• ETHIOPIA: ‘Civil society can play a key role in overcoming divisions’

    Yared HailemariamCIVICUS speaks to Yared Hailemariam, Executive Director of theAssociation for Human Rights in Ethiopia, about recent political reforms in Ethiopia, the opening opportunities for civil society and the prospects for further change.

    Can you tell us about your background and how the political reforms introduced in Ethiopia since 2018 by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have impacted on you?

    I used to work for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), a civil society organisation (CSO) established in 1991 by people concerned about the human rights situation in Ethiopia at that time. This was just after the removal of the military junta and its replacement by the current ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF). I joined EHRCO as an investigator in 1998, and then came the notorious 2005 elections, which the government rigged and which were followed by violence. There were mass killings in the capital, Addis Ababa, in June 2005, and then my colleagues and I were targeted by security forces and detained several times. One time we were detained for a couple of weeks. After we were released there were more clashes between government security forces and opposition members and supporters. Just before the second round of massacres in November 2005 I left the country to attend a conference in Uganda, and while I was there I found myself in the wanted list, so after that I was in exile.

    I returned home in January 2018 for the first time after 13 years in exile. Currently I’m leading the Europe-based Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, which is an organisation that was working to fill the gap, because Ethiopian civil society was under threat and not able to do any advocacy activities outside the country. They were not able to conduct any research or reach the international community. So some of my colleagues who left the country and I established this association in 2013. We conducted undercover research in Ethiopia, but mostly we have focused on advocacy. I was working mostly at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and with European institutions. We were doing advocacy together with CIVICUS, the Committee to Protect Journalists, DefendDefenders, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and other partner organisations. But now we are allowed to go back home.

    What are the main differences the political reforms have made for Ethiopian civil society?

    In the last 10 years, civic space in Ethiopia was in a very horrible condition but now, following these reforms, it’s seen a really huge change. Civic space has opened widely.

    The previous law was very restrictive. It targeted civil society working on rights-based issues, but now CSOs are encouraged. The Civil Society Proclamation, a very draconian piece of legislation, has been reformed, and the process was very open and civil society was respected in it. The new draft accommodated all our concerns. The previous law established an agency that monitored the activities of civil society that was very authoritarian and limited the work of civil society, but that institution has also been reformed. In the new agency there’s a presence of civil society and independent representatives, as well as people from the government. I visited the agency. They are very friendly, very open and work really closely with civil society.

    Just a year and a half ago, international human rights organisations were not able to organise any meeting or training activity, or even visit Ethiopia. I’ve now been able to conduct capacity development workshops in Addis Ababa. So, the impression I have is one of huge progress that is very satisfactory for local civil society.

    The opening of civic space in Ethiopia can be also a good example for other countries that had followed the bad practices of Ethiopia.

    How has civil society responded to the changes?

    There is now a lot of activity, including training and workshops, and it’s open to international human rights organisations. They are providing capacity development training and financial and technical support to local civil society, which is also receiving support from donors, embassies and the international community. These opportunities are new. Local civil society can now recover and rehabilitate from its past limitations, and reach the international community, because people can also now travel.

    What are the major challenges that remain for civil society?

    Because of the impact of the previous laws and because CSOs were labelled as enemies of the state they were restricted in their development, and now they have challenge of getting back to attracting skilled professionals. CSOs have opportunities but they don’t have the capacity to explore and exploit all the opportunities that come to their door. That’s the big challenge. I interviewed some CSOs that don’t know how to prepare a proposal to attract donors and don’t know how to do advocacy. I met some donors who told me that they want to provide support to local civil society but there is shortage of skilled people who can prepare proposals and report back to them at the level they require. Now an election is coming in 2020 and many CSOs want to engage with this process, but even prominent CSOs have told me that they don’t know how to approach donors and how to submit good proposals to get grants.

    So there is a huge gap now, and that’s the area where we are trying to support local CSOs to develop skills. There is a need for people from outside. What I’m saying to the international community is that it’s not enough to go there and do training; if they send one or two experts for some months these experts could help strengthen and offer support for some prominent CSOs.

    Given that the reforms are emanating from the prime minister, what are the risks that could hinder further reforms?

    There are potential dangers. Reform is still at the top level. The prime minister promised to reform the country through a democratic transition and to open up the political space. You can feel that there is a change in the country and there is some political willingness at the top level, but at the same time the regime has huge and very complex bureaucratic structures.

    Most government structures, offices and institutions are full of political appointees from parties in the ruling coalition. That makes it really difficult to reform organisations. Even when the central government in Addis Ababa says something or a new law or regulation is adopted, it may not go very deep. Reforms may not go deep through to the bottom of bureaucracy, to the structures. People are starting to complain in public media that the government is saying the right things, reforming the law, appointing new faces to high-ranking positions, but the suffering still continues at the lower level. So, that’s one challenge, and there is still no clear roadmap that shows how the central administration can improve this mess

    People who were appointed because of their political affiliation rather than their talents now feel under threat. They fear they may be moved or replaced. So in some regions we have seen that some movements are trying to shift the direction of reform. Some people linked to the old regime are still in control of their regions and are trying to instigate conflicts. They have money and weapons, so they can manipulate regions to instigate ethnic conflicts.

    The EPRDF is a coalition of four major parties that are now not united like they were before and are publicly disagreeing. There are tensions between the Amhara and Tigray regional governments, and recently a conflict erupted in the border area between the Amhara and Oromia regions. In the past, these groups acted together because they were fully dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the other parties were used as a tool. But now, each of the regional governments considers themselves as effectively a sovereign state so there is competition. Each regional state is recruiting and training militias, such that each region has thousands of fully armed forces.

    There is a fear that the administration in Addis Ababa has failed to control these dynamics of conflicts and tension within the ruling coalition that might affect the unity of the country. We don’t know in which direction it will lead us, but there are clear tensions. There is tension between the ruling party members and the different coalition parties, there is ethnic tension, and in each region there are extremist elements, groups that spread hate speech and advocate the removal of other targeted ethnic groups from their region. Ruling parties are also competing and fighting with the extremist groups in their regions. Because of this, the Addis Ababa administration is failing to reinforce the rule of law.

    In some regions, the instability is such that there are huge and serious debates about the dangers of holding the election. Some parties are requesting that the election be postponed for at least six months because of extreme elements, and the fear that people will be targeted and attacked and wouldn’t be moved from region to region to mobilise their supporters or open offices. Some parties are restricted from moving and are now only able to work in Addis Ababa, and maybe a few more cities where they are given full security. So, many parties have requested a delay. But on the other side, extreme and ethnic-based parties are requesting that the government conducts the election on its planned dates. They have already declared that if the election day changes, even by one day, they will call for a protest, and that might create more problems. So now the Addis Ababa administration faces a dilemma. If the election is conducted on its time, I’m sure that ethnic nationalist extremist parties that are instigating violence will win seats in parliament. These upcoming days, weeks and months will be a very difficult time for Ethiopia.

    What role is hate speech playing in stoking ethnic conflict?

    People are living together and still sharing values. In Addis Ababa you didn’t feel it. People are living their normal lives and going about business as usual. It is the elites and their activists who are using social media to spread hate speech instigating ethnic tension, violence and targeting of certain groups of people. They have followers, and when they call some kind of violent action you immediately see that there is a group on the ground that’s ready to act and attack people.

    In the last year and a half almost three million people were forced into internal displacement. Ethiopia is now in the 10 highest countries in the world for internal displacement. This has happened in the last year and a half because of ethnic conflicts. Hate speech is spreading easily and very quickly through phones and social media, especially Facebook. Some of the calls for ethnic conflicts are coming from outside Ethiopia, including Europe and the USA.

    Now the government is drafting a new law to regulate hate speech, but it’s really hard to tackle.

    How can further political reform be encouraged?

    We all, especially human rights activists and researchers, including from the international community, need to encourage this reform in many ways. We need to support the strengthening of national human rights institutions, including the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and strengthen the capacity of local civil society.

    Civil society could play a key role in overcoming divisions, given that political parties and some media are ethnically based. Because civil society is neutral, the international community should focus on strengthening its capacity to play a key role in shaping the behaviour of new generations, who are vulnerable to being used by political elites. Civil society could give broad-based civic education to nurture good citizens who understand their responsibilities.

    In short, we need to focus on how to strengthen the capacity of civil society to support the positive achievements and political reforms going on in Ethiopia.

    What are the most urgent support needs of civil society?

    There are many ways to support local civil society, and not only by providing money. As I said earlier, there is now the possibility to receive funding, but people still need skills to apply for and use these grants. So, in addition to financial support, local civil society needs skill training in various aspects, including in advocacy, research methodologies, monitoring and documenting human rights, and they also need to network, and not only at the national level. They need support to connect themselves to the outside world, to the UN Human Rights Council and other international and regional mechanisms. Local civil society is not able to use these processes well, and some don’t know how to engage with these international mechanisms at all. So, they need the guidance and support of the international community.

    Civic space in Ethiopia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia through itswebsite orFacebook page.



  • MIGRANTS’ RIGHTS: ‘Hate speech is driven by unequal power relations and negative stereotypes’

    martin pairet

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks about the rise of hate speech in Europe and civil society strategies to counter it with Martin Pairet, Network Manager at European Alternatives, a transnational civil society organisation and citizen movement that promotes democracy, equality and culture beyond the nation-state.


    European Alternatives focuses on promoting democracy across borders. How concerned are you about the rise of authoritarian nationalism in Europe?

    European Alternatives works to support democracy across the continent, and our current analysis is that democracy is not really mature enough and that the fundamental rights necessary for democracy to work are not being respected in Europe. The process of degradation of democratic practices and institutions has taken place over a number of years, a decade at least, but has particularly accelerated with the crisis of hospitality that we are currently experiencing in the face of migration. This crisis of hospitality is above all a crisis of European values. We stand for the principle of solidarity and the creation of new forms of transnational community, and we are seeing exactly the opposite – the normalisation of anti-rights movements and parties whose discourse is being amplified by the media, and by social media in particular. This is happening in every country in Europe, and particularly in countries where politicians have a lot to gain through anti-migrant politics, such as France, Germany and Italy.

    Do you see this situation as the result of a deficit of democracy, or as the result of a failure to respect human rights?

    I think it’s a little bit of both. There is in fact a deep democratic deficit, and over the past few years there has been increasing questioning about how decisions are being made at every level – local, national, European and global. People have been demanding more representation and meaningful involvement in decision-making processes, through mechanisms such as citizen-initiated referendums. There are many other examples that we’ve seen over the past few years in Europe, of people organising to supplement the shortcomings of representative institutions and getting involved in decision-making, for instance through citizen assemblies. A lot of people feel their voices are not being heard and therefore feel powerless – they feel that no matter what they do, they won’t be able to change things and they won’t regain control over politics, which means they won’t have a say over the decisions that affect their lives, and they won’t control their futures.

    In this sense, democracy is quite weak, and people are getting increasingly desperate for someone in decision-making positions to really understand their problems and their fears, which the system is not paying attention to and is not able to process. This is the point when nationalism, extremism and hate start to rise, and hate speech becomes appealing. And in this context it becomes very difficult to hear the human rights discourse, because it is not necessarily something that people always respond or relate to, as it is quite abstract. European human rights organisations have been working hard to tackle the humanitarian crisis, but have sometimes undervalued the power of emotions, and of fear in particular, and have therefore not focused on how to address those fears, which has been problematic.

    In your analysis of the ongoing crisis of hospitality you focus on hate speech. How would you define this?

    Hate speech is a complex phenomenon that can’t really fit into a simple definition. In fact, there isn’t an internationally accepted definition of hate speech, and every member state of the European Union (EU) has its own legal definition. The definition used by the Council of Europe includes all forms of expression that spread or amplify xenophobia and various forms of hatred and intolerance. Hate speech is against human rights, so it is a form of anti-rights speech. It is also a social phenomenon that has been amplified by social media within the context of increasingly social power relations also related to the economic and financial crisis and the fact that financial and economic power is concentrated in few hands. But stereotypes also play an important role. I would say that hate speech is driven by both unequal power relations and negative stereotypes.

    In recent years, the normalisation of hate speech has contributed to the radicalisation of people and groups against those seen as ‘the other’: attacks against marginalised groups, including women, LGBTQI people, Roma people, migrants, refugees and minority faith communities, have spread on social media, and the hate narrative gradually translated into actual violence. That’s why we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes.

    One problem, and the reason why it is important to have a clear definition of hate speech, is that while hate speech is a form of anti-rights speech, an attempt to regulate and suppress it may lead to the violation of other rights, and particularly the violation of a fundamental right, the right to the freedom of expression.

    While the rights of women, LGBTQI people, people of colour and indigenous peoples ought to be respected, their right to be treated fairly and respectfully may sometimes collide with the freedom of expression. So it is important to know where to draw the line and how to identify what falls under the freedom of expression and what is hate speech, and what can be done about it. But this is a very dynamic process and definitions are continuously changing, partly because of the rise of new technologies. As new forms of communications arise, we need to ask ourselves whether this or that is still hate speech. Where is the limit? Do certain commentaries or visual communications that we find on media platforms constitute hate speech? The distinction between what’s ironic and what’s serious can be difficult to grasp online.

    Where in Europe is the situation most worrying?

    The problem is taking different forms in different places. One specific example of this worrying situation is in Italy, where there was a significant rise in hate crimes between 2017 and 2018. Because of the use of different data collection methods, it’s difficult to know how much these have increased, but it is evident that they have risen sharply while the far-right was in power.

    In Italy, hate speech has specifically targeted refugees and people of colour. Cécile Kyenge, a black Italian member of the European Parliament, has faced racist attacks for years. When she was appointed as Italy’s first black government minister back in 2013, she received racist insults from the far-right League Party. In 2018, once the League Party’s leader Matteo Salvini had reached power, they brought a defamation case against her, for accusing the party and its leaders of being racists!

    It is very telling that a hate crime happened on the same day that Matteo Salvini was sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, on 3 June 2018. A 29-year old migrant from Mali was shot dead by a white man who drove by and fired on him with a shotgun. He was killed while collecting scrap metal to build shacks, alongside two other migrants who also suffered injuries. They all lived in a tent city that houses hundreds of poorly paid farm workers. This was clearly an example of hate speech turned into act, as it happened just hours after Matteo Salvini warned that, with him in power, "the good times for illegals are over” and that “Italy cannot be Europe's refugee camp.”

    It does make a difference whether the far right has reached power, which becomes apparent when you compare Italy and Germany. Hate speech has also been on the rise in Germany, but in this case, a new law was passed in late 2017 to regulate hate speech online. This law requires social media platforms to quickly remove hate speech, ‘fake news’ and any illegal material, and it appears to have been quite efficient in reducing online hate speech. In contrast, Italy does not have a similarly strong legal framework and the context is not conducive to a revision of the legal framework either. In sum, the rise of hate speech in Italy is the result of a mix of a regressive political environment and the absence of strong legislation.

    In the cases of Hungary and Poland there have also been strong governmental responses against migrants. These examples are particularly interesting because sometimes there are no migrants in parts of the country, especially in the countryside, but there can still be anti-migrant policies even in places with very few migrants. This has a lot to do with who is in power and what discourse is being delivered from the top and disseminated on social media. And while hate speech can target various particular groups, I think that in the current situation in Europe, it always starts with migrants and refugees, then extends to other marginalised groups. We saw this with Brexit in the UK: the referendum campaign was permeated with an anti-migrant discourse, but various groups of people who were not migrants or refugees became increasingly threatened by exclusionary narratives, which eventually targeted anyone who was different, looked different, or spoke differently.

    Is there any legislation in place at the European level to counter hate speech?

    There is nothing in place specifically against hate speech, but because hate speech is a violation of a whole set of rights, there is a broad set of rules that apply, such as the Framework Decision on combating certain forms of expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. There is also the Fundamental Rights Agency, an EU-funded agency that collects and analyses data and carries out research on fundamental rights. It provides assistance and expertise at both the European and national levels, including in the areas of non-discrimination, racism, intolerance and hate crime. Finally, there is a Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online that the European Commission recently agreed with Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube, which aims at enabling social media users to express their opinions online freely and without the fear of being attacked out of bias based on race, colour, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation and gender identity, disability, or other characteristics. It also seeks to ensure that EU and national laws on combating hate speech are better enforced in the online environment across the EU. But the process of domesticating European legislation is slow and long, and the EU doesn’t always have sufficient mechanisms in place to hold members states accountable when they are not complying.

    What can civil society do to counter hate speech, besides pushing for legislative change?

    There are many strategies that can be used to counter hate speech effectively. Of course it is important to change legislation to ensure it covers all forms of discrimination and hate speech, but it is also important – and very difficult – to raise awareness. Awareness of their right to equal treatment must be raised, first of all, among the people who are being targeted by hate speech. Even among European citizens, many people don’t know exactly what their rights are. So it is important to share information among civil society and encourage civil society groups to share it further.

    The role of local authorities and state agencies such as the police is also key in ensuring the right to equal treatment and it does make a difference whether or not they act in the face of hate speech. So it is important for civil society to work with these actors so that they are able to recognise hate speech and act against it.

    Additionally, civil society can do better in the area of communication strategies to protect fundamental rights in general. This would require an investment in capacity development, given that the required knowledge is not evenly disseminated. Grassroots actors don’t necessarily have the means to do this kind of work, but it’s this kind of work that often impacts on affected groups the most, as it is key in helping them reach out.

    A lot more investment is needed to counter hate groups online, because online content can have an impact well beyond the context for which it was formulated. According to studies about anti-Semitic speech, people tend to feel threatened by what they see online regardless of how much impact it actually has on their reality, so clearly more investment is needed to counter this effect.

    How is European Alternatives working to counter hate speech?

    We work to connect groups that are working on similar issues and to fill the capacity gap. We’ve done this quite successfully through a series of training activities on Countering Hate Speech and Far-Right Radicalism in Central and Eastern Europe. It is important to bring together activists and citizens from different countries, because it is quite hard for people to understand that these are not isolated phenomena that are happening in their communities, but rather that a lot of communities are experiencing the same, and there is a range of solutions that have been tried in various local contexts to tackle it. It’s very important for these exchanges to continue, because we’ve seen it’s working: we see organisations collaborating across borders and exchanging experiences in ways that they can adapt to tackle hate speech in their own contexts.

    It is also key to invest in civic education and human rights education as much as possible. We do this through an online course on Countering Hate Speech in Europe, which is based on online dialogue maintained with our partners. The videos are open source and are available on our YouTube channel. We have a playlist called ‘Countering Hate Speech’, so they can be watched in sequence. The course offers participants the opportunity to access expert content developed by European Alternatives and to put their own experiences, values and perspectives to the forefront while engaging with peers through a Virtual Exchange. At the end of the course, participants even learn how to plan and organise an Action Day Against Hate Speech.

    Through these activities, we try to reach out to a high number of young people. Dialogue among individuals and among communities is key because on social media there are fewer and fewer spaces where people can have a real conversation in a safe environment. And dialogue is quite effective for raising awareness and thinking strategies through collectively.

    I think the reason why we keep at this is because we think there cannot be a well-functioning democracy when people are not respected in the first place. Respect for our shared humanity is a precondition for any democratic reform to work.

    Get in touch with European Alternatives through itswebsite andFacebook page, orfollow@EuroAlter and@MartPirate on Twitter.


  • UN75: “La sociedad civil debe ser la conciencia de la comunidad global”

    En conmemoración del 75º aniversario de la fundación de las Naciones Unidas (ONU), CIVICUS está teniendo conversaciones con activistas, personas defensoras y profesionales de la sociedad civil acerca de los roles que la ONU ha desempeñado hasta ahora, los éxitos que ha conseguido y los desafíos que enfrenta de cara al futuro. CIVICUS conversa con Keith Best, Director Ejecutivo interino del Movimiento Federalista Mundial-Instituto de Política Global (WFM/IGP), una organización no partidista sin fines de lucro comprometida con la realización de la paz y la justicia globales a través del desarrollo de instituciones democráticas y la aplicación del derecho internacional. Fundado en 1947, WFM/IGP trabaja para proteger a la población civil de las amenazas del genocidio, los crímenes de guerra y los crímenes contra la humanidad; facilitar la transparencia en la gobernanza; a aumentar el acceso a la justicia; y promover la vigencia del estado de derecho.

    Keith best

    ¿Qué tipo de relación ha mantenido la sociedad civil con la ONU a lo largo de sus 75 años de historia?

    La relación de la sociedad civil con la ONU a lo largo de su historia ha sido principalmente la de un amigo crítico, y así lo refleja la experiencia de WFM/IGP. A menudo, este sentimiento ha sido mutuo. Recuerdo vívidamente que cuando era Secretario General de la ONU (SGNU), en una reunión con organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) Boutros Boutros-Ghali nos pidió que le ayudáramos a lograr que Estados Unidos pagara sus cuotas atrasadas – ¡cosa que hizo en cuanto necesitó apoyo para la Guerra del Golfo! El exdirector ejecutivo de WFM/IGP, Bill Pace, también escribió que “Kofi Annan fue un secretario general muy importante, con quien tuve la suerte de desarrollar una relación tanto profesional como personal. Aunque su legado aún está siendo debatido, creo que tuvo el compromiso de hacer frente a las grandes potencias y plantarse frente a la corrupción de los principios establecidos en la carta”. Fue gracias a Kofi Annan que se adoptó por unanimidad la doctrina de la responsabilidad de proteger.

    ¿De qué maneras el trabajo de la ONU ha marcado una diferencia positiva?

    Hay una tendencia a pensar a la ONU solamente en su rol de mantenimiento de la paz y en sus esfuerzos más visibles para tratar de mantener la paz mundial, descuidando el trabajo, menos celebrado pero a veces más efectivo, que llevan a cabo sus agencias. Mencionaré a solo tres de ellas. A pesar de la reciente controversia en torno del COVID-19, donde los problemas principales parecen haber sido sus limitados poderes y la falta de coordinación, la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) ha logrado un éxito duradero. Fue establecida oficialmente el 7 de abril de 1948 con el fin de “alcanzar para todos los pueblos el grado más alto posible de salud”, entendiendo a la salud no solo como ausencia de enfermedad o dolencia, sino como el bienestar físico, mental y social pleno de cada individuo. Su mayor triunfo fue la erradicación de la viruela en 1977; asimismo, los esfuerzos que ha llevado a cabo a nivel global para poner fin a la poliomielitis se encuentran ahora en sus etapas finales. En los últimos años, la OMS también ha coordinado batallas contra las epidemias virales de Ébola en la República Democrática del Congo y de Zika en Brasil. Será un desastre si Estados Unidos se retira de la organización en vez de ayudarla a implementar un mecanismo de alerta más eficaz y a coordinar la distribución de medicamentos tras una pandemia a la que, seguramente, habrán de seguir otras.

    Otro héroe olvidado es la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación, que ha trabajado mucho para mejorar la situación de los pequeños agricultores, la conservación y el mejoramiento de los métodos agrícolas y el conocimiento sobre biotecnologías, entre otras cosas. Además, el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, fundado en 1965, promueve la cooperación técnica y de inversión entre naciones y aboga por el cambio, conectando a los países con el conocimiento, la experiencia y los recursos necesarios para ayudar a las personas a construir una vida mejor para sí mismas; y proporciona asesoramiento especializado, capacitación y subvenciones a los países en desarrollo, con un énfasis cada vez mayor en la asistencia a los países menos desarrollados. Algunas de estas agencias han sido criticadas no tanto por el trabajo que realizan sino sobre todo por la conducta y las acciones de algunos de sus funcionarios. La forma en que algunos de ellos son seleccionados es un asunto pendiente para WFM/IGP.

    En gran medida gracias al trabajo de la ONU, se han producido avances importantes como son la Corte Penal Internacional (CPI) y la responsabilidad de proteger. Sobre la base de las recomendaciones de la Comisión de Derecho Internacional y los tribunales de Nuremberg, Tokio, Ruanda y Yugoslavia, la CPI ha consagrado por primera vez en la historia la responsabilidad individual de los jefes de estado y otras personas en posición de autoridad por la comisión de delitos de lesa humanidad, crímenes de guerra y genocidio y, más recientemente, el crimen de agresión. A la luz más calma de la mirada retrospectiva, esto será considerado un desarrollo importante en el concepto de responsabilidad global que, hasta ahora, solamente se atribuía a los estados, no a los individuos. El concepto de responsabilidad de proteger, respaldado abrumadoramente en 2005 en la Cumbre Mundial de la ONU, la mayor reunión de jefes y jefas de estado y de gobierno de la historia, dio la vuelta a siglos de obligaciones del ciudadano hacia el Estado- una obligación no solo de pagar impuestos, sino en última instancia de dar la propia vida – para enfatizar su reverso, la responsabilidad del Estado de proteger a sus ciudadanos. Encierra el potencial de poner fin a 400 años de inviolabilidad del Estado para responder a sus pares, consagrada en el Tratado de Westfalia, en tanto que el concepto de no intervención no ha sobrevivido al siglo pasado.

    ¿Qué cosas no están funcionando actualmente y deberían cambiar, y cómo está trabajando la sociedad civil para que ello ocurra?

    Lo decepcionante, por supuesto, ha sido la incapacidad de la ONU para reformarse a sí misma desde dentro de manera efectiva y, sobre todo por efecto del interés de las principales potencias en mantener el statu quo, el hecho de que se ha vuelto inadecuada para cumplir su propósito en el mundo moderno. El mejor ejemplo de ello es el uso o la amenaza de uso del veto en el Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU (CSNU). El P5, es decir sus cinco miembros permanentes, todavía representan a los vencedores de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, con la salvedad de que en 1971 la República Popular China sustituyó a Taiwán/República de China. Hasta el Brexit, dos escaños eran ocupados por estados parte de la Unión Europea. Ni la democracia más numerosa del mundo, India, ni su tercera economía, Japón, están representadas. En los últimos años, el uso o la amenaza de uso del veto tornaron a la ONU incapaz de prevenir conflictos en una cantidad de situaciones. En un libro reciente, Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes (Límites legales vigentes al poder de veto en el Consejo de Seguridad frente a crímenes atroces), Jennifer Trahan explica que este abuso de poder es, de hecho, contrario al espíritu y a la letra de la Carta de la ONU. Hay una presión cada vez mayor de otros estados para reducir ese abuso, y esperamos que las campañas de la sociedad civil en ese sentido logren que el cambio se materialice.

    Otra cosa que debe cambiar es la forma de nombrar al SGNU, que en el pasado ha sido entre bambalinas y posiblemente no lograra sondear a todos los candidatos adecuados. Pero gracias a la Campaña 1 para 7 mil millones, en la que WFM/IGP participó activamente junto con muchos otros actores, gobiernos incluidos, el proceso de selección del SGNU posiblemente haya cambiado para siempre, ya que el espacio donde ocurría, y que permitía la concreción de acuerdos entre las principales potencias, se desplazó desde el CSNU hacia la Asamblea General de la ONU (AGNU). El actual SGNU, António Guterres, ha elogiado y apoyado con frecuencia el nuevo proceso a través del cual fue seleccionado. Este proceso fue el resultado del trabajo conjunto de numerosas organizaciones lideradas por un comité directivo informal integrado por Avaaz, la Fundación Friedrich Ebert-Nueva York, United Nations Association-UK y WFM/IGP, y tuvo el apoyo de más de 750 OSC, con un alcance estimado en más de 170 millones de personas. Muchas de ellas esperan poder insuflar nueva vida a una campaña para consolidar y mejorar los logros obtenidos hasta ahora. Uno de los aspectos delicados es que la campaña original favorecía un mandato único más prolongado para el SGNU en lugar de dos potenciales mandatos; este objetivo seguirá vigente, y con suerte el actual titular del cargo no lo considerará una amenaza para su propia posición.

    Muchas organizaciones ahora están reclamando una conferencia de revisión en virtud del artículo 109 de la Carta de la ONU, pero debemos tener cuidado con lo que deseamos. En el clima actual, dominado por el nacionalismo y el populismo cortos de miras, bien podríamos terminar con una versión diluida de la Carta actual. Sería mucho mejor alentar un cambio evolutivo e incremental, que probablemente será más duradero.

    ¿Considera que es necesario y posible democratizar a la ONU?

    Efectivamente. Las principales debilidades del sistema de la ONU reclaman no solo la reforma del CSNU para que sus miembros permanentes - y muchos argumentan que no debería haber ninguno, o al menos que no debería incorporarse ninguno nuevo - reflejen con mayor precisión el poder económico y diplomático en el mundo actual, sino también el abordaje de su frecuente falta de transparencia y rendición de cuentas y la ausencia de un elemento democrático; de ahí la campaña 1 para 7 mil millones.

    En el futuro previsible, es probable que la ONU siga basándose en los estados nacionales, cuya igualdad en el seno de la AGNU es una de sus características más entrañables. Sin embargo, hay un reclamo cada vez más fuerte de mayor democracia para realizar el principio de “nosotros, los pueblos de las naciones unidas”, en contraposición con la mera representación de los gobiernos. De ahí el llamamiento al establecimiento de una asamblea parlamentaria de la ONU, quizás creada en virtud del artículo 22, que comenzaría no como un cuerpo legislativo sino como un órgano de monitoreo de la ONU y sus agencias, dado que cualquier atribución de poderes legislativos aseguraría su fracaso porque haría que los estados se opusieran desde el principio. Cuando tantas organizaciones y tratados internacionales incluyen asambleas parlamentarias - con diferentes poderes -, no debería haber ninguna razón, más allá de la mecánica electoral, para que ello no ocurra también a nivel mundial.

    ¿Qué lecciones para la cooperación internacional se pueden extraer de la pandemia de COVID-19? ¿Qué debería cambiar después de esta crisis?

    Sin duda, la pandemia de COVID-19 ha concentrado nuestra atención, pero queda por verse si acaba siendo lo suficientemente cataclísmica como para convertirse en un motor de la clase de cambio que en el pasado fue estimulado por las guerras mundiales. La pandemia ha enfatizado que estamos “todos juntos en esto”, que un cruce animal-humano o el desarrollo de un nuevo virus en una parte remota del planeta pronto puede tener efectos en todas partes y que no habrá frontera que lo detenga. Ha dejado en evidencia que las más afectadas son las sociedades que ya eran más vulnerables, más pobres, peor preparadas y peor equipadas desde el punto de vista sanitario. Resulta revelador que las empresas farmacéuticas estén enseñando ética a los políticos en relación con una distribución equitativa de los medicamentos que asegure que no sea la riqueza lo que determine el acceso. Esta es una lección que tiene una aplicabilidad más amplia. Ha resaltado la necesidad de decisiones globales ejecutables en interés de la humanidad en su conjunto. Se trata, nuevamente, de un mensaje con una relevancia más amplia en el contexto del cambio climático y ambiental.

    Gran parte del idealismo de los años sesenta y setenta, que fueron tiempos emocionantes para quienes los vivimos, se ha traducido en el realismo de la era actual. No hay nada de malo en ello, ya que estas cuestiones deben resistir el escrutinio severo. La tecnología ha puesto de manifiesto el hecho de que las guerras ahora se libran contra civiles y no contra soldados uniformados y que los ataques cibernéticos a los suministros de energía y agua tienen más probabilidades de incapacitar al enemigo que los armamentos, que ahora son tan caros que enfrentan limitaciones de sostenibilidad y solo son útiles para los estados que pueden permitírselos. El mundo se ha hecho más pequeño, al punto en que es más probable que sepamos lo que está sucediendo en el otro extremo del mundo que en la casa de nuestro vecino. A través de los medios digitales, las voces de la gente están cada vez más presentes y están mejor articuladas; la gente quiere que se escuche su voz. La tecnología satelital permite no solo la extracción precisa de individuos, sino también la observación de acciones hasta el nivel más elemental: ya no hay donde esconderse. Si se usa de manera responsable para fomentar la justicia internacional en función de normas universalmente aceptadas, esta tecnología moderna puede ser una fuerza para el bien, pero si se usa incorrectamente, también puede conducirnos a la destrucción.

    El desafío del multilateralismo en la actualidad es difundir estos mensajes de interdependencia y dejar en claro que, cada vez más, para lograr sus fines y las aspiraciones de sus ciudadanos, los estados deben trabajar juntos, en sociedad y a partir del entendimiento mutuo. Por sí misma, esta comprensión conducirá inevitablemente a la necesidad de mecanismos que puedan ser implementados para gestionar nuestro clima y nuestro comportamiento, sabiendo que la acción de cada cual provocará en otros lugares una reacción que probablemente nos afectará. Ya sea que se trate de la destrucción de la selva amazónica o del empobrecimiento de un pueblo a través de la rapiña y el autoritarismo, el resto de la humanidad resultará afectado. La pobreza destruye los mercados para las naciones industrializadas, lo cual luego produce inestabilidad, la cual a su vez resulta en un mayor gasto en prevención o resolución de conflictos. La respuesta a los flujos migratorios no es el cerco y el fortalecimiento de las fronteras, sino el abordaje de las causas últimas de la migración.

    Vivimos en la época más veloz de la historia, donde certezas aún recientes son cuestionadas y dejadas de lado. Eso es disruptivo, pero también puede abrirnos a nuevas oportunidades y formas de hacer las cosas. En semejante clima político, es más importante que nunca la capacidad de WFM/IGP y de la sociedad civil para ser la conciencia de la comunidad global y apuntar a una mejor forma de gobernanza, que sea federalista y permita que se escuche la voz de la gente.

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