civil society

 

  • DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: ‘The times ahead may bring positive change’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent elections in the Dominican Republic, held in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Hamilk Chahin, coordinator of the Citizen Manifesto for Electoral Transparency, and Addys Then Marte, executive director of Alianza ONG. The Citizen Manifesto, a civil society-led multi-stakeholder initiative, was launched in December 2019 to monitor the 2020 municipal, legislative and presidential elections and foster the consolidation of democratic institutions. Alianza ONG is a network that encompasses 40 Dominican civil society organisations (CSOs). Founded in 1995, it is dedicated to promoting sustainable development through initiatives to strengthen civil society, intersectoral dialogue, training and dissemination of information, political advocacy and the promotion of solidarity and volunteering.

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral landscape was quite complex. What was the situation as of March 2020?

    DominicanRepublic FlagIn recent years, the ruling party, the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), accumulated a lot of power in all state institutions, affecting the quality of democracy. The PLD was re-elected for several terms and political elites settled into their positions and got used to exercising power for their own benefit and to the detriment of the interests of the community. Little by little and inadvertently, society also accepted this situation. In this sense, the exceptionally efficient handling of communication mechanisms by successive governments helped a lot. In addition to good international alliances and good luck in managing the economy, advertising and propaganda structures made the perpetuation of the government easy.

    Fortunately, in every society there is a seed that is practically impossible to uproot: that of civil society. At times it may lay dormant or in hibernation, but at some point something happens that causes it to get moving. In our case, it was the extreme confidence of our rulers in having their power assured, which led them to increasingly blatant practices, to the point that the citizenry, which for the most part had long tolerated them, at one point said ‘enough’ and went into a state of effervescence. The first important manifestation of this change was the Green March Movement, which began in January 2017.

    Born out of popular outrage over the Odebrecht scandal, which involved senior officials from three successive Dominican governments, the Green March Movement encompassed a broad spectrum of CSOs and focused on street mobilisation. It all started with a modest protest walk that we organised through a CSO called Foro Ciudadano (Citizen Forum), which kicked off a great mobilisation phenomenon whose main achievement was to end citizen indifference, to force the middle class out of its comfort zone, in which people expressed criticism without taking action. Opposition parties began to ride on these dynamics. Given that it thought it controlled all power resources, the government initially paid little attention. But the phenomenon far exceeded marching: signatures were collected, community meetings were held, various forms of mobilisation were promoted. It was a state of awakening driven by dignity. Citizens lost their fear of speaking up and this puzzled the government.

    How did the 2020 electoral process begin, and how did Citizen Manifesto form?

    The beginning of the electoral process was also the beginning of the end of the incumbent government. In October 2019, parties held their primary elections; they were the first primaries to be carried out under new electoral and political party legislation and were managed by the Central Electoral Board (JCE). While the PLD opted for open primaries, allowing the participation of all eligible voters, the main opposition party, the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), held closed primaries, allowing the participation of its members only. The candidacy of Luis Abinader, who would eventually be elected president, emerged clearly from the PRM primaries. In comparison, as a result of the PLD primaries, Gonzalo Castillo became the official candidate only by a small difference over three-time president Leonel Fernández.

    The primary elections of the ruling party were much more than a candidate selection process: what was at stake in them was the power of the president, Danilo Medina. In office since 2012, Medina had been re-elected in 2016, and had made some unsuccessful attempts to reform the constitution to be re-elected again. Leonel Fernández, as party president, had opposed these manoeuvres, so Medina did not endorse him when he decided to run in the primaries. It became apparent that the government resorted to state resources to support Medina’s designated heir; as a result, the PLD underwent division and Fernández joined the opposition. The primaries were highly contested and there was a lot of manipulation. They left a bitter taste among the citizenry: faced with the possibility that fraud had been used to thwart a primary election, many wondered what would become of the national election.

    It was then that many CSOs began to think about what to do: we connected with each other and with political actors, we shared information and our assessments of the situation. We decided to express our concern and demand fixes from the institutions and entities responsible for organising the elections, starting with the JCE and also the Superior Electoral Tribunal and the Attorney General's Office, which are responsible for prosecuting crimes and irregularities. This is how the Citizen Manifesto initiative began to form. It included actors from the business, religious, labour, union and peasant sectors. We campaigned to draw the attention of society to the need to defend and monitor the process of democratic institutionalisation ahead of the elections. And above all, we advocated with political figures. We met with party representatives, and as a result the Citizen Manifesto had the support of all sectors. This turned us into direct interlocutors of the JCE.

    When were the elections originally scheduled?

    The electoral cycle included a series of elections: municipal elections, scheduled for February, and national elections, both presidential and legislative, initially scheduled for May. In the municipal elections, a new dual voting system was used for the first time, which consisted of a fully electronic voting system for urban areas with a higher population density and a manual system for rural areas. As a consequence of the Citizen Manifesto’s requests to bring some guarantees and certainty to the process, the electronic voting system also had a manual component in the stage at which the ballots were counted; we also successfully demanded that the vote counting process be recorded and a fingerprint and QR code capture system be introduced.

    Although security measures were strengthened, there were serious problems with the implementation of the new software. On 16 February, several hours after the vote had started, the JCE discovered that there was a problem with around 60 per cent of the electronic voting machines and decided to suspend the municipal election across the country.

    This caused a crisis of confidence, and thousands of people took to the streets in almost daily protests. On 17 February, a demonstration outside the JCE headquarters demanded the resignation of all JCE members. Discontent also affected the government, as many protesters believed that it had tried to take advantage of machines not working properly. On 27 February, Independence Day, a massive demonstration was held to demand the investigation of what happened and urge greater transparency in the electoral process. The Dominican diaspora in several countries around the world organised solidarity demonstrations in support of democracy in their country.

    Municipal elections were rescheduled and held on 16 March, and the electronic voting was not used. By then the COVID-19 pandemic had already begun but suspending the election a second time was not an option. That is why the Dominican Republic declared its state of emergency quite late: the government waited for the elections to take place and three days later it passed a state of emergency and introduced a curfew.

    In April, as the situation continued, the electoral body decided to postpone the national elections until 5 July, after consulting with political parties and civil society. There was not much margin for manoeuvre because sufficient time was needed for the eventuality of a run-off election, which would have needed to take place before 16 August, when the new government should be inaugurated. Of course, there was talk of the possibility of a constitutional amendment to postpone inauguration day, and civil society had to step in to deactivate these plans and help put together an electoral process that included all necessary sanitary measures. Fortunately, the media provided the space that CSOs needed for this; we had a good communications platform.

    As elections took place during the pandemic, what measures were taken to limit contagion risks?

    As civil society we tried to force the introduction of adequate sanitary measures. We urged the JCE to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Organization of American States to convey the certainty that the necessary measures would be taken and the elections would take place. It was a titanic effort, because we have not yet had an effective prevention and rapid testing policy in the Dominican Republic; however, it turned out to be possible to impose sanitary protocols, including disinfection and sanitation, the distribution of protective materials and physical distancing measures.

    The truth is that the great outbreak of COVID-19 that we are experiencing today has not happened exclusively because of the elections; it seems to be above all the result of two-and-a-half months of disorganised and irresponsible campaigning carried out mainly by the incumbent party. The government tried to profit from the pandemic and the limitations imposed by the state of emergency. However, this may have played against it. The waste of resources in favour of the official candidate was such that people resented it. It was grotesque: for instance, just like in China, the measure of spraying streets with disinfectant was adopted, but while in China it was a robot or a vehicle that went out on the streets at night and passed through all the neighbourhoods, here we had an 8pm parade by a caravan of official vehicles, complete with sirens, flags, music – a whole campaign show. People resented it, because they saw it as wasting resources for propaganda purposes instead of using them to control the pandemic effectively.

    Was the opposition able to run a campaign in the context of the health emergency?

    The conditions for campaigning were very uneven, because public officials enjoyed a freedom of movement beyond the hours established by the curfew and opposition parties complained that the incumbent party could continue campaigning unrestricted while they were limited to permitted hours. Access to the media was also uneven: propaganda in favour of the official candidate was ubiquitous, because it was one and the same as government propaganda. In this context, a specific ad caused a lot of discomfort: it said something like ‘you stay home, and we will take care of social aids’, and included the images of the official candidates for president and vice-president.

    The pandemic was used politically in many ways. At one point the fear of contagion was used to promote abstention; a campaign was launched that included a drawing of a skull and said, ‘going out kills’. While we were campaigning under the messaging ‘protect yourself and get out to vote’, the government’s bet was to instil fear among the independent middle class, while planning to get their own people out to vote en masse. The negative reaction they provoked was so strong that they were forced take this ad down after a couple of days.

    Likewise, the state was absent from most policies implemented against the pandemic and left the provision of social aid and prevention in the hands of the ruling party candidate. Often it was not the government that carried out fumigations, but the candidate’s companies. It was jets from the candidate’s aviation company, not state or military planes, that brought back Dominican citizens who were stranded abroad. The first test kits were brought from China by the candidate, with of course large propaganda operations.

    With everything in its favour, how was it possible for the government to lose the elections?

    The PRM candidate, Luis Abinader, prevailed in the first round, with more than 52 per cent of the vote, while the official candidate came second with 37 per cent and former President Fernández reached only nine per cent. The division of the incumbent party as a result of the allegations of fraud in the primaries had an effect, because if the party had been united and not affected by this scandal, the results could have been different.

    Faced with the fact that a single party had ruled during 20 of the past 24 years, citizens showed fatigue and searched for alternatives. Citizens expressed themselves not only through mobilisation and protest, but also through a process of awareness raising that took several years. Very interesting expression platforms emerged, such as the digital medium Somos Pueblo (We are the People), whose YouTube broadcasts played a very important role. With the government campaigning on the streets and citizens isolated by the pandemic, creative strategies were also employed to overcome limitations and protest without the need to leave our homes, such as through cacerolazos (pot-banging actions).

    The interest in participating to bring about change was reflected in the election turnout, which exceeded 55 per cent. Although well below the 70 per cent average recorded in the elections held over the past decade, the figure was noteworthy in the context of the pandemic. Given the incumbent government’s mismanagement of the pandemic, people have high hopes in the new government. If we can overcome this challenge, the times ahead may bring positive change in terms of strengthening institutions and deepening democracy.

    Civic space in the Dominican Republic is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Manifiesto Ciudadano through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@ManifiestoCiuRD on Twitter.

    Get in touch with Alianza ONG through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@AlianzaONG and@AddysThen on Twitter.

     

  • EGYPT: ‘The security-first approach is not working’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Khaled Mansour about the challenges Egyptian civil society has faced since the army took power in 2013. Khaled was a journalist and then a United Nations aid and peacekeeping official for 25 years before he ran the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a leading Egyptian human rights organisation. He is now an independent writer and analyst on human rights, humanitarian aid and development, and a non-resident senior fellow of the Arab Reform Initiative.

     

  • Emergencia global en el espacio cívico

    Según el Informe 2017 de la alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS, el mundo se enfrenta a una crisis democrática sin precedentes debido a las restricciones que están sufriendo las libertades de expresión, asociación y reunión pacífica, generando una situación de emergencia global.

    El Informe sobre el estado de la sociedad civil 2017 pone de relieve cómo cada vez es más peligroso desafiar al poder en todo el mundo, y el riesgo a sufrir represalias que ello conlleva. En diversos países, los líderes populistas y neofascistas de derechas han adquirido importancia alcanzando el apoyo necesario para impulsar sus ideas en el debate público e incluso, en algunos casos, ganando las elecciones. Su visión política y global se opone frontalmente a la sociedad civil que busca promover los derechos humanos, la cohesión social y el internacionalismo progresista.

    Los puntos clave del Informe incluyen:

    * El aumento del número de ataques a activistas y a organizaciones de la sociedad civil por parte del aparato represivo de Estados, fuerzas extremistas y corporaciones, sobre todo en el sector extractivo, (un fenómeno, este último, especialmente visible en América Latina);

    * Solo el 3% de la población mundial vive en países con un espacio cívico "abierto";

    * Más de la mitad de la población de las Américas vive en países con un espacio cívico obstruido (32%) o represivo (21%);

    * El profundo descontento de la ciudadanía frente al impacto de la globalización sobre sus vidas ha sido aprovechado por los populistas de derechas, tal como se observa en pronunciamientos populares tan diversos como el Brexit y el referendo sobre la paz en Colombia;

    * Más que ignorar ese descontento, la sociedad civil debe hacer frente al desafío de construir un movimiento alternativo de esperanza, sin miedo y respetuoso de los derechos humanos.

    El Informe indica que para los nuevos populistas de derechas, la esfera internacional supone una peligrosa fuente de valores progresistas que desafían sus estrechas nociones de soberanía. Las instituciones internacionales, así como los valores de derechos humanos que representan, los consideran intrusivos. El Acuerdo de París sobre el cambio climático, por ejemplo, ha sido definido como un elemento que limita el crecimiento económico y se encuentra en peligro por la actitud del actual gobierno de Estados Unidos. Los líderes de Israel, Filipinas y Estados Unidos también han atacado a la ONU. Los gobiernos de Burundi y Sudáfrica han amenazado este último año con retirarse de la Corte Penal Internacional. En ningún lugar es más evidente el fracaso del multilateralismo como en la crisis siria, que ha costado medio millón de vidas y ha desplazado a la mitad de la población del país, donde se está normalizando la impunidad frente a los crímenes de guerra.

    El secretario general de la ONU, Antonio Guterres, definió el desprecio actual por los derechos humanos, alimentado por el creciente populismo y extremismo, como una "enfermedad que se está propagando". En Filipinas más de 7000 personas han muerto como consecuencia de la violencia fomentada por el presidente Rodrigo Duterte. En Turquía, tras el intento de golpe de Estado, se han implantado restricciones a las libertades fundamentales y a la sociedad civil: unos 195 medios de comunicación han sido cerrados, 80 periodistas han sido encarcelados junto con miles de académicos y ciudadanos considerados disidentes.

    El informe desarrolla en profundidad algunos casos de América Latina, enfatizando tanto los desafíos que enfrenta la sociedad civil por efecto de las restricciones del espacio cívico como la creatividad de sus estrategias para enfrentarlos, así como sus redoblados esfuerzos de movilización a la hora de defender y promover derechos. Así, por ejemplo, el informe trata, entre otros puntos centrales para la región, los desafíos de la construcción de la paz en Colombia, la situación de impunidad por la violación de los derechos humanos en México, los aprendizajes y desafíos de las movilizaciones estudiantiles en Chile y por los derechos de las mujeres en Argentina, así como los factores subyacentes a la criminalización de la opinión y la violencia física ejercida con intensidad creciente contra activistas ambientalistas y defensores de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas y del derecho a la tierra en Honduras, Nicaragua y Brasil, entre otros países.

    Acerca del Informe sobre el estado de la sociedad civil 2017

    Cada año, el Informe sobre el estado de la sociedad civil de CIVICUS analiza los principales acontecimientos que afectan a la sociedad civil en todo el mundo. La primera parte de nuestro informe hace un resumen del año pasado, centrándose en los espacios para la sociedad civil y en el impacto del resurgimiento de las políticas populistas de derechas; el derecho a disentir; los movimientos de protesta, y las acciones que realiza la sociedad civil a nivel internacional. La segunda parte de nuestro Informe trata específicamente la relación entre sociedad civil y sector privado.

    Nuestro Informe es de la sociedad civil y está hecho por y para la sociedad civil. Se alimenta de una serie de entrevistas con personas involucradas en las principales historias del momento y de los resultados de nuestra encuesta anual a los miembros de las redes nacionales y regionales de la sociedad civil que integran nuestro Grupo de Afinidad de Asociaciones Nacionales (AGNA), así como de 27 artículos encargados a una serie de invitados especiales que tratan diferentes aspectos sobre el tema de la relación entre sociedad civil y sector privado. La mayoría de nuestros aportes proceden de la sociedad civil, aunque también recogemos las opiniones de personas que trabajan en el gobierno y en el sector privado.

    Nuestro Informe también se basa en los datos sobre las condiciones de la sociedad civil proporcionados por el CIVICUS Monitor, nuestra nueva plataforma en línea que monitorea el espacio cívico en todos los países del mundo.

    También se basa en los hallazgos de las Evaluaciones Nacionales sobre el Ambiente Habilitante (ENAH), que es una herramienta de análisis promovida por la sociedad civil para evaluar el entorno legal, reglamentario y político de la sociedad civil.

    Para obtener más información o para solicitar una entrevista con el personal de CIVICUS y/o con sus colaboradores, comuníquese con Abajo encontrará los enlaces al informe.

     

  • ETHIOPIA: ‘For civil society, 2019 has been a new beginning’

    In 2019, theNobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed Ali, “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.” CIVICUS speaks with Bilen Asrat, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations Forum (ECSF), about the prospects for democracy in Ethiopia. Established in 2013, the ECSF is a non-partisan, independent and inclusive civil society body comprising various civil society groups, networks and consortiums operating at the federal and regional levels, focusing on the common concerns and challenges faced by civil society in Ethiopia.

    bilen asrat

     

    What has been the progress towards democracy in Ethiopia in 2019? Has the space for civil society improved?

    During 2019, there have been a lot of changes in the state of democracy and human rights, which has been reflected in a wider space for independent civil society and opposition political parties. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in April 2018 after his predecessor resigned as a result of anti-government protests. Although he was a member of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the party in power since 1991, Prime Minister Ahmed pledged to reform the authoritarian regime, and repressive terrorism and media laws were repealed. Imprisoned journalists were released and the environment for the media improved. The new government also released political prisoners and legalised opposition parties, some of which had been labelled terrorist organisations and banned. In July 2019, a well-known human rights lawyer was appointed as the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Once political change became apparent, a lot of politicians that had been living in exile came back to Ethiopia.

    The positive change that started in 2018 has continued. For Ethiopian civil society, 2019 has been a new beginning. In February 2019, the draconian 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation was amended. This law imposed a lot of restrictions on civil society, especially when working for human rights, democracy and good governance. The new law changed the classification of civil society organisations (CSOs) and only distinguishes between local and international CSOs. It lifted restrictions on funding for CSOs and allowed for the re-entry of international organisations into Ethiopia. The old law stated that organisations receiving more than 10 per cent of their funding from international donors were to be considered foreign international organisations, and could therefore not undertake any human rights-related work in the country.

    The scope of action for CSOs has now widened because unlike the old law, the new proclamation does not provide an exhaustive list of the permitted activities of CSOs, so it does not set a limit to the activities that civil society can engage in, except for those that are against criminal law. This is more consistent with the right to the freedom of association, which means that anyone can form an association to pursue any legitimate objectives, without restriction.

    Do limitations apply to CSOs promoting LGBTQI+ rights?

    The scope of legitimate civil society activities does not include the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights, because this is considered to be against ‘public morals’. Homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia; it is a crime under the Criminal Code and it is punished with imprisonment. It is also not accepted by the majority of the population, so there is not much of a perspective that the law will change in that regard.

    In other words, restrictions do not apply anymore to CSO activities in the areas of human rights and democracy, but the establishment of CSOs to promote the rights of LGBTQI+ people is still not allowed, because they would be promoting an activity that is considered a crime by our Criminal Code.

    Was civil society consulted in the process of developing a new law?

    Yes, we were consulted. Before the new law was passed, there were several consultations across Ethiopia’s nine regions, and over 1,000 CSOs were engaged in the process. In fact, the initial document for the draft law was produced by civil society itself. We submitted it to the former prime minister and various governmental offices, pointing out the challenges posed by the previous proclamation and recommending specific changes, and eventually it was our recommendations that were turned into law – including for instance the right to appeal against the decisions of the regulatory agency in front of a court of law.

    We only have one objection to the new proclamation: we think that the agency that has the mandate to regulate civil society should be accountable to the legislative body, and not to the executive. We expressed this during the consultations, and when the Office of the Attorney General finalised the draft and submitted it to the Council of Ministers, we raised our concerns to parliament. But the government didn’t accept our recommendation and decided to keep the regulatory agency under the executive branch.

    How did civil society receive the news that the Prime Minister had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

    I think the news was well received. Prime Minister Ahmed got many congratulatory messages from civil society and communities, as the peace processes started to have visible effects both in Ethiopia and in Eritrea. Ethiopian military forces stationed abroad were brought back to the country, laws started changing and hellish prisons where horrible human rights abuses took place were shut down.

    I think the Nobel Peace Prize is fulfilling two purposes. First, it is an acknowledgment of the Prime Minister’s contribution to ending the 20-year conflict between the two countries and an encouragement to continue along the peacebuilding path. 

    Second, the award is an expression of support for the Prime Minister’s project to build a democratic nation, opening up political competition, allowing for the growth of an opposition and a multiparty system, promoting an active civil society, and striving for greater equality. Prime Minister Ahmed has brought women on board: he appointed a cabinet that was 50 per cent female and for the first time a woman was appointed as president of the Supreme Federal Court.

    What do you think are the main challenges ahead?

    The main challenge is that communities have been unable to exercise their rights and their power for too long, and when all these spaces suddenly open up there is a danger that they will be put at the service of power struggles. Political competition in Ethiopia takes place mostly along ethnic lines, as political parties tend to represent specific ethnic groups, so groups are still competing with each other. Democratisation is moving forward in a context in which conflict persists. There are some states that are still under a state of emergency, experiencing internet blackouts and ethnic clashes. The social situation is also delicate because of the high unemployment and poor economic performance.

    What role can society play in overcoming those challenges?

    Civil society has a great role to play in bringing democracy to Ethiopia, especially in terms of building peace by establishing dialogue and reaching some form of consensus among religious leaders and local communities. If a certain degree of peace is not achieved internally, democratic elections become impossible. So the first task for civil society to undertake is internal peacebuilding.

    Most CSOs are developing these kinds of activities. They are starting to engage, but it’s taking time, because we are still in trauma due to our past experiences. Until very recently civil society was not allowed to work on peacebuilding or reconciliation, and it was a very dangerous thing to do. Over time, most of the experienced people with the right skills for the tasks ahead migrated to the private sector or left the country. This opening is a new phenomenon and to be up to the task we need to reassess the situation, revise our strategic plans, gain new skills and produce training materials.

    We are building up our own resilience while trying to engage in these very necessary activities. This is where our allies in international civil society could help us. Ethiopian civil society needs support for capacity building and training, developing advocacy tools and learning about best practices and replicable successful experiences. International organisations could also help us to bring different stakeholders to the discussion and reach a consensus about the democratisation process and the required human rights protections. National elections will be held in August 2020, so we only have a few months to work to ensure elections are a peaceful democratic process. 

    Would you say the upcoming election will be a key test for the democratisation process?

    Yes, because we have not yet had a free and competitive election. Prime Minister Ahmed was appointed by the parliamentary body that resulted from the 2015 election, which was tightly controlled by the ruling party and marred by coercion and intimidation.

    In August 2019, parliament – whose current members are all from the ruling coalition – passed a new election law, and opposition parties complained that some of the changes made things more difficult for them and threatened to boycott the election. So the process is by no means without obstacles, and it will be a test for all of us, including for civil society, which needs to work to keep the authorities accountable to the community and make sure that the democratisation process succeeds.

    But first and foremost, the election will be a test for the government and the ruling party to keep their promise that if they lose, they will relinquish power. Even before we get to that point, it is already testing their willingness to open up the media space and make sure that fair conditions for competition are met.

    Progress is being made in that regard. The Electoral Board now has a new structure and is chaired by a former opposition party leader, a woman, who had been imprisoned and exiled for her political ideology and came back after reforms were initiated.

    How hopeful you are about the future?

    I believe the best is yet to come. But as civil society, we have a lot of work to do to make it happen. We need to work hard to build a democratic, transparent and accountable system in Ethiopia. We need to keep watching and make sure the government remains committed to protecting democracy and human rights. We need to watch closely and make sure it includes women’s issues in their agendas. We expect these elections to be the most democratic and peaceful that we have ever had, with more female candidates than ever before, and we expect the losing and winning candidates to shake hands and accept the people’s will.

    I also think this change has happened because of the sacrifices many people have made. Many people have died for this to happen. Now it’s time to use only our hearts, not weapons, to achieve change. We will not be able to do all of this by ourselves, so we need solidarity and support from regional and international organisations. An authoritarian regime could be held together in isolation, but democracy will need a lot of help to grow and survive.

    Civic space in Ethiopia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations Forum through itswebsite andFacebook page.

     

  • ETHIOPIA: ‘The June 2021 election is between democratic life and death’

    CIVICUS speaks to Mesud Gebeyehu about the political conflict in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia and the highly contested upcoming Ethiopian national election, scheduled to take place in June 2021 amidst an ongoing pandemic and a continuing state of emergency. Mesud is Executive Director of the Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organisations (CEHRO) and vice-chair of the Executive Committee of CIVICUS’s Affinity Group of National Associations. Mesud is also Executive Committee member of the Ethiopian CSOs Council, a statutory body established to coordinate the self-regulation of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Ethiopia.

     

  • Fiji’s role in leaving no-one behind in sustainable development

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    It is now confirmed that Fiji will be chairing the next United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 23) in Bonn, Germany. This is welcome news as the islands of the Pacific arguably have the most to lose – and the most to gain – when it comes to sustainable development. As a region of the world that is home to some of our most vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities, destined to suffer the worst effects of climate change, the Pacific perhaps best embodies the importance of ‘leaving no-one behind’.  

    Read on: Pacific Islands News Association

     

     

  • Five key battles for re-imagining democracy in a radically changed world

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    The challenges facing civil society now aren’t about reviving our weakening democracies—they are about re-imagining democracy for a radically changed world.

    Read on: Open Global Rights

     

  • From Venezuela to US: People power

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Goldman Sachs’ decision to bailout the Venezuelan government has, unsurprisingly, attracted widespread global condemnation. The transnational firm stands to make a potential windfall profit as Venezuelans continue to face empty shelves and government water cannons daily. Usually it is international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) not transnational companies, which occupy the dubious space of government bailouts.

    Read on: New Internationalist

     

  • G20: ‘Civil society is treated as a second-class partner; its recommendations often go unheard’

    CIVICUS speaks with María Emilia Berazategui, Transparency International’s Global Advocacy Coordinator, about the role of civil society in international and inter-governmental forums and the degree to which it can influence decision-making processes, and the successes achieved and challenges encountered in 2019 by the C20, the engagement group for civil society within the G20. Before joining Transparency International, María Emilia led the area of Political Institutions and Government at an Argentine civil society organisation, Poder Ciudadano. In 2018 she was appointed C20 Sherpa under the presidency of Argentina. In 2017 and 2019 she was a member of the C20 Steering Committee, and in 2018 and 2019 she was the co-Chair of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

    Emilia Berazategui 

    What is the C20, and why does it matter?

    The C20 (Civil-20) is one of the G20’s official engagement groups, and it the natural space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to advocate at the G20 level.

    There are two additional ways in which CSOs can participate in G20 processes: by attending the G20 Working Group meetings, as guests, to present thematic recommendations, and by being present at the G20 International Media Center when summits take place, which allows them to engage directly with the media covering the G20 summit and disseminate their messaging around key themes.

    The C20 is a global civil society space, without a permanent structure and with a presidency that rotates annually, in line with that of the G20, for CSOs from all over the world – from grassroots and local groups to large international CSOs – to influence the G20 collectively. According to the recently adopted C20 Principles, its aim is to ensure that world leaders listen not only to voices representing the government and business sectors, but also to the proposals and demands of civil society, and that they are guided by the core values of human rights, inclusion and sustainable development.

    Civil society engagement with the G20 matters because we are only 10 years away from the 2030 deadline to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the gap between the actions taken by governments and the measures that need to be taken to achieve them is immense. Most of the challenges we face – political polarisation and extremism, human rights abuses and civic space restrictions, extreme inequality, systemic corruption, gender disparities and gender-based violence, intersectional discrimination, the lack of decent employment, the health crisis and the negative impact of digitalisation and technology in our lives – not only remain unanswered but continue to deepen.

    Governments and multilateral institutions have a central role to play in finding shared solutions to common challenges. World leaders need to come together urgently to find those solutions, and despite all of its challenges, the G20 is one of the few spaces that provides them with the opportunity to do so.

    Sadly, in the last few years we have seen little evidence of any real progress from G20 leaders. Commitments are made in front of the world’s media but are quickly forgotten and rarely implemented once they return home. A recent report by Transparency International exposing issues of money laundering and anonymous company ownership found deeply troubling weaknesses in almost all G20 countries.

    What can civil society contribute?

    Civil society engagement with the G20 can help because civil society brings a set of unique skills to the table.

    First, in trying to make sure that policy outcomes serve the common good, we hold governments accountable. So when governments commit to something, we will hold them to their promises. Sometimes they resist, but other times we succeed in strengthening champions inside governments who really want to get things done.

    Second, we contribute our expertise. Civil society groups are not just watchdogs. We are innovators, technologists, researchers and policy experts who can help support policy implementation to achieve the best possible results. Civil society can also contribute to increased transparency and the credible evaluation of outcomes.

    Third, civil society functions as a bridge, helping translate technical jargon into language people actually use, explaining what change means and bringing citizens’ perspectives back to decision-makers. Governments should talk to civil society about their plans so we can provide feedback on how those plans will impact on people.

    Last but not least, civil society provides much-needed balance. One of the greatest weaknesses of the G20 is the lack of openness to having civil society represented at the same table where business interests sit. This raises the question of whether the G20 values the interests of corporations more than those of citizens. This certainly does nothing for trust, and it shows why people around the world believe that governments are too close to business or only act for the benefit of a few private interests.

    How much space do international forums such as the G20 offer for civil society to influence policy-making in reality?

    The G20 is often described as elitist, as a group of economic powerhouses – although not all the largest economies take part in it – trying to rewrite the rules of global economic governance, operating largely behind closed doors in an opaque way. It’s no wonder that many in civil society instinctively feel that we should oppose the G20 rather than engage with it.

    The G20 invites a variety of guests to take part in its meetings, including representatives from different regional groupings, guest states and international organisations. However, its record of speaking to citizen groups and civil society is mixed at best. Despite all that we have to offer, we do not sit at the same table; we are treated as second-class partners and our recommendations and ideas on important issues often go unheard.

    Experiences vary widely across the various working groups that comprise the G20. For instance, despite all the knowledge that civil society has on financial issues, the G20 International Financial Architecture Working Group has systematically closed its doors to civil society participation. On the other hand, we are lucky to have a standing item on the agenda of the Anti-Corruption Working Group, in which governments speak to business and civil society on the same footing. Still, while we appreciate this, we think that both this working group and the G20, in general, need to improve their engagement with civil society significantly.

    Despite all these limitations and challenges, during 2019, when the G20 presidency was in the hands of Japan, civil society managed to influence the G20 in some areas including the protection of whistleblowers, making infrastructure spending more transparent and on gender and corruption.

    In 2019, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group adopted two important documents: the High-Level Principles for the Effective Protection of Whistleblowers, which was much in line with civil society’s recommendations and included an unprecedented recognition by the G20 of the gender-specific aspects of whistleblowing, and a Compendium of Good Practices for Promoting Integrity and Transparency in Infrastructure Development, also aligned with civil society recommendations.

    Through the Compendium, the G20 also recognised that transparency regarding who the ultimate owners of companies are is critical to the fight against corruption. In line with civil society suggestions, they recommended implementing company beneficial ownership registers to reduce the possibility of public funds being used to favour specific individuals or companies, and to identify conflicts of interest.

    Overall, what would you say were the main successes of civil society engagement with the G20 during 2019?

    In one word, the main success of civil society engagement during 2019 was its continuity. Civil society was able to maintain a similar degree of engagement with the G20 as it had in 2018, when Argentina chaired the G20. In 2018, and for a short period of time, civil society won access to some G20 Working Group meetings, although unfortunately, not to the working groups that are part of the so-called G20 Finance Track, and to the G20 Media Center. This allowed civil society to access, for the first time ever, some sessions that used to be held behind closed doors. In addition, we got G20 local representatives, including the G20 Sherpa, to attend the C20 in-person meetings.

    Civil society's 2018 call for G20 delegates to move from words to action passed from Argentina to Japan. This had an echo on social media, through the hashtag #G20takeaction. In order to continue strengthening civil society participation and ensure an increasing impact within the G20, in 2019 the C20 agreed a set of principles that enshrined transparency, collaboration, independence, internationalism, inclusiveness and respect for human rights and gender equality as central pillars of the engagement group’s practice. This was a very important milestone in the C20’s history.

    And what were the challenges and what needs to improve?

    Despite these successes, there is an urgent need for the G20 to change the way it engages with civil society. At the G20, governments discuss policies that have a huge impact on our lives. As civil society, we should be allowed to bring to the table the voices of citizens, real and diverse. These are the people who will be affected by the public policies promoted in this forum.

    The few times we have managed to gain access to G20 meetings, the experience has usually not been positive. We make great efforts to be there. After finding the resources and traveling many hours, we wait – sometimes for a very long time – outside the meeting room until they finally let us in. Once inside, we  share our ideas and recommendations as quickly as possible in order to ensure there is time for dialogue with the delegations, which itself is rarely an open and honest conversation. After a short while, we are diplomatically ushered out of the room so that, having ticked the civil society participation box, negotiations can continue.

    The G20 still has a long way to go to ensure effective civil society participation. G20 leaders need to stop thinking that inviting civil society representatives to a couple of meetings amounts to the fulfillment of their obligation to consult widely and open themselves to scrutiny. They need to acknowledge the unique skills that civil society brings to the table and move towards more meaningful and sustained engagement with civil society.

    They can do this in many ways. First, they can, and should, invite civil society as well as business representatives to additional sections of various Working Group meetings, to provide insights and guidance on a thematic basis, and not just during a single, short session dedicated to listening to all of our concerns. Additionally, they should share the agenda of those meetings with us. It may sound crazy, but more often than not we are invited and go to meetings without knowing what is being discussed, so we are not necessarily sending the most appropriate person or preparing the most relevant or detailed contribution.

    Second, the G20 delegates should consistently meet with domestic civil society throughout the year, both prior to and after G20 Working Group meetings. This already happens in some G20 countries but not all of them.

    Third, G20 representatives need to be more open and honest in their exchanges with civil society. When G20 delegates speak to civil society, mostly they only share limited information on what they are doing to address major global challenges, which sometimes simply amounts to propaganda. How about they asked us what we want to discuss and what information we’d like to receive? Or how about they provide honest and direct feedback on the proposals and recommendations we shared with them?

    G20 leaders seem to be unaware that good communication and access to information are key. There is no permanent G20 website. Instead, every presidency establishes its own, which isn’t updated afterwards. The digital landscape is littered with redundant G20 websites. This makes documents hard to find for civil society, media and researchers seeking to inform themselves about G20 activities. In 2017, when Germany chaired the G20, the German government took an excellent initiative: it compiled all existing anti-corruption commitments in one location. This should be normal practice. For transparency and accountability, all G20 Working Groups should publish minutes and agendas of their meetings. And they should systematically consult with civil society so we provide an input into the draft documents they are planning to adopt and suggest key topics the G20 should focus on.

    What changed in terms of civil society engagement when the G20 presidency passed on to Saudi Arabia for 2020?

    Despite its limitations and weak engagement with civil society, the G20 has been a relevant space to bring our concerns directly to governments and advocate with them to tackle the most critical issues we face. Unfortunately, in 2020 the space for civil society engagement became significantly reduced when the presidency of the G20 and all its Engagement Groups, including the C20, passed to Saudi Arabia – a decision taken by G20 governments in 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.

    Saudi Arabia is a state that provides virtually no space for civil society and where independent civil society voices are not tolerated. It systematically suppresses criticism from the media, regularly arrests and prosecutes human rights defenders, censors free speech, limits free movement and tortures and mistreats detained journalists and activists. This makes civil society participation ethically dubious.

    In addition, the C20 principles emphasise a series of elements that the Saudi presidency is unable to provide, such as inclusion of a variety of truly independent civil society actors, from local to global, the transparency of decision-making procedures and the guiding values of human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment. By participating in the very limited space that the Saudi government would be able to provide, we would only help launder Saudi Arabia’s international reputation. The Saudi government has already recruited expensive Western public relations advisors and spent millions of dollars to polish its tarnished image.

    In response, an overwhelming number of CSOs from all over the world have joined their voices together and decided to boycott the C20 hosted by Saudi Arabia this year. At Transparency International we are looking forward to re-engaging fully with the C20 process next year, when the presidency will pass to Italy.

    Civic space in Saudi Arabia is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Transparency International through itswebsite andFacebook page, and follow@anticorruption and@meberazategui on Twitter.

     

     

  • Gambian civil society optimistic as new democratic era dawns

    The Gambia has recently gone through a major democratic transition. CIVICUS interviews Sohna Sallah, the Vice President of the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists about the major political change and implications for human rights in the Gambia.

     

  • Governments must do more to protect civil society

    Click here to download

     

  • GREECE: ‘We need a change in narratives as well as in policies towards migration’

    CIVICUS speaks about the situation of migrants and refugees in Greece and the role of civil society in policymaking with Lefteris Papagiannakis, Head of Advocacy, Policy and Research atSolidarity Now and former Vice Mayor on Migrant and Refugee Affairs for the Municipality of Athens. Solidarity Now is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works with vulnerable groups, with a focus on migrants and refugee communities in Greece in order to help them achieve dignity and a better future.

     

  • Groundbreaking tool tracking civic freedoms worldwide to launch 24.10.2016

    French | Spanish

    The CIVICUS Monitor is a new global platform tracking violations of freedoms of assembly, association and expression in real-time.

    Johannesburg, 18 October 2016 - In light of widespread global restrictions on civil society, CIVICUS is launching a new tool to measure the freedoms that people around the world have to protest, organise and speak out. The tool will go online at 00.01 Central Africa Time (CAT) on 24 October 2016 (UN World Development Information Day).

    The CIVICUS Monitor will rate country respect for civic space in five broad categories from Closed to Open, based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that allow citizens to come together and demand change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression. In addition to the 104 country ratings available on launch day, the latest updates on civic space will be available for most countries in the world.

    CIVICUS will also be releasing numbers on which types of violations were most common and the driving forces behind them, based on analysis of more than 200 national-level updates on civic freedoms gathered over the past four months (June – October 2016).

    By signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals last year, world leaders agreed that people must be able to take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, and to ensure access to information (Goal 16). The CIVICUS Monitor will show how the key civic freedoms that should allow for this are coming under sustained assault.

    Ratings are based on a combination of inputs from local civil society advocates, regionally-based research partners and civil society experts, existing assessments, user-generated input and media-monitoring. Local views are prioritised and all users are invited to contribute information on the situation in their countries. The number of countries rated by the CIVICUS Monitor will increase over time and news updates will be added each weekday.

    CIVICUS Monitor

    Launching online at https://monitor.civicus.org/

    00.01 Central Africa Time (CAT), 24 October 2016

    Notes to editors: 

    For advance access to the CIVICUS Monitor web platform under embargo or to set up an interview, please contact CIVICUS’ global press office on . Interviews can be arranged in advance with CIVICUS Secretary General Danny Sriskandarajah and CIVICUS Monitor Researcher Cathal Gilbert, as well as regional researchers.

    A one-minute video explainer on civic space and the CIVICUS Monitor is available here.

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.

    www.civicus.org 

    www.twitter.com/CIVICUSalliance 

    www.facebook.com/CIVICUS 

     

     

  • Harmonisation, Participation and Coherence are Key to Realising the 2030 Agenda

    By Mandeep Tiwana and Tor Hodenfield 

    Two challenges – overlapping reporting requirements and less than universal compliance with human rights obligations – could be addressed by involving civil society more meaningfully in substantive processes. Furthermore, it is essential that positions on human rights matters that are taken at the UN Human Rights Council are followed up at the UN General Assembly and, most importantly, are implemented at the local level.

    Read on: International Institute for Sustainable Development

     

  • Honduras government must stop violent clampdown on peaceful protests

    June 26, 2019

    Government violently represses citizens protests in Honduras

    • Three people killed and 20 wounded in brutal crackdown on protests in Honduras
    • Global civil society alliance condemns the harsh repression of demonstrations in Honduras and the decision of the government to use of military forces to control protests
    • Defenders in the country face an extremely risky environment experiencing violence and criminalization

     

  • How NGOs and social movements can learn to work together better

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    There are no shortages of challenges facing civil society, but one that we don’t talk enough about is the relationship between the formal and informal parts of civil society. If civil society is to have to have any chance of tackling the biggest challenges facing the world, we have to work out to how to work together more effectively.

    Read on: Open Democracy

     

  • In a time of exclusion, making space for Faith Based Organizations

    By Amjad Mohamed Saleem

    For many people around the world, faith is embedded in cultures, practices and communities. Earlier this month, World Interfaith Harmony week taught us that religious practices and perspectives continue to be sources of values that nourish an ethics of multicultural citizenship commanding both solidarity and equal respect. Historically, spiritual heritage has often provided humanity the capacity for personal and social transformation. 

     

  • Incertidumbre en Colombia: La paz en tiempos de elecciones

    Por Inés Pousadela 

    Lo que en cualquier democracia “normal” sería considerado un dato rutinario devino recientemente en Colombia un hecho de significación histórica: las elecciones legislativas de marzo de este año, en las cuales las ex guerrillas FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) debutaron como partido político, se desarrollaron sin incidentes graves. 

    Leer en: Open Democracy 

     

     

  • Incertidumbre en Colombia: La paz en tiempos de elecciones

    Por Inés Pousadela 

    Lo que en cualquier democracia “normal” sería considerado un dato rutinario devino recientemente en Colombia un hecho de significación histórica: las elecciones legislativas de marzo de este año, en las cuales las ex guerrillas FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) debutaron como partido político, se desarrollaron sin incidentes graves. 

    Leer en: Open Democracy 

     

     

  • India: Democracy threatened by growing attacks on civil society 

    According to the policy brief, published by CIVICUS in November 2017, although civil society in India has been playing essential roles ever since the country's struggle for independence, the space for civil society - civic space - is increasingly being contested.