

    The mission observed that although government-civil society relations at the municipal level were often quite good, there were some outstanding issues in need of redress at the national level. Notably, the mission welcomed the willingness of parliamentarians and government officials to consider the concerns communicated to them by national civil society groups.

    The following are the major areas of concern:
    (a) launch of motivated prosecutions against activists expressing dissent against official policies, (b) ostracising and blacklisting of certain civil society groups particularly those working on accountability matters, (c) marginalisation of independent civil society groups through the creation of government organised NGOs (GONGOs) supported by federal funds, (d) blocking of access to information by official bodies, (e) harassment of independent media groups particularly radio and television outlets critical of official actions and, (f) de facto implementation of the draft law on international cooperation that places restrictions on support to local civil society organisations from international groups.

    "Our talks with key officials have been open and positive," feels Anabel Cruz, chair of CIVICUS' board who headed the mission. "We call upon the Government of Nicaragua to consider civil society as partners in national development and hope that the concerns will be addressed."

    CIVICUS urges the Government of Nicaragua to protect and safeguard the space for civil society in accordance with international, regional and constitutional commitments. A comprehensive report on the mission is being prepared and will be released shortly.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.

    For more information contact:
    Devendra Tak ( ), Communications Manager
    or Mandeep S.Tiwana ( ) and Adam Nord ( ) Civil Society Watch Programme, CIVICUS
    Ph +27- 11-8335959

    Click here for Spanish translation(requires pdf reader).

     

  • CIVICUS World Assembly Delegates Express Deep Disappointment at India's New Curbs on Civil Society

    6 September 2010. Over 70 eminent civil society activists from across the globe who attended the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal this August expressed deep disappointment at the enactment of India's regressive Foreign Contributions Regulations Act, 2010 (FCRA).

    Among other things, the Act allows for broad executive discretion to designate organisations as being of ‘political nature' and thereby prevent them from accessing funding from abroad, which could affect the independence of civil society groups critical of government policies. It also requires organisations to renew their permission to receive funding from abroad every five years which subjects them to additional bureaucratic red tape, and places an arbitrary cap of 50% on the administrative expenses of an organisation receiving foreign funding as a further sign of interference in the internal functioning of civil society organisations.

     

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

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

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

     

  • Civil society calls on the Israeli Government to release Ameer Makhoul

    CIVICUS joins civil society groups from around the world in demanding the immediate release of Ameer Makhoul, Director of Ittijah, an association of community-based Arab organisations based in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Ameer Makhoul, a prominent human rights activist and prisoner of conscience was arrested under questionable circumstances on 6 May 2010.

    Ameer Makhoul remains in prison despite the lack of evidence against him. During his latest appearance in the District Court in Haifa on 16 September, the cross examination of the policemen who arrested Ameer on 6 May revealed that during the Shabak (GSS) investigations, Ameer was denied sleep and access to the restroom for more than 24 hours. It was also revealed that there was no evidence on his computer and cell phone to prove he was involved in espionage or any conspiracy with a Hezbollah agent - charges levelled against him by the Israeli government.

    According to local sources, Ameer was detained incommunicado for six days following his arrest where he was given no explanation of the charges brought forth against him and was denied access to a lawyer during that time. Ameer is charged with violating "security" regulations, allegedly meeting and conspiring with an alleged Hezbollah agent while abroad who supposedly recruited him to engage in espionage against Israel. The Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has refused to reveal any evidence supporting the charges against Ameer.

    During all of his seven meetings with his lawyers in prison, Ameer was denied his constitutional right to consult with lawyers privately and confidentially. According to Provision 45 of the Prisons Ordinance, clients and lawyers should not be separated, conversations should not be recorded or listened in on and it should be possible for lawyers to exchange documents relevant to the legal proceedings of the case. However, during each of the consultations, communication was only allowed via telephone, separated by a glass screen, or with prison guards listening into the conversations.

    The following civil society organisations from around the world and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen consider Ameer as a prisoner of conscience, who has been arbitrarily arrested and detained for his lawful work with Ittijah, a civil society group which promotes the rights of Palestinian Arab civil society and advocates for political, economic and social change for Palestinians who are denied equal access to infrastructure and services. We call upon on the Israeli Government to respect its international human rights obligations by restoring to Ameer Makhoul his rights to freedom of expression, movement and proper due process of law. His next appearance in court will be October.

    This Public Statement has been endorsed/signed by the following:

    Karapatan, Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights - Philippines
    Association of NGOs of Aotearoa - New Zealand
    Development Services Exchange - Solomon Islands
    Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement - Egypt
    Cook Islands Association of NGOs - Cook Islands
    National Association of NGOs - Zimbabwe
    National Council for Voluntary Organisations - England
    NGO Coalition on Child Rights - Pakistan
    Nigerian Network of NGOs - Nigeria
    Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations - Scotland
    Sinergia, Venezuelan Association of Civil Society Organisations - Venezuela

     

  • Civil Society Meeting Calls for Solidarity, Radical Change to Deal with Global Crises

    By Amy Taylor

    Our strategies have failed us. We can no longer respond to the crises facing us in the same way. We have to be more radical, more creative — together — to build the future we want. This was one of the resounding messages to emerge from a key global gathering of more than 700 leading thinkers, influencers and doers from more than 100 countries in Suva, Fiji in early December.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe

    A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

     

  • Civil society resourcing: “Revolutions do not occur because of good project proposals”

    By  Ine Van Severen

    It’s undeniable: the space for civil society organisations (CSOs) and philanthropy is shrinking. According to new research by CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks trends in the conditions for civil society in countries around the world, 3.2 billion people live in countries where citizens’ freedoms of association, assembly or expression are restricted.

    Read on: Alliance Magazine 

     

  • Civil Society Support Mechanisms: A Directory

    The Civil Society Support Mechanisms: A Directory is a resource for civil society under threat. It lists mechanisms available to assist individuals and organisations based on their specific threat or based on their location. The database is divided into national, regional and global mechanisms and contains information on how to engage each mechanism as well as contact details for each.

    The directory was produced to provide information to the vast network of organisations and mechanisms that support human rights groups in general, and many that support civil society in particular. In order to strengthen and promote their work, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, journalists, activists and others rely on alliances between each other, the sharing of best practices and lessons learned, and constructive engagement with governments and intergovernmental institutions. These networks foster greater connections between ground-level issues and global-level processes, and amplify the voices of civil society in global decision making. This solidarity is especially critical for civil society when it is under threat or attack.

    Download the Directory

     

  • CM Feed Test 1

    Human rights defender Cyriaque Nibitegeka speaks to CIVICUS about Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and the implications for human rights and victims of human rights abuses. Nibitegeka is one of the leaders of civil society in Burundi. He is also a lawyer and member of the Burundi Bar. He was a professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Burundi before being dismissed for his human rights activities.

     

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  • Could the annulment of Kenya’s election set a precedent for African civil society?

    By David Kode

    The ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court strengthens the independence of the judiciary and places this institution as a key player and arbiter in future elections and on issues that affect peace and security in Kenya. Future rulings on elections – either in favour of or against a political party or coalition – can be received as the final outcome and prevent conflict.

    Source:Pambazuka

     

  • COVID-19: ‘This is not just a health crisis but also a justice crisis’

    CIVICUS speaks to Abigail Moy, Director of the Legal Empowerment Network, the largest community of grassroots justice defenders in the world. Convened by the international civil society organisation (CSO) Namati, the Network brings together 2,343 organisations and 8,761 individuals from over 160 countries, all working to advance justice for all people. Around three years ago it launched Justice for All, a campaign to increase financing and protection for justice grassroots defenders worldwide.

    Abigail Moy

    What kind of work does the Legal Empowerment Network do?

    The Legal Empowerment Network is a global and multidisciplinary network that convenes grassroots justice defenders worldwide. We are more than 2,000 grassroots organisations from approximately 160 countries around the world. Everyone in the Network is united by a dedication to helping communities to understand, use and shape the law. So whether they are working in environmental justice, women’s rights, health, education, or in any other sector, these justice defenders help communities to understand how policies, the law and governmental behaviour affect them and how they can be empowered to engage in these processes, use them and when necessary reform them to create a more just society.

    Our work is based on three key pillars. The first is learning: we are a learning hub where grassroots organisations exchange experiences and learn from each other about their methods and the impact of their legal empowerment work. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, every year we designed and executed learning events that helped members explore practical solutions to justice problems. These offerings included an annual leadership course, in-person learning exchanges, online webinars and e-learning opportunities that we are further developing during the pandemic.

    Our second pillar is advocacy and collective action. We work with our members to transform the policy environment to address injustices and promote legal empowerment at the national, regional and global levels. We often mobilise around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means of addressing justice needs on the ground. Two of our central calls for advocacy and collective action include increasing financing and protection for justice defenders at all levels. These two priorities affect our members no matter what country are they in, and as such, financing and protection are the focus of our Justice for All campaign.

    The third pillar is community building. We seek to build a stronger community amongst grassroots justice defenders so they can support and learn from each other. We aim to develop a stronger leadership core for the movement and find ways for people to improve their work by connecting, developing their thinking and working collaboratively.

    All three pillars – learning, advocacy and community – feed into our ultimate vision, which is to cultivate a global movement for legal empowerment that mobilises millions of people to tackle collectively the greatest injustices of our time.

    What is the role of Namati in relation with the Legal Empowerment Network?

    Namati is the organisation that convenes the Network. It functions as its secretariat in many ways. We think of ourselves as an active member of the Network that happens to take care of aspects such as finances, coordination and maintaining infrastructure. We work with the Network Guidance Committee, a council of network members, to decide on the priorities and strategies of the Network and to organise learning and advocacy opportunities. Every year we survey Network members on what they want to do, and this information serves as a guidepost for planning. As a Network member, Namati feeds into this process, but we are one voice among many.

    Namati also has country programmes. While members of the Network take on a wide range of justice challenges around the world, Namati works in close partnership with some of these members to take on three urgent issues – land and environmental justice, health justice and citizenship justice – in six countries: India, Kenya, Mozambique, Myanmar, Sierra Leone and the USA.

    Can you tell us more about the Justice for All campaign?

    We launched the Justice for All campaign almost three years ago. Our prior campaign, called Justice 2015, was a call to integrate justice in the SDGs. We succeeded, but after the SDGs were adopted there was nobody focusing on making good on the commitment in Goal 16 to ensure equal access to justice for all. In response, we launched the Justice for All campaign, which focuses on the fact that funding and protection for justice defenders are necessary foundations to meet Goal 16, and indeed any of the goals, and that legal empowerment must be supported.

    Network members promote the Justice for All campaign in different ways in their countries and regions and at the global level. Some members have hosted meetings with their governments, other members of civil society and other stakeholders to discuss these issues and try to find policy solutions to increase funding and protection for grassroots justice defenders. Other members have focused on the global arena, approaching global donors and attending global events such as the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on the SDGs. Yet other members have focused on their respective regions, looking at regional bodies or agreements that they can influence.

    As a Network member with strong global connections, Namati connects member experiences at the national level to the global level. We have done a lot to highlight grassroots experiences in our advocacy at the HLPF, the UN General Assembly and other high-level conferences and events, and have worked with major donors around the world to recognise the value of legal empowerment and the need for funding.

    Have you needed to make any changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

    During the pandemic, the Legal Empowerment Network pivoted to respond directly and comprehensively to the crisis-driven needs of its members. To understand what their most urgent needs were, we administered a survey. We asked Network members how the pandemic was affecting them, how they were adapting, what kind of resources they needed to remain effective, what types of policy interventions were necessary to ensure a just response, and how we could help them.

    Regarding the challenges faced by Network members, we classified survey responses into four categories: remote work challenges, financial challenges, logistics and mobility challenges, and safety, security and health challenges. Remote work turned out to be a huge problem for Network members, as did finances, due to both increased expenses and reduced revenues.

    In response to the survey, we put together resources adjusted to their needs. First, we set up an online hub that offers multilingual resources to help legal empowerment groups understand the pandemic, get truthful and reliable information and identify ways to mitigate harm. We put together a brief that answers common questions about COVID-19, with useful advice on how grassroots justice organisations can prepare and protect themselves. We tailored this information to address challenges faced by specific subsets of Network members, such as those living or working in crowded areas. The information was sourced from key public health authorities such as the World Health Organization and compiled by public health experts.

    Second, we published a policy brief, ‘Grassroots Justice in a Pandemic: Ensuring a Just Response and Recovery’, that makes recommendations to policy makers, donors and multilateral institutions on how to fund and protect grassroots justice defenders during and after the pandemic. We shared it widely with stakeholders such as governmental and philanthropic donors.

    Third, we facilitated a number of conversations among grassroots practitioners, examining legal empowerment work during the pandemic, via a series of conference calls and webinars. These have been taking place over the past few months. Hundreds of members participated in these conversations. The ensuing thematic and regional conversations served as venues for discussion on best practices and learning around how members are adapting their efforts, tracking and responding to human rights violations arising from the crisis, and accessing financial support and other needed resources. In these conversations, we also explored what we can do together to help each other move forward. We compiled best practices of remote working and are preparing more materials on resources, services and techniques that can be used for working during the pandemic.

    We realised that in a crisis such as this you can’t do business as usual, so we got rid of our annual plan and started from scratch to do what we needed to do.

    What has the Justice for All campaign achieved so far?

    The campaign has helped to weave a common narrative that highlights grassroots perspectives at high-level global events, encourages dialogue and public understanding, and urges action on the two key themes of financing and protection for grassroots justice defenders.

    At the national level, it has helped people articulate their needs and translate them into longer-term advocacy efforts. Network members said that the campaign’s policy brief was incredibly useful in their discussions with their national governments about why there should be local funding for community paralegal groups.

    At the global level, we have shifted ongoing dialogue and norms. Before, there had never been any talk about what was needed to advance access to justice and achieve Goal 16; there was no acknowledgement that justice services required funding and that the people doing the work needed to be safe. Right now, these issues are being taken up and addressed at a high level, and have been integrated into reports and major agendas. So we feel that we have influenced the international dialogue around justice defenders, and while there is more work to be done, that in itself is a victory.

    In the financial front, the Justice For All campaign has influenced donors to commit new resources to access to justice and legal empowerment. During the pandemic, the campaign adjusted its focus and established a COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund, and successfully rallied a number of donors to make contributions. This was in response to our members’ desperate need of funding when the pandemic hit. We realised that the funding that they needed wasn’t massive; a lot could be done with just a small injection of money, for instance in the form of one-time grants of a few thousand dollars. Relatively modest funds could make a difference and help address urgent justice issues that are entwined with the pandemic. We launched this fund in July with the aim of raising US$1 million, and we think we are going to get there. We have received a lot of support, we have already accepted the first applications, and the money should be distributed within the next month. These are small requests, of between US$3,000 and US$20,000, for grassroots justice groups to cover supplies, training, salaries and anything else needed to keep them afloat. The idea behind the fund is that the pandemic is not just a health issue; it is also a justice issue and we need to sustain the defenders that are helping communities to face the justice crisis.

    What kind of support from international civil society would you need to be able to continue your work?

    Our survey asked our members exactly that question, and 58 per cent answered that they needed technological support. The nature of legal empowerment work is very much a trust-building exercise that usually calls for face-to-face interaction. Most of the grassroots groups we work with are used to going out to talk to with community members, convening face-to-face community meetings and educating people. They are not used to working remotely. They are not familiar with working with apps and they don’t have enough devices to do so. Additionally, 67 per cent responded that they need capacity-building support. This support is needed both to adapt to technology and to reimagine ways to do their work remotely or while social distancing. Last but not least, 88 per cent responded that what they need from international civil society is financial support. And they made it clear that it is not just about more funding now, but rather about more sustainable and more reliable funding going forward.

    Get in touch with the Legal Empowerment Network through Namati’swebsite orFacebook page, and follow@GlobalNamati on Twitter.

     

  • COVID-19: ‘We need a new social contract founded on rights and the principle of shared prosperity’

    Owen Tudor

    CIVICUS speaks about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency measures on labour rights, and the civil society response, with Owen Tudor, Deputy General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Recognised as the global voice of the world’s working people, the ITUC works to promote and defend workers’ rights and interests through international cooperation among trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within major global institutions. The ITUC adheres to the principles of trade union democracy and independence and encompasses three regional organisations in Africa, the Americas and Asia and the Pacific, while also cooperating with the European Trade Union Confederation.

    What have been the major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on labour rights?

    The ITUC surveyed its national trade union affiliates regularly in the first few months of the pandemic, and we quickly identified that, while many countries were seeing positive engagement between governments and unions, others weren’t. In many countries, like those in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, and often building on existing forms of social dialogue, governments, employers and unions worked together to develop measures to tackle the pandemic and its effects on workplaces. That also happened in some countries where such cooperation has been less common, such as Argentina, Georgia, Nigeria and the UK. At a global level, the International Labour Organization (ILO) stressed the importance of social dialogue as one of its four pillars for action on the pandemic, alongside stimulating the economy and employment, supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes, and protecting workers in the workplace.

    But in some countries, rogue employers and neoliberal governments thought they could use the pandemic to restrict workers’ and unions’ rights, such as limits on working time, or security of employment. In countries such as Croatia and Lithuania, we campaigned in support of our affiliates to push back against those changes, but we weren’t successful everywhere. In India, for example, state governments implemented a widespread deregulation of employment protections.

    Has this led to any changes in union organising?

    In far too many countries, jobs have been lost and unemployment has soared. That has an inevitable impact on union organising. But in several countries, including those that have seen membership reductions in the recent past and those where membership is already strong, the key role played by unions in defending employment and wages and campaigning for decent health and safety at work has led to membership gains. Bluntly, working people have seen more clearly the importance of union membership to protect them against management inadequacies and violations of their most fundamental rights.

    In some cases, the pandemic has accelerated the experience of virtual organising – over Zoom or other internet platforms. And that technology has in some cases led union organisers to change their point of view, from explaining the benefits of membership to listening to what potential members want. Again, this just accelerated a trend, from offering people a model that solves their problems to letting workers define what works for them. As one Australian union leader put it, “finally we started contacting our members the way they wanted to be contacted.”

    How have unions worked to defend rights and help their members and communities during the pandemic?

    The daily work of unions intensified with the pandemic. Unions represented workers threatened with being laid off, pushed for adequate severance pay, sought expanded access to social protection and raised the concerns of women workers who faced even greater discrimination and of migrant workers denied equal access and equal treatment. In many cases unions won breakthroughs previously not thought possible, and we now need to defend those gains for the long term.

    Unions have been actively involved with international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organisation (WHO), with national governments on every continent and with employers from the workplace to the multinational boardroom to ensure that workers and their jobs are protected. From negotiating national short-term working schemes in Germany, to ensuring contracts are honoured in the global garment industry, and arranging sectoral policies for the safe return to the workplace in Belgium, unions have been busting a gut to ensure workers’ interests were recognised. Sadly, whenever we hear about community transmission of COVID-19, it’s often a workplace that people are talking about, such as in hospitality, healthcare or meat processing plants. Unions have been emphasising the need for occupational health to be as important as public health, including the provision of personal protective equipment as well as access to paid sick leave.

    Unions have also been negotiating fiercely with employers to stop redundancies, which have taken place, disgracefully, even in companies that were bailed out with taxpayers’ money. In some countries, employers have been prevented by law from laying workers off. We have negotiated arrangements for homeworking, which is becoming more common than ever, even after the pandemic has subsided. A new teleworking law in Argentina was negotiated with unions, providing innovations like workers deciding if they want to revert to working in their workplaces.

    What has the pandemic told us about underlying economic and labour problems and the changes that need to happen?

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, massive inequality – including income disparities, racial injustice and gender discrimination – was already driving an age of anger, characterised by civil unrest and distrust in democracy. Along with the destruction resulting from extreme weather events due to climate change, the risks to economies and societies were already clear. Added to that, we face the choices associated with the best and worst impacts of technology, devoid of a rights base.

    The pandemic has highlighted the cracks that were already present in the social contract. Inadequate healthcare provision made the early weeks of the pandemic particularly worrying, with fears that hospitals would be overrun. Similar funding gaps in care for older people and appalling employment arrangements required workers to shuttle between residential facilities, unable to take sick leave when they showed symptoms. Insecure employment and inadequate social protection forced many to keep working while infectious to put food on their families’ plates. The failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment was just the most visible sign of occupational health and safety shortcomings.

    For the economy as a whole, the ILO’s dire predictions for hundreds of millions of job losses among the formal labour force were dwarfed by the number of informal sector workers whose livelihoods were wrecked. In each of these areas of systemic failure, it was women whose jobs were most vulnerable and whose health was least protected, with lockdowns forcing many into additional unpaid childcare and some into the trap of violence and abuse.

    We need to build back better, including a new social contract for recovery and resilience that provides job protection and a universal labour guarantee whether you’re a full-time employee at Amazon or a precarious Uber driver. Occupational safety and health must become a fundamental right at work, like freedom from slavery or the right to strike. We need adequately funded, quality public healthcare, education and water, as part of universal social protection. And we need to regulate economic power, with the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, minimum living wages and mandated due diligence in supply chains for human rights and environmental standards.

    Unions and the millions of members we represent can help deliver all these through collective bargaining with employers, social dialogue with governments and engagement in international and multilateral institutions.

    What do governments and businesses need to do to work better with unions, and what role can the international community play?

    Governments and businesses need to recognise the vital role that unions play in representing working people – not just at elections, or when pay deals are negotiated, but all year round, and in every corner of the economy. They need to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms that unions need to operate, including the freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike. When they make decisions that affect millions – if not hundreds of millions – of people, they need to abide by the slogan of ‘nothing about us, without us’ – and that means working positively with unions.

    At the same time, we face a crisis of multilateralism, often driven by nationalist, populist politicians but in part the result of the collapse in public trust for globalisation driven by the rapacious profit-seeking behaviour of global multinational corporations and powerful technology companies.

    The world is facing a convergence of crises, yet global institutions established to underpin and reinforce rights, equality, inclusive growth and global stability are at their most fractured. They need to be reinforced and refocused on responding to the needs of people and the planet.

    The WHO has proved itself a necessity in the global response to COVID-19, but even so, science must be the basis of managing health risks and ensuring universal access to treatment, without political compromise.

    The World Trade Organisation presides over a global model of trade that has failed both people and their environment. And Bretton Woods institutions have strayed far from their mandates by promoting neoliberal structural reform and austerity, the interests of dominant countries and corporate greed. This must change.

    The ILO, with its unique tripartite system, is as necessary today as it was when it gave birth to the social contract based on a mandate of social justice. Its constituents need to be as committed to ensuring a global floor of rights and shared prosperity as its founders were 100 years ago in 1919, and as was reaffirmed in the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944.

    Working with our allies in broader civil society, unions want to construct a new social contract founded on those principles. If we can do that, we can create a better economy, a better society and a better world.

    Get in touch with the International Trade Union Confederation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@ituc and@Owen4ituc on Twitter.

     

  • CSO's Letter to the African Union Commission about the State of Human Rights in Egypt

    by H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat 

    We write to you in your capacity as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the secretariat of the continental organisation responsible for driving the political agenda and development of the people of Africa. As Chairperson of the AU Commission, we are assured of your mandate to promote the objectives of the AU. The undersigned organisations work to advance human rights in Africa and write to express deep concerns about the situation of human rights in the Republic of Egypt. In particular, this letter highlights some systematic violations of human rights in Egypt. While we acknowledge that you may well be aware of certain issues raised in this letter, we bring them to light due to the appalling situation and gravity of the violations.

    Beyond hosting the Africa CUP of Nations (21 June- 19 July) which brought a lot of excitement to the people of Africa, human rights in Egypt face serious threats. Our concerns span from interference with the system of administration justice, enforced disappearances, attacks against human rights defenders and attacks against the independent media. Moreover, we are concerned about the use of systematic torture, lengthy pre-trial detention, the shrinking civic space and other related violations as detailed below.

    Interference with the system of administration of justice and violation of fair trial rights

    In April 2019, the Constitution of Egypt was amended to give the executive branch excessive powers to control the judiciary. Thus, in the amended constitutional articles 185, 189 and 193 the president has powers to appoint the head of judicial bodies including the chief of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the Public Prosecutor. Moreover, in article 200 the executive, and particularly the military, is attributed powers to “protect the constitution and democracy, and safeguard (…) individual rights and freedom”. Categorically, these amendments violate the notion of separation of power known for ensuring checks and balance between the arms of the government. Unless a proper system of checks is put into place, there are huge risks that, working under the military, the judicial arm of the government will not play its role effectively as it ought to do.

    The death of Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi on Monday 17 June 2019, is yet another shocking event that exposes Egypt’s violation of fair trial rights. Morsi died in a defendant courtroom while attending a session in his trial on espionage charges.[1] Reports say that his death could be linked to negligence by Egyptian authorities to provide him with adequate medical treatment for diabetes, liver and kidney malfunction.[2]  

    Enforced disappearances, mass arrest and attacks against activists

    Security forces have used enforced disappearances to instil fear among the population in the country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 1,530 cases of enforced disappearances in Egypt between July 2013 and August 2018. We are particularly concerned that enforced disappearances and mass arrests were used against rights activists and political opponents of President El-Sisi. This has occurred in an attempt to wipe out opposition in the country. The victims of such arrests include political activists such as rights defender Wael Abbas (now released); Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, a surgeon; Haitham Mohamadeen, a lawyer; Amal Fathy; and Shady Abu Zaid, a satirist.[3] Other persons affected include Hoda Abdelmonem, a 60-year-old lawyer and rights defender and Alaa Abdel Fattah (also released, recently). As of 1 November 2018, Ezzat Ghonim, Executive Director of an organisation called Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), was reported missing for several months.[4]

    Attacks against the media

    The 2018 law regulating the media provides overly broad powers to the Council of the Media to block websites, shut down television channels and other publishing forums without a judicial order to that effect. The law also places personal media accounts under the supervision of the Media Council. It means that one can be arrested for publishing fake news on their personal account, even if the publication was done as satire. The situation is exacerbated in a context where media experts such as journalists are detained. To mention a few, Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan) a photo-journalist was jailed for 5 years, Abdullah Elshamy, also a journalist was sentenced to 15 years in absentia simply for conducting his work, he also undertook a hunger strike in prison. Not so long ago, Hisham Gaafar, a journalist and human rights defender, and Director of an NGO that focuses on media studies was also detained. Gaafar was held for 3 years and only released in April 2019. We submit that the clampdown on media has negatively affected the enjoyment of the rights of freedom of expression and access to information. It is our view that if these rights are to flourish in Egypt, the authorities must seek to improve the country’s human rights record by allowing media freedom and by implication the right to access to information. The Egyptian authorities should also refrain from attacking media professionals.

    Torture

    The 2017 Committee against Torture report on Egypt noted that the practice of torture is “habitual, widespread and deliberate” in Egypt. It adds that torture appears to occur frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters. Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, national security officers and prison guards. Prosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate this ill practice by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment, or to act on complaints.[5]

    Pre-trial detention

    Egypt’s Criminal Procedural Code[6] entrenches provisions that have overly vague grounds for pre-trial detention. This has led to lengthy detention of journalists and political activists who have been bold enough to criticize the system of governance in the country. Case in point includes the prolonged detention of Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Hussein Gomaa Ali, who was arrested for more than two years without charges. It is suspected that Mahmoud’s punitive pre-trial detention is a message from the government of Egypt to journalists who dare to speak openly against the ruling authorities.

    Closing civic space

    The 64th Ordinary Session of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, was marred with daunting reports about restriction of civic space. Many delegates of civil society organisations operating in the continent faced serious difficulties obtaining entry visas. Participants from Ghana, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania were unable to obtain visas to attend the session. Indirect restrictions further included exorbitant fees for hosting side events led by civil society actors and the intentional miscommunication on logistics for events. Registration for the session proved difficult and some participants reported what appeared to be intrusive harassment by security agents. The above scene leads one to think about the challenges faced by rights groups based in Egypt.

    Your Excellency, in 1984, Egypt ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), an instrument that compels member states to respect, protect and fulfil all the human rights recognized in the Charter. Moreover, Egypt is a member state and current chair of the AU and expected to lead as a human rights champion in upholding the human rights principles set out in AU’s Constitutive Act. Your Excellency, the on-going violations of human rights in Egypt are not in keeping with the country’s obligations and domestic laws, including the constitution and major international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Egypt. It also violates objectives 3(g) and (h) of the Constitutive Act of the AU which enjoins AU member States to promote popular participation and human and people’s rights, respectively. Recalling the role of the AU as the lead regional institution tasked to better the lives of the people of Africa, and particular the Egyptian citizens, we respectfully ask you to take measures to ensure that the government of Egypt restores respect for the rule of law, ensures ample protection of human rights and aligns its practice to ratified international and regional human rights standards including the Constitutive Act of the AU and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. We respectfully ask you to consider including the situation of human rights in Egypt as a point for discussion in the agenda of the next Summit of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU with recommendations for the Summit to deliberate on asking the government of Egypt to:

    1. Take steps to ensure full compliance with international and regional human rights standards;
    2. Respect separation of power by refraining from interfering with the system of administration of justice;
    3. Halt enforced disappearances, investigate and punish perpetrators of enforced disappearance;
    4. Investigate and punish perpetrators and stop attacks against political opponents, peaceful protesters and journalists;
    5. Respect the right to access to information and freedom of the media. In particular, lift the ban against independent press and media;
    6. Investigate and take actions to punish perpetrators of torture and ensure assistance and reparations to the victims;
    7. Address lengthy pre-trial detention and release all detainees who are being held in pre-trial detention without proper charges. and
    8. Promote a culture of dialogue and participation and comply with internationally and regionally recognised standards on the rule of law and civic space.

    In addition, we request you to recommend the AU to:

    1. Ask Egypt to report on measures and progress achieved in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

    Signed by

    1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS);
    2. Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CREAA);
    3. Freedom Initiative;
    4. Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa;
    5. International-Lawyers.org;
    6. MENA Rights Group;
    7. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network;
    8. Southern African Christian Initiative (SACHI);
    9. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN);
    10. West African Human Rights Defenders; and

     

    [1] The Wall Street Journal at https://www.wsj.com/articles/egypt-s-ousted-islamist-president-mohammed-morsi-has-died-11560789900.

    [2] Middle East Monitor report available at https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180331-morsis-health-has-deteriorated-severely/amp/.

    [3] Human Rights Watch Report - 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/egypt#f95966.

    [4] See details at https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egyptian-security-forces-arrest-19-rights-activists-and-lawyers.

    [5] Para. 69 of the UN Committee against Torture report on Egypt, available at file:///C:/Users/mandlate/Downloads/G1717367.pdf (Doc A/72/44).

    [6] The UN Working group on Arbitrary Detentions (WGAD) criticized Egypt severely for having vague laws on pre-trial detention. For further details see https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions/Session80/A_HRC_WGAD_2017_83.pdf.

     

  • Danny Sriskandarajah: Is it the beginning of the end for the charity sector?

    UK's largest network of civil society leaders, ACEVO, spoke to Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS, as part of its 30th birthday celebrations to get him to expand on his article for Civil Society Futures, where he asks if it is the beginning of the end for the charity sector. 

    Read on: 30thingstothinkabout.org

     

  • Democracy campaigner: governments are scared of the participation revolution

    Closing space for civil society is undermining the ability of citizens to organise and mobilise. In an interview with Guardian Global development professionals network, CIVICUS Secretary General Danny Sriskandarajah, speaks about the restrictions to civic space around the world. 

    Read on:The Guardian 

     

  • DIGITAL DIVIDE: ‘The uncritical adoption of technology is particularly risky in humanitarian crises’

    CIVICUS speaks to Barnaby Willitts-King, Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Established in 1960 and currently working in 50 countries around the world, ODI is a global non-partisan, non-profit and evidence-driven think tank. Barnaby’s latest research with ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) focuses on the effects of the adoption of information and communications technologies in the humanitarian sector.

    BarnabyWillitts King DIGITAL

    Which would you say have been the biggest humanitarian crises of 2019, and how effective and efficient has the humanitarian response been?

    The crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Yemen have affected the most people in 2019 and look set to continue through 2020. In the majority of these crises, and the many more affecting over 160 million people, there are major funding challenges and problems of access to people in need due to conflict. Despite these challenges, international humanitarian assistance from the United Nations (UN), the Red Cross movement and civil society organisations (CSOs) supported 64 per cent of those it was aiming to reach in 2019 and is reaching more people than ever before.

    However, huge challenges remain to reforming the international system of humanitarian action to make it more effective, efficient and appropriate, while confronting the largely political blockages to solving the underlying causes of such crises. The space for neutral humanitarian action remains under pressure from increasingly polarised geopolitics and a retreat from multilateralism.

    Concerns about national security, migration and terrorism have led donors belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) to introduce laws and policies that have had significant knock-on consequences for the ability of CSOs to support people in crisis. Such was the case with UK legislation, subsequently amended, which would have criminalised aid workers in some conflict zones.

    What have you learned from your research about resource flows to countries affected by humanitarian crises?

    There is a mismatch between the global picture of humanitarian response and funding flows from major DAC donors, and what is visible in countries and communities affected by crisis. The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit launched the Grand Bargain initiative, an agreement between donors and agencies that included a commitment to increase the flow of resources to local and national humanitarian actors. However, the flow of resources to such local actors still remains far below the 25 per cent target , as seen for instance in evidence from Somalia and South Sudan.

    Beyond resource flows to local organisations and administrations, HPG’s recent research based on field studies in Iraq, Nepal and Uganda on the resources that households use to cope with crisis has revealed the narrow way in which humanitarian agencies have been looking at resource flows.

    This shows that the international community undervalues the role of locally led response, which starts in affected communities, and the resources they mobilise and make use of, including community support mechanisms, remittances from the diaspora, government and private sector funding and faith-based giving. These funds and other resources are not easily measured or tracked and are not sufficiently understood by local and international humanitarian actors.

    Globally, this study estimated that international humanitarian assistance comprises as little as one per cent of the total resource flows to countries affected by humanitarian crises. Remittances are one clear example of a major resource flow that is potentially significant in crises but insufficiently understood or factored in; others include faith-based flows and local community resources.

    What should the international community do to put the affected countries and local communities at the centre of the planning and funding of responses?

    There are many things that the humanitarian community needs to do in order to achieve this reorientation of international humanitarian assistance. First, it should focus on the household perspective in resource analysis and tracking by investing in household economy, market and political economy analysis. Second, it should design programming specifically for each crisis. Third, it should use aid smartly to focus on gaps and catalyse the right kind of investments and flows – for example, through supporting entrepreneurship or facilitating remittances. Fourth, it should develop better humanitarian needs assessments that incorporate livelihoods and political analysis and involve government. Fifth, it should strengthen data literacy and data. Sixth, it should build a community of practice on tracking the wide range of resources in crises, from private flows to humanitarian, peace and development funding.

    This shift in perspective is critical to better reflect local agency and a more diverse set of resources that people in crisis rely on. Aid should be used not just to respond to gaps in need but to catalyse better and more effective use of flows beyond aid, which may be the best way to ‘localise’ the response.

     Your latest research focuses on the effects of the rapid adoption of digital technologies in the humanitarian sector. What problems has technology helped to solve, and what new challenges has it created?

    Digital approaches are certainly transforming humanitarian action in a number of ways, and there are examples of them making aid more effective, efficient and transparent: for instance, in collecting and analysing data, such as using drones to map disaster sites, volunteer ‘crowdmappers’ to process the data and machine learning to analyse large and complex datasets to improve targeting. Humanitarian programming can be streamlined through the seamless and secure transfer of digital payments to recipients or by using biometric verification of aid recipients for efficiency and security. Technology also connects and gives agency to affected people – for example through apps enabling them to contact first responders directly, or for aid recipients to give feedback to aid agencies and for volunteer networks to fundraise on social media with crowdfunders.

    However, there are increasing concerns about the dominance of technology in development and humanitarian assistance, and the risks such technologies can present in situations of armed conflict. The uncritical adoption of the latest technology fad is increasingly seen as particularly risky in humanitarian crises where more traditional methods of aid distribution may still make more sense. The vulnerability of people’s data when it is being generated in ever greater quantities is of paramount concern where people are in situations of conflict, with risks they could be targeted by hostile governments.

    Do you think that the use of technology has led to more inclusive and participatory processes? If not, what should be done so that technology lives up to its full potential?

    Inclusion is an important goal for the humanitarian sector, but it has proved difficult to achieve in practice, as we explore in our research. The careful adaptation of existing tools has indeed been used to increase coverage and inclusion – for instance by enabling participatory mapping of communities by residents of informal settlements, training drone pilots pilots in affected countries and using messaging applications to disseminate to displaced people. However, these benefits are still too often assumed as a natural consequence of adopting technology-based approaches. In reality, differences in the access to and the use of technology, often along gender, income or racial lines, constitute a ‘digital divide’. This means that the benefits of these approaches are not evenly distributed and leave many excluded.

    Inclusion is also limited by in-built biases in many applied technologies – for instance facial recognition software, whose ‘coded gaze’ has not been taught to recognise diverse datasets of faces, or automated mapping technologies that lack the contextual understanding to recognise houses in disaster-affected areas.

    The uncritical adoption of technologies in crises may reinforce the ingrained power dynamics of the sector or violate humanitarian principles, either through a shift to digital registration that unintentionally excludes those most in need, or humanitarian independence being compromised through partnerships with the private sector, including the surveillance and security industry.

    Instead, these new tools will require active correction and contextual knowledge to be adapted to particular humanitarian crises, in order to include and protect the people humanitarian assistance is intended to serve. In some cases, tools such as biometric registration or mapping of improvised settlements may not be appropriate, with poor data protection practices presenting unacceptable risks to populations made vulnerable by persecution, conflict, or displacement.

    Get in touch with ODI through its website and Facebook page, or follow @hpg_odion Twitter.