elections

 

  • ‘La sociedad civil trabaja por una democracia no solo más representativa sino también más participativa’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Ramiro Orias, abogado y defensor de derechos humanos boliviano. Orias es Oficial de Programas de la Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF) e integrante y ex director de la Fundación Construir, una OSC boliviana establecida con la finalidad de impulsar procesos de participación ciudadana para fortalecer la democracia y el acceso igualitario a una justicia plural, equitativa, transparente e independiente.

    Hace unos días se produjo en Bolivia una protesta nacional contra la posible re-reelección presidencial. ¿Observa en el intento del presidente Evo Morales de volver a reelegirse una degradación democrática?

    El intento del presidente de volver a buscar la reelección forma parte de un proceso más amplio de erosión del espacio cívico democrático por efecto de la concentración de poder.

    La búsqueda de una nueva reelección presidencial requiere de una reforma de la Constitución de 2009 (que fue promulgada por el propio presidente Evo Morales). Algunas de las disposiciones introducidas entonces en el texto constitucional fueron muy progresistas; hubo un importante avance en materia de derechos y garantías. Al mismo tiempo, se incluyeron reformas políticas destinadas a consagrar un proyecto de poder. Por ejemplo, hubo un cambio en la composición y en los equilibrios políticos de la Asamblea Legislativa destinado a sobre-representar a la mayoría; se destituyó anticipadamente a las principales autoridades del Poder Judicial (los miembros de la Corte Suprema y el Tribunal Constitucional fueron enjuiciados y obligados a renunciar) y se instauró un sistema de elección mediante el voto, sin una fase previa de calificación de méritos. Las instituciones árbitro, como la fiscalía, el Órgano Electoral o el Defensor del Pueblo, también fueron cooptadas en diversa medida por el Ejecutivo.

    En relación con el Ejecutivo, la principal reforma constitucional consistió en habilitar la reelección, pero por una sola vez, es decir para un máximo de dos mandatos consecutivos. El primer mandato de Evo Morales (2006-10) hubiera debido contar, porque así lo establecía una cláusula transitoria de la nueva Constitución; sin embargo el gobierno luego argumentó que ese primer mandato no contaba porque se había producido bajo la vieja Constitución (la cual lo inhabilitaba a una nueva elección consecutiva). De modo que el presidente fue reelecto dos veces, en 2010 y en 2015. Es decir, ha cumplido tres mandatos consecutivos, uno más de los que permite la nueva Constitución, y ahora está buscando alguna vía constitucional para habilitar un cuarto mandato.

    A principios de 2016 el gobierno convocó a un referéndum para consultar a la ciudadanía sobre una posible reforma de la Constitución para que Evo Morales pudiera competir nuevamente por la presidencia en 2019. Por un ajustado margen, el gobierno perdió ese referéndum; por eso acaba de presentar ante el Tribunal Constitucional una demanda de inconstitucionalidad, que el tribunal aceptó considerar.

    Según el presidente, la prohibición de volver a competir afecta el principio de igualdad y discrimina contra los actuales representantes electos, por lo cual sería contraria al Pacto de San José de Costa Rica (la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos). Es el mismo argumento que utilizó en Nicaragua el presidente Daniel Ortega, quien logró que la Corte Constitucional declarara inconstitucional su propia Constitución y le permitiera reelegirse. Es un argumento bastante forzado, porque los derechos invocados no son absolutos, sino que admiten regulaciones en función del bien común y el interés general (de hecho, el derecho a competir por la presidencia incluye restricciones de nacionalidad y edad, por ejemplo) así como limitaciones en función de valores superiores de una sociedad democrática – por ejemplo, el de la alternancia y el fortalecimiento de las instituciones democráticas.

    El 10 de octubre pasado, precisamente cuando se cumplían 35 años de la restauración de la democracia en Bolivia, se realizó una manifestación nacional contra la reelección indefinida y en defensa de la voluntad expresada por la ciudadanía en el referéndum del año pasado. Esta protesta fue convocada por diversas organizaciones cívicas, plataformas ciudadanas y partidos políticos de oposición. Fue una expresión callejera masiva, con las mayores concentraciones en las ciudades de La Paz y Santa Cruz y otras menores en Cochabamba, Potosí y Oruro. Afortunadamente el derecho de reunión pacífica fue respetado, en el sentido de que no hubo violencia ni intentos de suprimir las protestas. Sin embargo, el gobierno reconoció que la división de Inteligencia de la Policía siguió y vigiló de cerca de las marchas y a los propios dirigentes opositores, al punto que recabó al detalle las conversaciones que mantuvieron ese día. Lo cual es inadmisible en una sociedad democrática, ya que el uso de una policía política es propio de los gobiernos autoritarios.

    ¿Piensa que la lucha por la reelección se dará en los tribunales o acabará saldándose en las calles? ¿Convocará el gobierno movilizaciones a favor de la reelección?

    Creo que la demanda de inconstitucionalidad es un artificio jurídico; no estamos ante un problema de derecho constitucional, y menos aún ante una cuestión de derechos humanos de los que detentan el poder. El proceso judicial es una táctica más en una estrategia de lucha política en pos de la concentración del poder y la permanencia en el gobierno. La solución de esta controversia se dará en el terreno político. Una característica de la ética política de este régimen es que cuando un tema está en discusión, la aceptación de un arreglo o acuerdo no necesariamente es el punto final.

    ¿Diría que la sociedad civil está dividida en función del apoyo o el rechazo al gobierno?

    La sociedad civil está dividida. Como en todo proceso de cambio político, hay sectores ganadores, que han recibido beneficios importantes y apoyan la continuidad. Por ejemplo, algunos grupos sindicales, como la Confederación Sindical de Colonizadores de Bolivia (CSCB). Al mismo tiempo, hay sectores que en principio se sentían representados por el MAS pero acabaron perdiendo. El gobierno boliviano ha perdido apoyos, sobre todo en su base social indígena, debido a algunas medidas que supusieron retrocesos en la agenda indígena – por ejemplo, la decisión de construir una carretera a través del área protegida del TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure), sin respetar el proceso de consulta previa, libre e informada de los pueblos indígenas titulares de ese territorio. El gobierno también autorizó la explotación de hidrocarburos en áreas protegidas. Esto resultó en cierto alejamiento de la base social que le había dado una amplia mayoría en los inicios de su gobierno.

    La llegada de Evo Morales Ayma a la presidencia y las reformas que se plasmaron en la nueva Constitución implicaron una transformación política, social y cultural enorme, sobre todo en términos de inclusión. Sin embargo, la falta de institucionalización, que se expresa en la ausencia de nuevos liderazgos, ha hecho que el proceso se agote y ya no represente un abanico tan amplio de la sociedad boliviana. Hoy es más difícil para el gobierno erigirse en representante de los movimientos sociales en sentido amplio. Muchos sectores de la sociedad civil que en algún momento vieron con simpatía el proceso de cambio liderado por Evo Morales, hoy lo ven con preocupación porque se ha convertido en un proceso de acumulación de poder político que no ofrece garantías para que puedan realizar libremente su trabajo.

    El resquebrajamiento de sus apoyos llevó al gobierno a imponer regulaciones dirigidas a desmovilizar a la sociedad civil que no adhiere en forma militante al proyecto gubernamental. Esto está afectando seriamente la capacidad de trabajo de muchas OSC. La situación se ha vuelto bastante difícil para los defensores de derechos humanos, y en particular para los defensores de pueblos indígenas y del medio ambiente, que han recibido diversos embates y presiones a su labor.

    También ha habido cambios importantes en la regulación de las OSC nacionales. El principal cambio normativo, que dejó a las OSC en una posición de gran vulnerabilidad, fue la ley No. 351 de Otorgación de Personalidades Jurídicas (2013). Esta ley exige el alineamiento de los objetivos y acciones de las OSC con las políticas gubernamentales y reemplaza el principio de reconocimiento de la existencia legal de una organización, que se deriva de un acto constitutivo de derecho civil, por el otorgamiento de la personería jurídica por parte del Estado, un acto administrativo que concede amplia discrecionalidad a las autoridades centrales. La personería jurídica puede ser revocada mediante un procedimiento administrativo, sin ninguna garantía del debido proceso. Al mismo tiempo, las OSC no alineadas con el gobierno son estigmatizadas públicamente.

    ¿Qué se requeriría hoy para lograr la concreción de esa promesa democrática que en su momento expresó Evo Morales?

    Al revés de la tendencia dominante de entregar más poder a una sola persona, uno de los principales temas pendientes en la agenda democrática boliviana es el reencauzamiento de la representación política a través de un sistema de partidos plural, institucionalizado, con prácticas internas democráticas. Si el tema de la reelección presidencial está en la agenda, es precisamente porque falta institucionalización: la fuerza en el gobierno no tiene un liderazgo de recambio. Más que un partido político, en el gobierno hay una coalición de diversos intereses que solo el presidente Morales logró amalgamar.

    La democracia representativa, sostenida en instituciones, es un sistema que permite ciertas certidumbres en la vida política, con reglas que se cumplen con regularidad y actores que se someten a ellas de buena fe. Lo que estamos viendo actualmente es que el gobierno usa los mecanismos democráticos cuando le sirven, y cuando no le sirven se aparta de ellos y trata de modificarlos en beneficio propio.

    En el marco de un sistema de partidos políticos débil, la sociedad civil cobra un relieve particular. Cumple un rol de preservación de las libertades de asociación, expresión y manifestación pacífica gracias a las cuales puede promover sus ideas de cambio social. La sociedad civil trabaja por una democracia no solo más representativa sino también más participativa.

    ¿Qué apoyos necesita la sociedad civil boliviana para superar los obstáculos y avanzar en dirección de una democracia más participativa?

    Lo más importante que necesita la sociedad civil en sus labores de promoción y defensa de los derechos humanos es un sistema de justicia independiente. Ha habido un proceso de debilitamiento de las instituciones judiciales por parte del Ejecutivo, que difícilmente podremos revertir en el corto plazo sin la cooperación de otros actores, nacionales e internacionales.

    Necesitamos, entonces, solidaridad internacional. De hecho, hay un diálogo político intenso con los embajadores acreditados en Bolivia, que reconocen la necesidad de crear un ambiente habilitante para la sociedad civil, así como valoran la urgencia de promover un sistema de justicia independiente. También necesitamos apoyo para que las OSC se empoderen, mejoren sus propios procesos internos de rendición de cuentas y aseguren la transparencia de su propia gestión institucional. Pero lo cierto es que mientras no haya una justicia independiente capaz de tutelar derechos fundamentales, la situación de la sociedad civil seguirá siendo de extrema indefensión.

    • El espacio cívico en Bolivia es clasificado en elCIVICUS Monitor como “estrecho”.

    Contáctese con Fundación Construir a través de susitio web o perfil deFacebook, o siga en Twitter a @fconstruir.

     

  • #BEIJING25 : « Plus de femmes dans la fonction publique signifie un meilleur gouvernement et une démocratie plus forte »

    À l'occasion du 25e anniversaire duProgramme d'Action de Beijing, CIVICUS s'entretient avec des activistes, des dirigeants et des experts de la société civile pour évaluer les progrès accomplis et les défis qui restent à surmonter. Adopté en 1995 lors de la quatrièmeConférence mondiale des Nations Unies (ONU) sur les femmes, le Programme d'Action de Beijing poursuit les objectifs d'éliminer la violence contre les femmes, de garantir l'accès au planning familial et à la santé reproductive, d'éliminer les obstacles à la participation des femmes à la prise de décision et de fournir un emploi décent et un salaire égal pour un travail égal. Vingt-cinq ans plus tard, des progrès importants mais inégaux ont été faits, en grande partie grâce aux efforts incessants de la société civile, mais aucun pays n'a encore atteint l'égalité des genres.

    CIVICUS s'entretient avec Pakou Hang, directrice des programmes pour Vote Run Lead (Vote Candidate Dirige), une organisation dédiée à la formation de femmes afin qu’elles puissent se présenter aux élections et les remporter, augmentant ainsi la représentation des femmes à tous les niveaux de gouvernement. Créée en 2014, elle a déjà touché plus de 36 000 femmes aux États-Unis, dont près de 60% sont des femmes noires et 20% proviennent de zones rurales. De nombreuses formées à Vote Run Lead siègent désormais dans des conseils municipaux, des conseils de comté, des chambres d'État, des cours suprêmes et au Congrès des États-Unis.

    Pakou Hang

    Un quart de siècle plus tard, dans quelle mesure la promesse contenue dans le Programme d’Action de Beijing s’est traduite par des changements concrets ?

    Beaucoup de progrès ont été réalisés depuis 1995, mais il reste encore beaucoup à faire et nous sommes encore loin de l’égalité. En termes de représentation politique, il y a eu des progrès, mais cela a aussi été lent : globalement, au début de 2019, 24,3% des membres des parlements nationaux étaient des femmes, contre 11,3% seulement en 1995. Seuls trois pays dans le monde ont atteint ou dépassé la parité dans leurs chambres basses ou législatures monocamérales, mais beaucoup d'autres ont atteint ou dépassé le seuil de 30%. Jusqu'à l'année dernière, il y avait également 11 femmes chefs d'État et 12 chefs de gouvernement ; et les femmes occupaient près de 21% des postes ministériels, souvent dans les domaines les plus associés aux problématiques des femmes, tels que l'action sociale et les portefeuilles liés à la famille, à l'enfance, à la jeunesse, et aux personnes âgées et handicapées. Les résultats sont donc mitigés - beaucoup de progrès ont été accomplis, mais les progrès ont été lents et sont loin d'être suffisants.

    Il y a également eu de grandes variations entre les régions et les pays, d'environ 16% de femmes parlementaires dans la région du Pacifique à plus de 40% dans les pays nordiques. La moyenne pour les Amériques est de 30%, mais les États-Unis sont en dessous de la moyenne. Le Congrès reste dominé de manière disproportionnée par les hommes. Bien que les femmes représentent plus de la moitié de la population, elles n'occupent que 24% des sièges. Le Congrès est également moins diversifié sur le plan racial que la population dans son ensemble, 78% de ses membres s'identifiant comme blancs, une proportion nettement supérieure au 60% de la population américaine composée de personnes blanches.

    Selon le Centre pour les Femmes et la Politique Américaine (Center for American Women and Politics), la situation n'est pas très différente au niveau des états : 29,2% des sièges législatifs des états et 18% des postes des gouvernants sont occupés par des femmes. Il y a moins de données sur les pouvoirs exécutifs locaux et l'essentiel des informations disponibles se réfère aux plus grandes villes, dont 60% des maires sont des hommes blancs, alors que les hommes blancs ne représentent que 20% de la population de ces villes. Bien que davantage de femmes aient accédé à la fonction publique locale en 2018, les conseils municipaux et les commissions de comté ont continué à n'inclure qu'une seule femme ou pas de femmes.

    D’autre part, malgré le nombre relativement restreint de femmes parlementaires, et en particulier de femmes noires, le Congrès actuel est le plus diversifié de l'histoire. Ainsi, le bassin de candidats pour des mandats législatifs en 2020 était également le plus diversifié de l’histoire. Bien entendu, ces candidats ont reçu de violentes attaques de la part des médias et de l'opposition politique. Mais je pense que nous devons changer notre perspective pour comprendre l'ampleur du changement qui s'est produit. J'ai certainement été déçue que nous nous retrouvions avec deux hommes blancs d’un certain âge à la tête des deux principales formules présidentielles, mais il en demeure que maintenant nous avons également une femme noire d'origine indienne comme vice-présidente élue, ce qui constitue sans doute un progrès.

    Je me souviens que lorsque le triomphe de Joe Biden et Kamala Harris à l'élection présidentielle de 2020 a été annoncé, j'ai appelé ma nièce de neuf ans avec la nouvelle. Elle était extatique. Cela m'a rappelé qu'elle appartient à une nouvelle génération d'Américains née sous la présidence de Barack Hussein Obama. Quand elle grandira elle saura que Donald Trump a été président, mais elle saura également que Trump a été vaincu par une femme noire d'origine indienne. Pendant que nous parlions, ma nièce m'a dit : "Nous avons presque réussi, ma tante." Et j'ai pris conscience qu'elle avait raison : oui, nous y sommes presque.

    Pourquoi est-il important d'atteindre la parité homme-femme dans la représentation politique ? S'agit-il uniquement des droits des femmes et de l'égalité des chances, ou aura-t-elle également des effets positifs sur les institutions démocratiques et les politiques publiques ?

    L'une des principales raisons pour lesquelles nous avons besoin d'un plus grand nombre de femmes aux postes gouvernementaux est qu'elles ne gouvernent pas comme les hommes. Les femmes au gouvernement sont plus collaboratives, plus civiles, plus communicatives. Elles sont plus susceptibles de travailler avec des membres d'autres partis pour résoudre des problèmes. Elles obtiennent plus d'argent pour leurs localités, elles votent plus de lois et leurs projets sont davantage axés sur les populations les plus vulnérables telles que les enfants, les personnes âgées et les malades. Les femmes élargissent l'agenda politique, au-delà des questions qui concernent traditionnellement les femmes. Et cela produit de meilleures politiques pour tous, c'est-à-dire non seulement pour les femmes et les filles, mais aussi pour les hommes et les garçons. Enfin, dans la mesure où elles apportent un nouvel ensemble de perspectives et d'expériences de vie au processus d'élaboration des politiques, leur présence garantit que les perspectives des femmes ne soient pas négligées et que des questions telles que la violence sexiste ou les soins aux enfants ne soient pas ignorées. En bref, les femmes occupant des postes gouvernementaux ont tendance à être plus efficaces que les hommes. Et étant donnée la situation actuelle de stagnation politique et d'hyper-partisanerie, nous devons changer la façon de faire. Plus de femmes dans la fonction publique signifie un meilleur gouvernement et une démocratie plus forte.

    De plus, la nécessité de femmes au pouvoir et en politique est devenue d’autant plus essentielle dans le contexte de la pandémie COVID-19. Lors du dernier cycle électoral, les bailleurs de fonds voulaient plus que jamais contribuer aux campagnes électorales des femmes candidates, étant donné que la pandémie les a sensibilisés non seulement aux nombreuses inégalités qui affectent notre société et le système de santé, mais aussi du travail remarquable que les femmes, et en particulier les femmes noires, entreprennent dans leurs communautés pour répondre aux besoins urgents, combler les lacunes des politiques inadéquates du gouvernement et résoudre les problèmes des communautés exclues qui ont été affectées de manière disproportionnée par la COVID-19 et la crise économique. Au cours de cette crise, les femmes ont joué un rôle essentiel en soutenant la connexion des communautés, en collectant et en distribuant de la nourriture et d'autres produits de base aux familles en difficulté, en trouvant des moyens de soutenir l'activité économique locale et en fournissant des services communautaires ad hoc, entre autres.

    Les recherches sur la manière dont divers pays ont répondu à la pandémie suggèrent que les pays avec des femmes au pouvoir ont tendance à avoir moins de cas et moins de décès dus à la COVID-19. Il semble que les femmes au pouvoir ont adopté un style de leadership transformateur qui peut être plus approprié pour la gestion des crises. Ce type de leadership se concentre sur les relations humaines profondes, l'investissement dans l'équipe de travail et l'échange de connaissances, l'action exemplaire et la motivation des autres. Cela représente des qualités très utiles dans notre contexte actuel.

    Pourquoi pensez-vous que la représentation politique des femmes aux États-Unis est encore si faible ?

    Il existe de nombreuses raisons pour lesquelles nous n'avons pas de parité entre les sexes dans la représentation politique. Tout d'abord, il y a encore trop de raisons structurelles pour lesquelles les femmes ne se présentent pas et ne sont pas élues. Les femmes effectuent encore une quantité disproportionnée de travaux ménagers et d'éducation des enfants, et la couverture médiatique reste sexiste, se concentrant sur les apparences et les personnalités des femmes plutôt que sur leurs positions politiques. En outre, les personnes qui occupent les structures des partis et qui ont des connaissances politiques, des réseaux et de l’argent sont encore des hommes, et ce sont souvent eux qui déterminent qui est politiquement viable. Par exemple, un jeune homme qui a étudié le développement communautaire à Harvard est considéré comme plus viable qu'une femme d'âge moyen qui exerce de l'organisation communautaire depuis 20 ans.

    Paradoxalement, les femmes candidates remportent les élections dans environ les mêmes proportions que leurs homologues masculins et, selon les sondages, les électeurs sont enthousiastes face à la possibilité d'élire des femmes. Mais la deuxième raison pour laquelle les femmes ne sont pas élues est tout simplement qu'elles ne se candidatent pas autant que les hommes, et évidemment, dès lors que vous ne concourez pas, vous ne pourrez pas gagner.

    Pourquoi les femmes ne présentent-elles pas leurs candidatures à des fonctions publiques ? La raison peut-être la plus répandue est que les femmes doutent d'elles-mêmes. Elles ne sont pas considérées comme qualifiées. Elles ne voient pas d'autres femmes qui leur ressemblent ou qui pensent comme elles dans ces positions de pouvoir, et c'est donc un cercle vicieux. Et non seulement les femmes doutent d'elles-mêmes, mais les observateurs extérieurs aussi. De ce fait, si une position de pouvoir particulière n'a jamais été occupée par une femme, la question qui se pose encore de façon répétée dans les médias, sur un ton de doute, est : une femme pourrait-elle être élue ? C'est une question que l'on entend beaucoup dans le cadre des primaires présidentielles démocrates de 2020.

    Il y a aussi le fait que certaines qualités considérées comme positives chez les hommes, comme l'assurance ou l'ambition, prennent une connotation négative lorsqu'elles sont appliquées aux femmes. Alors qu'il y a sans aucun doute eu des hommes en colère et vengeurs qui ont été élus président, les femmes qui sont perçues comme « en colère » ou « vengeuses » sont considérées comme désagréables et donc disqualifiées. Les femmes candidates sont soumises à des attentes beaucoup plus élevées, parfois par elles-mêmes, mais plus souvent par des autres, et par conséquent nous manquons de parité entre les sexes dans notre représentation politique.

    Quand avez-vous réalisé que, contrairement aux hommes, les femmes avaient besoin d'une formation pour se présenter à des fonctions publiques ?

    Bien que j'aie étudié les sciences politiques à l'université, je sentais que la politique américaine était sale et corrompue et je ne me suis jamais impliquée dans la politique électorale. Mais en 2001 ma cousine aînée, Mee Moua, a décidé de se porter candidate pour un siège au Sénat pour le district de East Saint Paul lors d'une élection spéciale. Le district oriental de Saint-Paul devenait rapidement un district où les minorités étaient majoritaires, mais tous ses élus, de l'état au comté et au niveau de la ville, étaient des hommes blancs conservateurs. Ma cousine était diplômée d'une université prestigieuse, avait exercé la profession d'avocate, avait été présidente de la Chambre de Commerce Hmong, et avait décidé de se présenter après avoir fait du bénévolat pendant des années dans de nombreuses campagnes politiques. Cependant, comme c'est souvent le cas pour les femmes candidates, on lui a dit qu'elle devait attendre son tour. Et bien, elle a décidé de ne pas le faire, et comme aucun acteur politique pertinent ne l'a aidée, elle a rassemblé nos 71 cousins germains pour devenir son armée de volontaires et m'a recrutée comme directrice de campagne, car j'étais la seule à avoir étudié les sciences politiques. Contre toute attente, sans expérience politique et au milieu de l'hiver du Minnesota, nous avons frappé aux portes, passé des appels téléphoniques, mobilisé les électeurs à l'aide des radios communautaires, amené les gens aux urnes, et gagné. Nous avons marqué l'histoire en élisant le premier législateur d'état Hmong de l'histoire américaine et de l'histoire des Hmong.

    Rétrospectivement, je me rends compte que j'ai mené la campagne uniquement par instinct, alimentée par l'expérience de mon enfance d'aider mes parents non anglophones à se déplacer dans le monde extérieur. Et même si nous avons gagné, on aurait pu affronter un adversaire mieux organisé et perdu. Ce n'est que des années plus tard, après avoir suivi une formation politique au Camp Wellstone, que j'ai constaté que les femmes candidates avions besoin de quelque chose conçu spécialement pour nous, quelque chose qui nous interpellerait directement et nous préparerait aux vrais défis auxquels nous serions confrontées en tant que femmes candidates.

    Quel type de formation propose Vote Run Lead et comment contribue-t-elle à briser les barrières qui empêchent les femmes d'accéder au pouvoir ?

    Vote Run Lead est le programme de leadership des femmes le plus vaste et le plus diversifié aux États-Unis. Nous avons formé plus de 38 000 femmes pour se présenter à des fonctions publiques, y compris des femmes rurales, des femmes transgenre, des jeunes femmes et des femmes noires, autochtones et de couleur. Plus de 55% de nos diplômées qui ont participé à l'élection générale de 2020 ont gagné, et 71% de nos diplômées qui sont des femmes de couleur ont également été élues.

    Les femmes que nous formons décident généralement de se présenter aux fonctions publiques parce qu'elles identifient quelque chose de négatif dans leurs communautés et veulent y remédier. Mais elles ne voient pas beaucoup de personnes comme elles dans des positions de pouvoir. Vote Run Lead propose plusieurs modules de formation qui apprennent aux femmes tout ce qu'elles doivent savoir sur la campagne électorale, qu'il s'agisse de prononcer un discours, de constituer une équipe de campagne ou de rédiger un message, de collecter des fonds ou de motiver les gens à voter. Mais ce qui distingue notre programme de formation, c'est que nous formons les femmes pour qu’elles se postulent telles qu'elles sont. Les femmes ont souvent besoin de soutien pour se considérer des candidates qualifiées, capables et dignes. Nous leur montrons qu'elles n'ont pas besoin de rechercher une autre promotion ou d'obtenir un autre titre puisque, en fait, leur histoire personnelle est leur plus grand atout. Notre programme de formation, Run As You Are, rappelle aux femmes qu'elles suffisent et qu'elles sont le genre de leaders que nous devons élire pour bâtir la démocratie juste que nous méritons.

    Quel est le profil « typique » de la femme que vous aidez à postuler ? Soutenez-vous une femme qui souhaite concourir quelle que soit son orientation politique ?

    Il n'y a pas de formée typique de Vote Run Lead. Nous sommes une organisation non partisane, nous formons donc des femmes des milieux les plus divers, de toutes les professions, de tous les partis politiques et quel que soit leur niveau de développement politique. Nos valeurs sont profondément liées à la promotion de femmes intersectionnelles et antiracistes engagées à construire une démocratie plus juste et équitable.

    Compte tenu du phénomène généralisé de suppression des électeurs aux États-Unis, le programme vise-t-il également à motiver la participation électorale ?

    Traditionnellement, Vote Run Lead n'utilise pas son propre programme pour motiver la participation électorale (GOTV, pour son acronyme en anglais) étant donné que la plupart de nos diplômées dirigent une élection ou travaillent sur une campagne. Mais en 2020, lorsque les niveaux déjà élevés de suppression des électeurs ont été alimentés par des campagnes de désinformation et des préoccupations en matière de sécurité sanitaire, Vote Run Lead a lancé un solide programme GOTV qui a mobilisé les femmes formées chez nous. Ce programme GOTV comprenait huit modules de formation spécifiques pour motiver la participation électorale, allant de la manière de répondre à l'apathie et au cynisme autour de l'élection, aux plateformes numériques et aux outils de communication à utiliser pour promouvoir la participation. Nous avons également contacté plus de 200 bénévoles, eu 3 000 conversations, effectué 30 000 appels téléphoniques et envoyé plus de 33 000 messages texte pour que nos diplômés et leurs réseaux votent.

    Avant l'été, nous avons également lancé une série intitulée « Votre armoire de cuisine », avec laquelle nous formons les femmes à la collecte de fonds, au contact direct avec les électeurs et même au lancement d'un plan numérique tout en maintenant une distanciation sociale. Ces guides et webinaires sont disponibles sur notre site Web et sur notre chaîne YouTube et offrent des conseils en temps réel et des informations factuelles.

    L'espace civique aux États-Unis est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Entrez en contact avec Vote Run Lead via sonsite Web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez @VoteRunLead sur Twitter.

     

  • #BEIJING25: ‘More women in public office translates into better government and a more robust democracy’

    For the 25th anniversary of theBeijing Platform for Action, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the progress achieved and the challenges ahead. Focused on eliminating violence against women, ensuring access to family planning and reproductive healthcare, removing barriers to women’s participation in decision-making and providing decent jobs and equal pay for equal work, the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted at the United Nations’ (UN)Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. After 25 years, significant but unequal progress has occurred, not least as the result of incessant civil society efforts, but no country has yet achieved gender equality.

    CIVICUS speaks to Pakou Hang, Chief Program Officer at Vote Run Lead, an organisation dedicated to training women to run for political office and win, increasing women’s representation at every level of government. Founded in 2014, it has already reached over 36,000 women across the USA, nearly 60 per cent of whom are women of colour, and 20 per cent of whom are from rural areas. Numerous Vote Run Lead alumnae are now serving on city councils, county boards, statehouses, supreme courts and the US Congress.

    Pakou Hang

    A quarter century later, how much of the promise contained in the Beijing Platform for Action has translated into actual change?

    A lot of progress has transpired since 1995, but there is still a lot to be done, and we are still far from equitable. In terms of political representation, there has been some progress, but it has also been slow: globally, 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women in early 2019, compared to just 11.3 per cent in 1995. Only three countries around the world have achieved or surpassed parity in their single or lower houses, but many more have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent threshold. As of last year, there were also 11 women serving as heads of state and 12 serving as heads of government, and women accounted for almost 21 per cent of government ministers – often in areas most associated with women’s issues, such as social affairs and portfolios dealing with family, children, young people, older people and people with disabilities. So the bottom line is mixed: a lot of progress has been made, but it has been slow and it is far from sufficient.

    Also, there has been a lot of variation among regions and countries, from about 16 per cent female legislators in the Pacific to more than 40 per cent in Nordic European countries. The Americas averages about 30 per cent, but the USA is below average. Congress is still disproportionately male: although women make up more than half the population, we hold barely 24 per cent of seats. Congress is also less racially diverse than the overall population, with 78 per cent of members identifying as white, a much higher percentage than the population’s 60 per cent of white Americans.

    According to the Center for American Women and Politics, the situation is not very different in states across the country: 29.2 per cent of state legislative seats and 18 per cent of state governorships are occupied by women. There is fewer data about local executives, and the information mostly concerns major cities, 60 per cent of whose mayors are white men, although they make up just 20 per cent of the population of those cities. And even as more women ascended into local office in 2018, it was still not uncommon for city councils and county commissions to include just one woman or no women at all.

    On the other hand, despite the relatively small number of women legislators, and especially women of colour, the current US Congress is the most diverse in history. And the group of candidates who ran for Congress in 2020 were also the most diverse we have ever seen. Of course, these candidates received a lot of backlash from the media and their political opponents. But I think we need to shift our perspective to understand the amount of change that has taken place. I surely was disappointed that we ended up with two older, white men leading the two major presidential tickets – but now we also have a Black, Indian American woman as our Vice President-elect, so there is progress.

    I remember when the 2020 presidential election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I contacted my nine-year-old niece with the news. She was ecstatic. I was reminded that she belongs to a new generation of Americans who were born under President Barack Hussein Obama. And growing up, she will know that Donald Trump was the President, but she will also know that Trump was beaten by a Black, Indian American woman. As we were talking, my niece said to me, “We are almost there, Auntie.” And it dawned on me: yes, we are almost there.

    Why is it important to achieve gender parity in political representation? Is it only a matter of women’s rights and equal opportunity, or would it also have positive effects on democratic institutions and policymaking?

    A big reason why we need more women in public office is because they govern differently than men. Women in government are more collaborative, more civil, more communicative. They are more likely to work across the aisle to solve problems. They bring home more money for their constituents, pass more bills, and their bills focus more on vulnerable populations like children, older people and sick people. Women broaden the political agenda, well beyond traditional women’s issues. And the result is better policies for all of us, not just for women and girls but also for men and boys. Because they bring an entirely new set of perspectives and life experiences into the policymaking process, the presence of women also ensures that women’s perspectives are not sidelined, and issues such as gender-based violence or childcare are not ignored. All in all, women in public office tend to be more effective than their male counterparts. And given the current gridlock and hyper-partisanship in politics, we need to do things differently. More women in public office translates into better government and a more robust democracy.

    Moreover, the need for women in power and politics has become even more critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This past electoral cycle, donors wanted to contribute to female candidates’ campaigns more than before, because the pandemic brought awareness not just about the many inequities that plague our society and the healthcare system, but also of the outstanding work women, and in particular women of colour, are doing in their communities to respond to urgent needs, fill in the gaps left by inadequate government policies, and address the needs of excluded populations who have been disproportionately impacted on by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. During this crisis, women have played major roles in keeping communities connected, collecting and distributing food and other staples to needy families, finding ways to support local businesses and providing pop-up community services, among other things.

    Research that looks at the ways in which various countries have responded to the pandemic seems to show that countries with female leaders tended to have fewer cases and fewer deaths from COVID-19. It seems that women in power have embraced a transformative style of leadership, which may be better at handling crises. This type of leadership focuses on deep human relationships, investment in teams and sharing knowledge, and being a role model and motivating others. These qualities are very useful in our current context.

    Why do you think the political representation of women in the USA is still so low?

    There are many reasons why we do not have gender parity in our political representation. First, there are still too many structural reasons why women do not run nor get elected. Women still do a disproportionate amount of housework and child-rearing and there is still sexist media coverage that focuses on women’s appearances and personalities rather than their policies. Further, those in party structures and the people with political knowledge, networks and money still continue to be men, and often they determine who is politically viable; for example, a young man who studied community development at Harvard is deemed more viable than a middle-aged Black woman who has been a community organiser for the past 20 years.

    Paradoxically, female candidates win at roughly the same rates as their male counterparts, and according to polls, voters are excited about getting women elected. But the second reason why women don’t get elected is simply that women don’t run at the same rate as men – and of course, you can’t win if you don’t run.

    Why don’t women run for public office? Perhaps the most pervasive reason is that women are self-doubters. They do not believe they are qualified. They do not see other women who look like them or think like them in those positions of power, and thus it’s a self-fulfilling cycle. But it’s not just women who self-doubt. Outsiders do plenty of that too. In fact, if a woman has never filled a position of power, then a question that keeps coming up in the media, said in a doubtful tone, is: is a woman electable? We heard a lot of that during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race.

    There’s also the fact that certain qualities that are deemed positive in men are given a negative connotation when applied to women, like assertiveness or ambition. While angry and vindictive men have surely been elected president, women who are perceived as ‘angry’, or ‘vindictive’ are deemed unlikeable, and thus disqualified. Women candidates are held to much higher standards of competency, sometimes by themselves, but more often by others, and as a result we do not have gender parity in our political representation.

    When was it that you realised that, unlike men, women needed training to run for office?

    Even though I had studied political science in college, I felt that American politics was dirty and corrupting and I never got involved in electoral politics. That was until 2001, when my older cousin, Mee Moua, decided to run for a State Senate seat on the East Side of Saint Paul in a special election. The East Side of Saint Paul was fast becoming a district where people from minorities were in the majority, and yet all its elected officials from the state level to the county and the city were all white, conservative-leaning men. My cousin was Ivy League-educated, had been a lawyer and the president of the Hmong Chamber of Commerce, and she decided to run for public office after having volunteered on numerous political campaigns over many years. However, as often happens with female candidates, she was told she needed to wait her turn. Well she didn’t, and since no one in the mainstream political community would help her, she looked to our 71 first cousins to become her volunteer army and recruited me to be her campaign manager because I was the only one of us who had studied political science. Against all odds, without any political experience, and in the middle of a Minnesota winter, we knocked on doors, made phone calls, mobilised voters using ethnic radio stations, drove people to the polls and won, making history by electing the very first Hmong state legislator in US and Hmong history.

    Looking back, I realised that I managed that campaign purely based on instincts, honed from my childhood experience helping my non-English speaking parents navigate the mainstream world. And while we won, we could have just as easily been out-organised and lost. It was only years later, after having gone through a Camp Wellstone political training course, that I realised women candidates needed something for ourselves, something that uniquely spoke to us, and prepared us for the real issues we would face as female candidates.

    What kind of training does Vote Run Lead provide, and how does it help break down the barriers that keep women away from power?

    Vote Run Lead is the largest and most diverse women’s leadership programme in the USA. We have trained over 38,000 women to run for public office, including rural women, transgender women, young women, moms and Black and Indigenous women and women of colour. Over 55 per cent of our alumnae who were on the general election ballot in 2020 won their races, and 71 per cent of our alumnae who are women of colour won their races too.

    The women we train often decide to run for public office because they see something wrong in their community and they want to fix it. But they do not see a lot of people who look like them in positions of power. Vote Run Lead offers a number of training modules that teach women the basics about campaigns, from delivering a stump speech to building a campaign team or crafting a message, to fundraising and getting out the vote. But what makes our training programme different is that we train women to run as they are. Women often need support to view themselves as qualified, capable and deserving candidates. We show them that they don’t need to obtain another promotion or degree and that in fact, their personal story is their biggest asset. Our Run As You Are training curriculum reminds women that they are enough and that they are the fierce leaders we need to elect to build the just democracy that we all deserve.

    What’s the ‘typical’ profile of the women you help run for office? Do you support any women willing to run, regardless of their politics?

    There isn’t a typical Vote Run Lead alumna. We are a nonpartisan organisation, so we train women from all walks of life, all professions, all political parties, and in all stages of their political development. Our values are deeply embedded in promoting intersectional, anti-racist women who are committed to building a just and fair democracy.

    Given the widespread phenomenon of voter suppression in the USA, does your programming also focus on getting out the vote?

    Traditionally, Vote Run Lead does not employ our own get out the vote (GOTV) programme because most of our alumnae are either running or working on a campaign. But in 2020, with the high levels of voter suppression fuelled by misinformation campaigns and health safety concerns, Vote Run Lead did launch a robust GOTV programme with our alumnae. This GOTV programme included eight GOTV-specific training modules, from how to respond to apathy and cynicism around voting, to which digital field and communication tools to use to get out the vote. We also activated over 200 volunteers, had 3,000 conversations, made 30,000 phone calls and sent out over 33,000 text messages to get our alumnae and their networks to go vote.

    Prior to the summer, we also launched a series we called ‘Your Kitchen Cabinet’, where we trained women on how to raise money, do direct voter contact and even launch a digital plan while social distancing. Those guides and webinars can be found on our website and YouTube channel and offer real-time advice and fact-based information.

    Civic space in the USA is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Vote Run Lead through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@VoteRunLead on Twitter.

     

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

    By Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Officer

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

    Read on: Inter Press Service 

     

  • Alert: Is the Ugandan administration "doing an Ethiopia"? CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections

    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.

    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

     

  • Angola: Restrictions on fundamental freedoms continue ahead of elections

    Portuguese 

    The arraignment of two journalists in Angola on spurious charges is the latest assault on fundamental freedoms as the government increases restrictions on civic space ahead of crucial elections scheduled for 23 August 2017.  Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the government of Angola to stop the judicial persecution of journalists, and calls on international observers to ensure freedom of expression is respected in the run up to the elections.

    On 20 June 2017, journalists Rafael Marques de Morais and Mariano Bras Lourenço were indicted by the Office of the Attorney General and charged with “outrage to a body sovereignty” and “insult against public authority” under the Law on Crimes Against the State and Penal Code respectively.

    The charges stem from an article published by Rafael Marques on 26 October 2016 on his website Maka Angola, in which he exposed details of the dubious circumstances in which the Attorney General Joao Mana Moreira de Sousa purchased a piece of land in 2011. Mariano Bras Lourenço, Director of the O Crimenewspaper, was charged after he re-published Rafael’s article. Both journalists could face up to six years in jail.

    “The judicial persecution of journalists is one of several strategies used by the Angolan government to silence critical voices in the lead -up to elections next month,” says Ine Van Severen,

    Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS. “Angola is one of the most repressive states in the Southern Africa region as the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos has shown complete disregard towards human rights norms.”

    Marques has been a victim of judicial persecution in the past. In 2015, he was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence after he was found guilty of defamation for publishing a book titled Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, in 2011. In the book, he revealed details of hundreds of killings by security guards and soldiers and human rights violations in the diamond fields of the Lundas region. 

    The Angolan authorities continue to use violence to disperse peaceful protests.  On 24 June 2017, protests led by the Movimento do Protectorado Lunda Tchokwe (MPL-T) in the provinces of Moxico, Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul, were violently repressed by security forces.  One person died, at least 13 were wounded, and over 78 protesters were detained.   MPL-T has been demanding for autonomy for the Lundas region.  More protests are planned for 29 July 2017.

    In February 2017, security forces again used brute force to disperse peaceful protests in Luanda and Benguela. Demonstrators were calling for the resignation of the Minister for Territorial Administration because of a perceived conflict of interest in his position as a candidate for the ruling party in the August elections and his responsibilities to oversee the voter registration process.

    Even though President José Eduardo dos Santos has agreed to step down after 38 years in power, his government is doing everything possible to ensure that the ruling party, the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), maintains its grip on power. 

    CIVICUS calls on the Government of Angola to stop the judicial persecution of media and respect the rights of all citizens to peacefully assemble. 

    Angola is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform tracking track civic rights violations around the world.

    ENDS

    For more information, please contact:

    Ine Van Severen

    Policy and Research Analyst

    CIVICUS

     

    Grant Clark

    Media Advisor

    CIVICUS

     

  • Are women the last line of defence against Brazil’s authoritarian shift?

    By Ana Cernov, human rights activist and Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

    In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally.

    Read on: Open Democracy 

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • As India goes to to the polls, will the people vote against the ‘politics of hate’

     

    By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

    Womens March3 4 April 2019In just under a week, the world’s largest democracy, India, will vote to elect and constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. According to the Election Commission (EC) of India, nearly 900 million voters will be eligible to vote for representatives to the lower house or the Lok Sabha of the bicameral Indian Parliament. Voting will begin on 11th April and be held in seven phases till 19th May, 2019 across 543 constituencies. The EC has also declared 23rd May, 2019 the day of counting and results.

     

  • Attacks on opposition and media continue as elections approach in Maldives

    • State slaps opposition supporters with spurious “terrorism” charges ahead of elections
    • Opposition campaign offices and members’ properties attacked and vandalised
    • New cumbersome visa requirements for foreign journalists adds to media restrictions
    • Global human rights groups call for probe into attacks and an end to media repression

       

    • BOLIVIA: ‘Civil society, like political society, is deeply divided’

      CIVICUS speaks about the 2019 protests and elections in Bolivia with Eliana Quiroz, Executive Director of Fundación Internet Bolivia (Bolivia Internet Foundation), an organisation dedicated to strengthening free and secure access to the web. In its work to defend online human rights against censorship, surveillance, manipulation, extortion and other harmful practices, the Bolivia Internet Foundation focuses its actions on capacity strengthening among vulnerable publics, the promotion of open discussion spaces and the development of knowledge and technology-based strategies.

       

    • BOLIVIA: ‘The pandemic became a justification for tightening information control’

      CIVICUS speaks about the Bolivian political landscape and upcoming elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with Cristian León, programme director of Asuntos del Sur and coordinator of Public Innovation 360, a project focused on strengthening democracy at the subnational level which is currently being implemented in three Latin American countries. Asuntos del Sur is a regional civil society organisation (CSO) based in Argentina that designs and implements political innovations to develop democracies that are inclusive, participatory and based on gender parity. Cristian León is also a founder and current collaborator of InternetBolivia.org, which promotes digital rights in Bolivia.

       

    • BOLIVIE : « La pandémie est devenue une justification pour le renforcement du contrôle de l’information »

      CIVICUS s’entretien sur la situation politique bolivienne et le calendrier électoral dans le cadre de la pandémie de COVID-19 avec Cristian León, directeur des programmes d’Asuntos del Sur et coordinateur de Public Innovation 360, un projet qui poursuit le renforcement démocratique des gouvernements infranationaux et qui est mis en œuvre dans trois pays d’Amérique latine. Asuntos del Sur est une organisation régionale de la société civile basée en Argentine qui conçoit et met en œuvre des innovations politiques pour développer des démocraties paritaires, inclusives et participatives. Cristian León est également l’un des fondateurs, et actuellement un contributeur, d’InternetBolivia.org, qui défend les droits numériques en Bolivie.

       

    • BURUNDI: ‘The election of new leaders is not synonymous with democracy’

      CIVICUS speaks about the recent elections in Burundi with a civil society activist who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

      Presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections were held in Burundi on 20 May 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, two months before the elections, the United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry on Burundi launched an appeal to the international community, including the UN Security Council and regional institutions, to join forces to encourage the government of Burundi to reopen democratic, civil and political space. On the day of the elections, the president of the Commission of Inquiry stated that the conditions to perform credible and free elections were not met. Asreported by the CIVICUS Monitor, opposition members faced death threats and physical attacks, as well as administrative hurdles, as several candidacy applications were rejected. The leader of an opposition party was murdered and other candidates were arrested on bogus charges. Independent reporting was systematically impeded through the arrest of journalists and the blockage of social media platforms.

      Burundi Elections

       Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

      Has the government of Burundi’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic further restricted the space for civil society?

      Civic space in Burundi has been closed since April 2015, due to the political unrest caused by the decision of former President Pierre Nkurunziza, recently deceased, to run for a controversial third term. This led to widespread violence that left at least 1,200 people dead and forced 400,000 to flee the country. Surprisingly, in March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading in almost all African countries, the Burundian authorities opened space for political campaigns to be held ahead of the May presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. But one can conclude that civic space is still closed in terms of being able to express any open criticism about how the country is politically run, including criticism regarding the way the government handled the pandemic during the electoral period.

      What were the views of civil society about holding elections during the pandemic?

      The decision of the Burundian authorities to allow election campaigns to proceed during a period in which many other African countries were taking measures of confinement to stop the spread of COVID-19 was viewed as denial of the reality of the pandemic to save the political interests of the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy), to the detriment of the public’s health.

      Despite fears of mass COVID-19 contamination, the elections were rushed, at least in part, due to the opportunity to hold an electoral process in the absence of a sizeable number of independent and international observers who could denounce any irregularities. By doing so, given that the National Independent Electoral Commission was mostly composed of members of the ruling party, the government ensured that it could manipulate the election results as much as it wanted.

      Was the outcome of the election accepted by majority of Burundians?

      On 20 May 2020, CNDD-FDD candidate Évariste Ndayishimiye was elected president with 71 per cent of the vote. The ruling party also won 72 of the 100 seats at stake in the National Assembly.

      As soon as the Electoral Commission announced the results, opposition parties such as the National Council for Liberation, which came a distant second, stated in foreign media that the official numbers were not credible and were the result of massive fraud. The truth is that the elections were held in a context of continuing repression of the political opposition, independent media and civil society. No international observers were present because the government had warned that due to the pandemic they would have to be quarantined for 14 days after their arrival.

      Low-key criticisms were made by others, including the Catholic Church, regarding incidents that marked the election processes. Others whispered, as it’s not easy to make open criticisms, that election results were rigged. But that was it. Powerful members of the international community such as the governments of Belgium and the USA were fast to congratulate the elected president, and the East African Community congratulated Burundi for holding a “peaceful and successful” election.

      In my personal view, the outcomes of the elections were eventually accepted because many feared that bloodshed could follow if an open rejection of the election results by the opposition was followed by street protests.

      How likely is that the elections result will lead to an improvement of democracy and civic space?

      Some pretend to believe that the election of new leaders is synonymous with democracy. The outcome of the May 2020 elections helped Burundi change the faces of top leaders and show that the dictator who ruled us for 15 years is no longer leading the country. However, the human rights violations that took place during the electoral campaign, the appointment of officials under European or US economic sanctions for the human rights abuses they had committed and the political rhetoric describing some countries and their leaders as colonialists all show that democracy in Burundi still has a long way to go.

      However, some measures to fight against corruption and others abuses that President Ndayishimiye has taken since assuming office have allowed us to believe that the impunity that some local authorities enjoyed during Nkurunziza’s administration might come to an end.

      Many had argued that the plan was for former President Nkurunziza to remain the power behind the scenes. Have prospects changed as a result of his death?

      Former President Nkurunziza died unexpectedly in June, before his successor had even been inaugurated. As a new president had already been elected, the Constitutional Court decided that he should be sworn in two months early.

      Many believed that Nkurunziza’s passing would allow President Ndayishimiye to rule with total independence, and his inaugural speech seemed to confirm it, as he vowed to enter into dialogue with anyone, on any issue. It is too soon to say whether the fact that Nkurunziza is out of the equation will allow the new administration to open up civic space and whether the new president will seize this opportunity. However, it is encouraging to see that the new president has already met with the leaders of other political parties, former Burundi presidents and Anglican and Catholic bishops, and has promised to promote dialogue. We are expectant to find out whether his words will turn into actions.

      At the same time, however, the Minister of Home Affairs has recently issued a note to halt the registration of all new civil society organisations and churches and the recognition of newly elected authorities of organisations, pending a new order. Such decisions are inconsistent with the change that is being sought. If maintained, they will hinder civil society from growing and becoming a legitimate and publicly recognised sphere.

      What should the international community do to help improve civic space in Burundi?

      It is hard to set just a few priorities, as many things need to be put in place for Burundi to become a place of freedoms. However, it would be vital to engage the government of Burundi in multidimensional dialogue. International cooperation needs to be relaunched in a way that helps the Burundian government to end endemic poverty. The international community should advocate the repatriation of all refugees, including those who are under an arrest warrant from the Burundian government, and ensure their protection. And it also should offer its mediation to solve conflict between Burundi and its neighbouring countries, especially Rwanda, in order to facilitate the movement of people and goods and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

      If the suggested priorities are pursued, the Burundian authorities might come to realise that Burundi is not isolated and that the international community is not acting to sabotage its interests, but rather to strengthen the positive aspects of globalisation in all domains.

      Civic space in Burundi is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

       

    • BURUNDI: «Élire de nouveaux dirigeants n’est pas synonyme de démocratie»

      CIVICUS parle des récentes élections au Burundi avec un activiste de la société civile qui, pour des raisons de sécurité, a préféré rester anonyme.

      Le 20 mai 2020, dans le cadre de la pandémie COVID-19, des élections présidentielles, parlementaires et municipales ont eu lieu au Burundi. En mars, deux mois avant les élections, la Commission d'Enquête des Nations Unies sur le Burundi a lancé un appel à la communauté internationale, y compris le Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies et les institutions régionales, pour qu'elle unisse ses forces pour encourager le gouvernement du Burundi à rouvrir les espaces démocratiques, civils et politiques. Le jour des élections, le président de la Commission d'Enquête a déclaré que les conditions n'étaient pas réunies pour organiser des élections libres et crédibles. Commel'a rapporté le CIVICUS Monitor, de nombreux politiciens de l'opposition ont reçu des menaces de mort et ont subi des agressions physiques, et les partis d'opposition se sont heurtés à des obstacles administratifs, car plusieurs demandes d’inscription des candidatures ont été rejetées. Le chef d'un parti d'opposition a été assassiné et d'autres candidats ont été arrêtés sur la base de fausses accusations. Le journalisme indépendant s'est heurté à des obstacles systématiques, tels que l'arrestation de journalistes et le blocage des plateformes de réseaux sociaux.

      Burundi Elections

      Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

      La réponse du gouvernement du Burundi à la pandémie de COVID-19 a-t-il amplifié les restrictions croissantes sur l'espace civique?

      L'espace civique au Burundi est fermé depuis avril 2015, à la suite de troubles politiques déclenchés par la décision de l'ancien président burundais récemment décédé, Pierre Nkurunziza, d’obtenir un troisième mandat malgré les controverses. Cela a déclenché une violence généralisée qui a fait au moins 1 200 morts et contraint 400 000 personnes à fuir le pays. Étonnamment, en mars 2020, alors que la pandémie de COVID-19 se propageait dans presque tous les pays africains, les autorités burundaises ont ouvert un espace pour que des campagnes aient lieu pour les élections présidentielles, parlementaires et municipales de mai. Mais on peut conclure que l'espace civique continue d'être fermé en ce qui concerne les possibilités d'expression de toute critique ouverte de la façon dont le pays est géré politiquement, ce qui inclut la critique de la façon dont le gouvernement a géré la pandémie au cours de la période électorale.

      Quelle a été la position de la société civile concernant la décision de tenir des élections pendant la pandémie?

      La décision des autorités burundaises de permettre le déroulement des campagnes électorales à une époque où de nombreux autres pays africains prenaient des mesures de confinement pour arrêter la propagation du COVID-19 a été interprétée comme un déni de la réalité de la pandémie visant à sauver les intérêts politiques du parti au pouvoir, le CNDD-FDD (Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie - Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie), au détriment de la santé de la population.

      Malgré les craintes d'une propagation massive du COVID-19, l'une des raisons pour lesquelles le gouvernement s'est précipité pour organiser les élections a été l'opportunité de mener un processus électoral en l'absence d'un nombre important d'observateurs indépendants et internationaux qui pourraient signaler tout acte répréhensible. La Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante étant principalement composée de membres du parti au pouvoir, cette décision a mis le gouvernement en mesure de manipuler les résultats des élections autant qu'il le voulait.

       

      Le résultat des élections a-t-il été accepté par la majorité des gens?

      Le 20 mai 2020, Évariste Ndayishimiye, le candidat du parti au pouvoir, le CNDD-FDD, a été élu président avec 71% des voix. Le CNDD-FDD a également remporté 72 des 100 sièges à l'Assemblée Nationale.

      Dès l'annonce de ces résultats par la commission électorale, des partis d'opposition comme le Congrès National pour la Liberté, placé comme lointain second, ont déclaré aux médias étrangers que les chiffres officiels n'étaient pas crédibles et qu’ils étaient le résultat de fraude massive. La vérité est que les élections se sont déroulées dans un contexte de répression permanente de l'opposition politique, des médias indépendants et de la société civile. Il n'y avait pas d'observateurs internationaux car le gouvernement les avait avertis qu'en raison de la pandémie, ceux qui venaient devraient rester en quarantaine pendant 14 jours à compter de leur arrivée.

      Il y a eu quelques critiques discrètes, notamment de la part de l'Église catholique, à propos des incidents qui ont marqué le processus électoral. D'autres ont chuchoté (car il n'est pas facile de faire une critique ouverte au Burundi) que les résultats des élections avaient été truqués. Mais ce fut tout. Des membres puissants de la communauté internationale, comme le gouvernement de la Belgique et des États-Unis, se sont précipités pour saluer le président élu, et la Communauté de l'Afrique de l'Est a félicité le Burundi pour avoir organisé des élections «pacifiques et réussies».

      À mon avis, le résultat des élections a finalement été accepté car beaucoup craignaient l'effusion de sang qui pourrait se produire si le rejet ouvert des résultats des élections par l'opposition était suivi de manifestations de rue.

      Quelles sont les chances que les résultats des élections conduisent à une amélioration de la démocratie et de l'espace civique?

      Il y a ceux qui disent croire qu’élire de nouveaux dirigeants est synonyme de démocratie. Le résultat des élections de mai 2020 a aidé le Burundi à changer le visage des hauts dirigeants et à montrer que le dictateur qui nous gouvernait depuis 15 ans ne dirige plus le pays. Cependant, les violations des droits humains qui ont eu lieu pendant la campagne électorale, la nomination de responsables sous sanctions économiques américaines ou européennes pour avoir commis des violations des droits humains et la rhétorique politique utilisée pour dépeindre certains pays et leurs dirigeants comme des colonialistes montrent que la démocratie au Burundi a encore un long chemin à parcourir.

      Cependant, certaines mesures de lutte contre la corruption et autres abus que le président Ndayishimiye a prises depuis son entrée en fonction laissent penser que l'impunité dont jouissaient certaines autorités locales sous le gouvernement Nkurunziza pourrait prendre fin.

      Beaucoup pensaient que le plan pour l'ancien président Nkurunziza était de continuer à détenir le pouvoir en coulisse. Les perspectives ont-elles changé à la suite de son décès?

      L'ancien président Nkurunziza est décédé subitement en juin, avant que son successeur ne prenne ses fonctions. Comme il y avait déjà un président élu, la Cour Constitutionnelle a décidé qu'il devait prêter serment deux mois à l'avance.

      Beaucoup pensaient que la mort de Nkurunziza permettrait au président Ndayishimiye de gouverner en toute indépendance, et il a semblé le confirmer dans son discours inaugural, où il a promis d'engager un large dialogue sur toutes les questions. Il est trop tôt pour s'assurer que le fait que Nkurunziza ait été exclu de l'équation permettra au nouveau gouvernement d'ouvrir l'espace civique et que le nouveau président saisira cette opportunité. Cependant, il est encourageant de voir que le nouveau président a déjà rencontré les dirigeants d'autres partis politiques, les anciens présidents du Burundi, les évêques catholiques et anglicans, et a promis de promouvoir le dialogue. Nous sommes impatients de voir si ses paroles se traduiront en action.

      Au même temps, cependant, le Ministre de l’intérieur a récemment publié une résolution visant à suspendre jusqu’à nouvel ordre l’enregistrement des nouvelles organisations de la société civile et des églises et la reconnaissance des nouvelles autorités des organisations existantes. Cette décision est incompatible avec le changement qu’on désire. Si elle est maintenue, elle empêchera la société civile de se développer et de devenir un interlocuteur légitime et publiquement reconnu.

      Que devrait faire la communauté internationale pour contribuer à améliorer l'espace civique au Burundi?

      Il est difficile de fixer des priorités, car il y a beaucoup de choses à mettre en place si le Burundi veut devenir une terre de liberté. Cependant, il serait vital d'impliquer le gouvernement du Burundi dans un dialogue multidimensionnel. La coopération internationale doit être relancée afin d’aider le gouvernement burundais à mettre fin à la pauvreté endémique. La communauté internationale doit plaider pour le rapatriement de tous les réfugiés, y compris ceux qui ont des ordres d'arrêt du gouvernement burundais, et assurer leur protection. Et elle doit également offrir sa médiation pour résoudre le conflit entre le Burundi et ses pays voisins, notamment le Rwanda, afin de faciliter la circulation des personnes et des biens et la restauration des relations diplomatiques.

      Si les priorités suggérées sont poursuivies, les autorités burundaises pourraient se rendre compte que le Burundi n’est pas isolé et que la communauté internationale n’agit pas pour saboter ses intérêts, mais plutôt pour renforcer les aspects positifs de la mondialisation dans tous les domaines.

      L'espace civique au Burundi est classé comme «fermé» par leCIVICUS Monitor.

       

    • Cameroon elections promise more trouble, not solutions for Anglophones

      By Teldah Mawarire, Campaigns and Advocacy Officer and Ine van Severen, Civic Space Research Officer

      For nations in crisis, free and fair elections usually can bring much-needed reprieve. Voting offers hope and chance to end strife and conflict. We’ve seen this in recent times in countries like The Gambia, The Maldives and Malaysia, where increasingly autocratic presidents were booted out of office at the ballot box by fed-up voters.

      Read on: The Government and Business Journal

       

    • Can Zim exiles finally return home?

      By Teldah Mawarire, Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator 

      I know many Zimbabweans in the diaspora. I am one of them. Many such exiled Zimbabweans have written public break-up letters with the country of their birth and “filed for divorce” because the relationship had become too “toxic”. With each passing election, nothing changes despite all the promises. Yet with every election, that tortured relationship is rekindled with hope. Perhaps this one will deliver the chance to return home.

      Read on: City Press

       

    • CHILE: ‘This historic constituent moment was achieved by citizens’

      CIVICUS speaks with Marcela Guillibrand De la Jara, Executive Director of the Chilean Volunteer Network (Red de Voluntarios de Chile) and General Coordinator of Now It’s Our Time to Participate (Ahora Nos Toca Participar). The Volunteer Network is a national platform that brings together Chilean civil society organisations (CSOs) that promote voluntary action. Now It's Our Time to Participate is an initiative of social organisations gathered in the New Social Pact (NPS-Chile) that seeks to contribute to strengthening democracy and social cohesion by promoting citizen participation in the plebiscite on a new constitution scheduled for October 2020 and in the constituent process that the plebiscite is expected to trigger. The campaign focuses on citizen training, the creation of spaces for dialogue and the generation of proposals to feed into the constituent process.

      Marcela Guillibrand

      In late 2019, a referendum was called in order to trigger a constituent process. To what extent was this the victory of a mobilised society?

      In October 2019, Chile reactivated its political and social life, collectively and throughout its territory. Citizens took to the streets to meet, to speak and take part in politics, as they had not done for a long time. This is how specific and unconventional participatory experiences emerged, locally rooted and with a local identity, mixed with expressions of discontent and frustration towards the structural inequality that had developed and manifested in our country for a long time.

      All this was initially motivated by young people’s dissatisfaction with an increase of 30 pesos (approx. US$0.33) on the price of the ticket used in the Chilean capital’s transportation system, the Metro. In reaction to the increase, demonstrations took place, initially in the form of fare evasion but eventually embracing slogans such as ‘It's not 30 pesos, it's 30 years’, a reference to the time that we have been living in a democracy – since our democratic transition took place in 1990 – and the feeling, shared by a large part of the population, that we have not been included in the decision-making process. This was fuelled by high levels of mistrust in institutions, great political disaffection and the reaction against a model that pushed our country towards more individualistic views and forms of participation in all areas.

      Faced with a level of mobilisation that did not relent, on 15 November 2019 political parties across the spectrum signed the ‘Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution’. As a result, citizens were given the opportunity to decide if they want a new constitution through a plebiscite that will be held on 25 October 2020. In the plebiscite, citizens must also select the mechanism that would be used to draft a new constitution: a constitutional convention, a body fully elected for the purpose of drafting the constitution; or a mixed constitutional convention, which would include both current Congress members, who would make up 50 per cent of the body, and representatives elected exclusively for this task, who would make up the other 50 per cent. A large part of society views this process as opening up a unique opportunity for us to choose freely the Chile we want. Although technically what gave rise to this opportunity was an agreement between various political groupings, this historic constituent moment was achieved by citizens.

      Within this process, civil society has also made historic progress on gender issues. Various social organisations that have long worked very hard to promote and defend women’s rights pushed the demand for gender parity in the constituent process, and managed to impose it thanks to the echo they found among various political groups represented in Congress. If the option in favour of drafting a new constitution wins in the plebiscite, the gender parity rule will apply in the election of constitutional delegates. The rule, however, will only be fully operational if the constitutional convention alternative prevails, since in that case all members of the constituent body would be elected in a single election. If the mixed constitutional convention alternative is chosen, the parity rule would apply to the half of the body that will be elected, but not to the half that will be made up of legislators who already occupy congressional seats.

      What stance has Chilean civil society taken regarding the prospect of a constitutional reform process?

      As the plebiscite date approaches, interest on the subject has increased. We have had localised quarantines for more than five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the organisations with which we interact have had their attention focused mainly on the survival of their programmes and supporting their target populations, since economically the pandemic has hit them very hard. Even so, little by little they have shown growing interest in constitutional issues. For our part, we have stayed connected with them and we have worked together to offer them a platform that contains citizenship training materials that they can use and to coordinate various spaces to conduct training through digital platforms and other mechanisms suited to reach a variety of territories, such as radio and text messaging.

      It is in this context that we launched Now It’s Our Time to Participate, an initiative of the New Social Pact (Nuevo Pacto Social) network, which brings together just over 700 CSOs. The initiative seeks to guarantee the training of citizens and citizen participation in the context of the constituent process that will likely take place. Our focus is on activating citizens, providing them with training tools and jointly generating spaces for participation and dialogue to regain prominence in decision-making in our country. For this, in the run-up to the plebiscite, we have organised a range of key content in several sections – citizen participation, constitution and constituent process – that we have made available to citizens and CSOs through our web platform, www.ahoranostocaparticipar.cl, as well as on social media and through other means. On the basis of this content we have developed a range of training options that include accessible materials in various languages, such as Aymara, Mapudungun and Rapa Nui, as well as in Creole. The idea is that all the people who wish to can find answers in these materials about the constitution and the likely constituent process, in order to be able to take part in the plebiscite in a free and informed manner and thus contribute to achieving the most massive vote in Chilean history.

      The plebiscite had originally been planned for April before being postponed to October due to the pandemic. Have there been any conflicts or disagreements regarding the postponement and the new date?

      The health scenario created by the pandemic forced the relevant institutions to move the date of the plebiscite to October. The section of civil society with which we interact understood that this change was necessary based on a higher common good, people’s health. At the moment we take for granted that the plebiscite will take place in October, since the institutions that could make the decision to change the date have not yet done so, so we continue to work based on that date. Currently, issues related to the implementation of the plebiscite are being discussed. They focus firstly on health safeguards, but also on how to promote citizen participation in this process, which will undoubtedly have very different characteristics from what we are used to. Intersectoral working groups have been set up to work on the issue. First, the Senate set up a forum to receive recommendations and analyse the comparative experiences of other countries that have been in the same situation. Then the Electoral Service kept the forum to continue working along the lines of guaranteeing a safe and participatory plebiscite. Various CSOs have been invited to participate, including Now It's Our Time to Participate. Jointly with these organisations, we have produced a document with recommendations that range from health issues to campaign regulations, and also includes issues such as access to information and citizen capacity development, which is what we work on. This space continues in operation.

      Are measures being taken so that people’s participation in the campaign and vote is not undermined by the effects of the pandemic?

      The current pandemic scenario is naturally forcing us to adopt safeguards. The electoral advertising phase kicked off on 26 August, so now it is possible to disseminate campaign materials in public places that are expressly authorised by the Electoral Service, as well as on the media. Debate is taking place with great force on social media, which given the need to take precautions, avoid crowds and physical contact and respect sanitary restrictions decreed by the authorities, is currently the main space to gain visibility.

      What to do to guarantee everyone’s right to participate on the day of the plebiscite is something that has been under discussion. As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, some places in our country remain under confinement, multiple sectors are quarantined due to the presence of active cases, and there are municipalities that had initiated a deconfinement plan but then had to back off due to new outbreaks of the virus.

      How do we guarantee the right to participation of those people who are infected with COVID-19? What alternatives do we have? These are the kind of questions that are being debated by both the public and the relevant authorities who are in a position to respond to these demands.

      Along these lines, alongside various CSOs we are promoting a series of recommendations that address not only the sanitary aspect – so that COVID-19 patients can vote – but also issues such as ensuring access to timely information and citizen capacity development to all those people who have historically been excluded from participation for multiple reasons, including due to not having adequate information channels to receive content, or content not being available in a variety of languages. In this sense, it is important that every effort be made to guarantee the right to participation, not only to those who at this particular time might not be in a position to exercise it for health reasons, but also to those who have historically found themselves in a more vulnerable situation, such as older adults, Indigenous peoples, rural populations, women, LGBTQI+ people and migrants.

      Civic space in Chile is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
      Get in touch with Now It’s Our Time to Participate through itswebsite,Instagram or itsFacebook page, and follow@ahrnostoca and@marbrandd on Twitter.

       

       

    • CHILI : « Ce moment historique est un accomplissement de la part des citoyens »

      CIVICUS s’entretient avec Marcela Guillibrand De la Jara, directrice exécutive du Réseau chilien de volontaires et coordinatrice générale de Ahora Nos Toca Participar. Le Réseau de volontaires est une plateforme nationale qui rassemble des organisations de la société civile (OSC) chilienne promouvant le volontariat. Ahora Nos Toca Participar est une initiative d’organisations sociales regroupées dans le Nouveau Pacte Social (NPS-Chili) qui cherche à contribuer au renforcement de la démocratie et de la cohésion sociale en promouvant la participation des citoyens au référendum sur la réforme constitutionnelle prévu pour octobre 2020 et au processus constituant qui devrait commencer avec lui. La campagne se concentre sur l’éducation des citoyens, la création d’espaces de dialogue et la génération de propositions pour alimenter le processus constituant.

       

    • Citizen rights and the upcoming presidential elections in Africa

      By David Kode

      It is a big year for democracy on the African continent. Millions will head to the polls in at least eight presidential elections. In many of these countries there are big aspirations for political change, while in others there are concerns about whether the elections will be fair and transparent. 

      Read on: East African Standard

       

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