elections

 

  • 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

     

  • CIVICUS Calls For Calm and Respect of Voters’ Rights in Kenya Elections

    As Kenyans go to the polls tomorrow to vote in general elections, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS calls on the authorities, leaders of political parties and communities to adhere to democratic principles and respect the will of all Kenyans.

    Kenya has a history of violence during election seasons and fear of a recurrence has dominated the period of political campaigns. Kenyan authorities and leaders of political parties have a responsibility to ensure a peaceful and transparent election, which will enhance Kenya’s democratic credentials.

    Human rights violations committed over the last few months have raised security concerns and increased calls for all involved in the vote to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the 2007-2008 elections in which over 1,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 internally displaced.  

    Last week, Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) head of Information, Communication and Technology, was found dead after being missing for three days.  Msando had played a key role in the development of a new electronic ballot and voter registration system and complained of death threats shortly before he was killed. 

    Since Msando oversaw the new electronic system regarded as key to eliminating vote rigging and ensuring the credibility of the elections, his killing raises serious concerns over threats of violence related to electoral malpractices. Prior to the adoption of the new system, Kenya’s High Court nullified a contract awarded to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair Printing and Publishing, a company with alleged links to President Uhuru Kenyatta.  Following the court’s 9 July ruling, President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Coalition questioned the independence of the judiciary and accused it of supporting the political opposition.  

    The election campaign period has also been dominated by an exchange of accusations between President Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition leader, Raila Odinga.  The President accused Odinga of trying to divide Kenya and provoke violence and Odinga, in turn, accused the President of planning to rig the vote. While the 2013 elections were largely peaceful, violence erupted following the 2007 elections after political figures encouraged supporters to protest election results.  

    “Kenya’s politics is largely based on ethnic affiliations and the views of political figures are taken seriously.  It will be very important for leaders to avoid using language that may incite the population and instigate violence during and after tomorrow’s elections.   Said David Kode, CIVICUS’ Head of Advocacy and Campaigns.

    There has been violence among rival parties’ supporters during the nominations of candidates for positions of president, legislators and local councillors.  Human rights defenders and journalists have also been attacked, intimidated and vilified as they sought to access voter registration stations and polling booths and report on political campaigns. On 18 June 2017, Walter Menya of the Nation newspaper was arrested and held at an undisclosed location for two days before being released without charge. Some communities have heightened tensions by accusing activists and journalists of anti-nationalist agendas for making representations at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 polls. 

    CIVICUS calls on the Kenyan authorities, politicians and leaders to act in a responsible manner and respect the will of the electorate during and after the elections. 

    Kenya’s civic space is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe. It is currently on the Monitor’s Watch List of countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    Watch our interview with activist and poet Sitawa Namwalie talking about about her hopes and fears for 2017 Kenyan Elections. 

    ENDS

    For more information, please contact:

    Grant Clark

    Senior Media Advisor

    CIVICUS

    Email:

    T: +27 63 567 9719

     

    David Kode

    Head of Advocacy and Campaigns

    CIVICUS

    Email:

     

  • 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.

     

  • CIVICUS condemns crackdown on Civil Society in Bahrain

    Johannesburg. 10 December 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply concerned about the deteriorating operating environment for civil society in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The past few months have been marred by growing intolerance towards dissenters, which began in the run up to the October elections and continues in the post election phase.

    Authorities in Bahrain are waging a relentless campaign against activists whose views are not in line with the official position. Currently, 24 prominent human rights defenders are facing trial under Bahrain's anti-terrorism laws. They have been charged with collaborating with foreign organisations and circulating false information. They have also been accused of forming terrorist networks, destruction of public and private property and defaming the authorities.

    The arrested activists have complained about torture and abuse meted out to them by the National Security Agency. They have so far appeared in court on four occasions and the next hearing has been scheduled for 23 December. During their first appearance in court on 27 October, detainees informed the court that while in detention they were beaten, electrocuted, verbally and physically assaulted and denied adequate sleep. Those detained were not allowed access to legal representation during interrogation and some family members did not know where they were being detained for two weeks after their arrest. It has also been reported that prior to, during and after the elections about 350 other activists have been arrested.

    "In a worrying trend, it has become commonplace in Bahrain to arrest activists for writing articles and delivering speeches which are critical of the government's discriminatory policies and official corruption,"  said Netsanet Belay, CIVICUS' Director of Policy and Research. "Persecution and torture of public-spirited individuals offering legitimate criticism against official policies and the clampdown on their organisations amounts to a repudiation of Bahrain's accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture."

    The Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), a CIVICUS partner for the Civil Society Index and one of the few remaining independent groups striving for the protection of civil and political freedoms in the country, has been targeted in the recent crackdown. On 6 September, the Ministry of Social Development issued an order to dissolve the Board of the BHRS and went ahead to appoint an administrator 'an employee from the Ministry' to lead the BHRS. The BHRS has had to go to court in response to these arbitrary actions and its fate currently depends on the court's response. The first hearing of the case scheduled for 26 October has been postponed to 4 January 2011.

    According to Abdullah Aldorazi of BHRS, "The unfair order issued by the Ministry of Social Development to dissolve the Board of the BHRS is a security strategy aimed at preventing the documentation of atrocities carried out by the authorities during the crackdown and preventing families of the detainees from using the society as a safe haven."

    CIVICUS urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to live up to their commitments under international law and guarantee civil society the space to freely express, associate and assemble.

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


    For more information please contact CIVICUS:


    Jessica Hume ( , +27 82 768 0250), Communications Manager

    or

    David Kode ( , +27 73 775 8649), Policy Officer
    Office Tel: +27 11 833 5959

    CIVICUS House, 24 Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, Newtown 2001, Johannesburg, South Africa
    PO Box 933, Southdale 2135, Johannesburg, South Africa
    tel: +27-11-833-5959 | fax: +27-11-833-7997 | email:
    web: www.civicus.org

     

  • CIVICUS interview with Malaysia electoral reform coalition, Bersih 2.0

    In the lead up to the 14th general elections in Malaysia on 9 May, CIVICUS interviewed the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0 which means "clean" in Malay). The coalition - made up of like-minded civil society organisations - was officially launched in 2006 with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia.

    Among its eights demands include: cleaning the electoral roll; reforming postal balloting; the use of indelible ink; a minimum 21 days campaign period; free and fair access to media for all political parties; strengthening public institutions to act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy and halting corruption and dirty politics.

    Since 2007, it has organized five massive street protests to the have drawn tens of thousands of people to protest on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country calling for electoral and national reform. Smallers protests have also been held in different countries across the world. Ahead of these mass rallies Bersih 2.0 organisers have been arrested or harassed by the authorities and authorities have seized their computers, mobile phones and documents.

    Over the last month, Bersih 2.0 raised concerns about the redelineation of constituencies which was done in haste in favour of the ruling government, highlighted problems with the overseas postal voting system, publicized vote buying by candidates and the manipulation and abuse of power by the Election Commission (EC) on Nomination Day

    More information on Bersih 2.0 can be found at https://www.bersih.org

     

  • CIVICUS warns of grave dangers to civil society activists in Kenya

    Johannesburg. 18 May 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation warns that the operating environment for civil society in Kenya remains fraught with danger. As the spotlight is focused on impunity in Kenya by the international community including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and special representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), civil society activists are facing grave risks.

    Groups advocating for ending impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and those that have documented the violations are particularly threatened. On 4 May 2010, a meeting organised by Bunge la Mwannanchi on the post election violence in Kenya was dispersed and four of its activists were detained and later released without charges. In April this year, Kenneth Kirimi, a member of the civil society group, Release Political Prisoners, was arbitrarily detained and severely tortured by security operatives requiring him to need medical treatment. He was questioned with regard to his work on collecting information about extra-judicial killings and sharing of information with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston.

     

  • Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean under threat

    Restrictions on civic space rising despite prevalence of democracy

    Click hereto read a Spanish language version of this release

    Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean is coming under increasing pressure despite the prevalence of electoral democracy in the region, says a new reportreleased today by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

    While the core civil society freedoms of association, assembly and expression are constitutionally recognised in most countries, legal, administrative and de facto barriers to the exercise of these freedoms have risen throughout the continent. These restrictions are appearing after an upsurge of citizens’ protests over entrenched issues of inequality, corruption and abuses of political power.

     

  • CORÉE DU SUD : « Les activistes et déserteurs nord-coréens subissent une pression croissante pour les faire taire »

    Ethan Hee Seok ShinCIVICUS s'entretient avec Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, analyste juridique pour le Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), une organisation de la société civile (OSC) basée à Séoul et fondée par des défenseurs des droits humains et des chercheurs de cinq pays. Créée en 2014, elle est la première OSC basée en Corée qui se concentre sur les mécanismes de justice transitionnelle dans les régimes les plus répressifs du monde, y compris la Corée du Nord. Le TJWG poursuit l'objectif de développer des méthodes pratiques pour lutter contre les violations massives des droits humains et promouvoir la justice pour les victimes avant et après la transition. Ethan travaille au Central Repository Project du TJWG, qui utilise une plate-forme sécurisée pour documenter et faire connaître les cas de disparitions forcées en Corée du Nord. Il utilise des actions législatives et juridiques pour sensibiliser à la situation des droits humains en Corée du Nord.

     

    Pouvez-vous nous parler du travail que font les groupes de la société civile sud-coréenne sur les droits humains en Corée du Nord ?

    Il existe un éventail assez large d'OSC travaillant sur les questions des droits humains en Corée du Nord. TJWG a travaillé pour ouvrir la voie à la justice transitionnelle en Corée du Nord, remplissant sa mission principale, la documentation des droits humains.

    Le projet phare du TJWG a abouti à la publication d'une série de rapports sur les exécutions publiques en Corée du Nord, sur la base d'entretiens avec des personnes en fuite vivant maintenant en Corée du Sud. Nous enregistrons les informations géo-spatiales des sites de tuerie, des lieux de sépulture et des lieux de stockage des enregistrements, tels que les tribunaux et les établissements chargés de l'application de la loi, en demandant à nos personnes interrogées d'identifier les emplacements sur Google Earth. La première édition du rapport a été publiée en juillet 2017 et reposait sur 375 entretiens, et la deuxième édition a été lancée en juin 2019, à la suite de 610 entretiens.

    Nous sommes également en train de constituer une base de données en ligne, FOOTPRINTS, qui enregistre les enlèvements et les disparitions forcées commis en Corée du Nord et par la Corée du Nord. La plateforme utilise Uwazi, une technologie gratuite et open source qui permet d'organiser, d'analyser et de publier des documents, développée par l'OSC HURIDOCS. Une fois rendu public, FOOTPRINTS offrira une plate-forme facilement accessible et de recherche simple pour retrouver les personnes capturées et disparues en Corée du Nord.

    Outre le travail de documentation et d'établissement de rapports, nous avons été activement impliqués dans des initiatives de plaidoyer nationales et internationales. En collaboration avec d'autres OSC des droits humains, le TJWG a rédigé et présenté une lettre ouverte exhortant l'Union européenne à renforcer le libellé et les recommandations des résolutions annuelles sur les droits humains adoptées par l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies (ONU) et le Conseil des droits de l’Homme sur la Corée du Nord. Nous avons également présenté des cas au Groupe de travail des Nations Unies sur la détention arbitraire, au Groupe de travail des Nations Unies sur les disparitions forcées ou involontaires et à d'autres experts des droits humains des Nations Unies.

    En juillet 2020, le gouvernement sud-coréen a révoqué l'enregistrement de deux OSC et a publié un avis d'examen administratif et d'inspection aux groupes « dirigés par des fugitifs » axés sur les droits humains en Corée du Nord. Pourquoi ces groupes sont-ils ciblés ?

    Le catalyseur direct a été les provocations nord-coréennes de juin 2020. Le 4 juin, Kim Yo-Jong, sœur du guide suprême Kim Jong-Un et premier directeur adjoint du département du Comité central du Parti des travailleurs de Corée, a critiqué les « brochures anti-RPDC » [République populaire démocratique de Corée] distribuées en Corée du Nord par des « fugitifs de Corée du Nord » et a menacé d’arrêter le tourisme sur le mont Kumgang, de démolir complètement la région industrielle de Kaesong, de fermer le bureau de liaison intercoréen, et de résilier l'accord militaire de 2018 qui créait des zones tampons démilitarisées, tout ce à moins que les autorités sud-coréennes ne prennent « des mesures appropriées ».

    Quatre heures seulement après le bombardement matinal de Kim Yo-Jong, le Ministère sud-coréen de l'Unification (MOU) a annoncé qu'il préparerait un projet de loi interdisant la distribution de tracts en Corée du Nord. C'était un changement radical dans la position de longue date du gouvernement, qui avait constamment contourné une telle législation par crainte de violer la liberté d'expression.

    Le 10 juin 2020, le MOU a annoncé qu'il déposerait des accusations criminelles contre Park Sang-Hak et Park Jung-Oh, deux fugitifs nord-coréens, pour violation de l'article 13 de la loi sur l'échange et la coopération intercoréennes, qui doit être approuvée avant tout échange intercoréen de marchandises, et qu'il révoquerait la reconnaissance juridique de leurs organisations, Fighters For Free North Korea (FFNK) et KuenSaem, pour l'envoi de brochures en Corée du Nord par l'utilisation de montgolfières et des bouteilles en PET pleines de riz jetées dans les courants océaniques, tel qu’ils l’ont fait le 31 mai 2020.

    Alors que le gouvernement nord-coréen a finalement atténué sa rhétorique, le gouvernement sud-coréen a commencé à sévir contre les organisations de défense des droits humains et les groupes de déserteurs nord-coréens, considérés comme un obstacle à la paix intercoréenne.

    Le 29 juin 2020, le MOU a tenu une audience et le 17 juillet il s'est appuyé sur l'article 38 du Code civil, vestige de l'époque autoritaire, pour annoncer la révocation de la reconnaissance légale de la FFNK et de KuenSaem pour avoir enfreint les conditions d’obtenir un statut juridique en entravant gravement la politique de réunification du gouvernement, en distribuant des brochures et des articles en Corée du Nord au-delà des objectifs déclarés de sa charte et en fomentant des tensions dans la péninsule coréenne.

    Le protocole d'entente a également lancé des « inspections commerciales » d'autres groupes nord-coréens de défense des droits humains et de transfert et de réinstallation, parmi les plus de 400 associations reconnues avec l'autorisation du protocole d'accord, peut-être en vue de révoquer leur reconnaissance légale. Le 15 juillet 2020, la North Korean Defectors Association a reçu un avis du MOU lui indiquant qu'elle serait inspectée pour la première fois depuis sa reconnaissance en 2010. Le lendemain, les autorités du MOU ont informé les journalistes qu'elles procéderaient d'abord à des inspections commerciales sur 25 groupes nord-coréens de soutien et d'implantation et de défense des droits humains, 13 d'entre eux dirigés par des transfuges nord-coréens, et que d'autres seraient inspectés à l'avenir. Tout en reconnaissant que la question des brochures avait déclenché les inspections, le protocole d'entente a ajouté que les inspections commerciales ne seraient pas limitées aux personnes impliquées dans la campagne de distribution de brochures.

    Combien de groupes ont été inspectés après les annonces ?

    En raison du tollé national et international sur la nature manifestement discriminatoire des inspections des groupes de défense des droits humains et des personnes évadées de Corée du Nord, le mémorandum d'accord a quelque peu modéré son approche et a commencé tardivement à faire valoir qu'il vérifiait toutes les OSC enregistrées dans le cadre du PE.

    Le 6 octobre 2020, le protocole d'entente a déclaré aux journalistes qu'il avait décidé d'inspecter 109 OSC, sur un total de 433, en raison qu’elles n’avaient pas soumis leurs rapports annuels, ou que les documents soumis étaient incomplets. Selon les informations fournies, 13 des 109 groupes à inspecter sont dirigés par des personnes qui ont fui la Corée du Nord; 22 (dont 16 qui travaillent sur les droits humains en Corée du Nord et la relocalisation des déserteurs, cinq qui travaillent dans le domaine social et culturel et un qui travaille dans le domaine de la politique d'unification) ont déjà été inspectés et aucun n'a révélé de motifs sérieux de se voir retirer la reconnaissance; et le protocole d'entente prévoit d'achever l'inspection des 87 OSC restantes d'ici la fin de 2020.

    En tout état de cause, le gouvernement semble avoir déjà atteint son objectif de signaler clairement à la Corée du Nord qu'il est prêt à répondre à ses demandes en échange de liens plus étroits, quitte à sacrifier certains principes fondamentaux de la démocratie libérale. Le gouvernement a également envoyé un signal clair au transfuge nord-coréen et aux groupes de défense des droits humains, qui a eu l'effet dissuasif auquel on pourrait s'attendre.

    Comment la société civile a-t-elle répondu à ces initiatives gouvernementales ?

    Malheureusement, la société civile sud-coréenne est aussi polarisée que sa politique. Les progressistes actuellement au gouvernement perçoivent les conservateurs comme les héritiers illégitimes des collaborateurs du régime colonial japonais de 1910-1945 et du régime autoritaire postindépendance, en vigueur jusqu'en 1987. L’ancien président progressiste, Roh Moo-Hyun, au pouvoir entre 2003 et 2008, s'est suicidé en 2009 lors d'une enquête pour corruption à son encontre, généralement considérée comme politiquement motivée, menée par son successeur conservateur. L'actuel président, Moon Jae-In, a été élu en 2017, au milieu d'une vague d'indignation publique face à la destitution de son prédécesseur de droite pour corruption et abus de pouvoir.

    La plupart des OSC sont dominées par des progressistes qui s’alignent politiquement avec le gouvernement actuel de Moon. Les progressistes sont relativement favorables à l'agenda des droits humains, mais restent généralement silencieux en ce qui concerne les droits humains en Corée du Nord, étant donné leur attachement au rapprochement intercoréen. Les mêmes personnes qui parlent haut et fort des « femmes de réconfort » japonaises soumises à l'esclavage sexuel par le Japon impérial avant et pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, ou des outrages de l'ère autoritaire, ignorent les outrages actuels, à savoir les atrocités nord-coréennes au nom de la réconciliation nationale.

    La plupart des groupes de défense des droits humains nord-coréens sont structurés autour de déserteurs nord-coréens et d'églises chrétiennes de droite politique qui caractérisent passionnément les gauchistes comme des marionnettes nord-coréennes. Beaucoup adoptent également une position hostile sur d'autres questions contemporaines des droits humains, telles que les droits des personnes LGBTQI+, ce qui est assez ironique étant donné que le juge australien Michael Kirby, auteur principal du rapport de l'ONU qui en 2014 a condamné les violations graves des droits humains en Corée du Nord en tant que crimes contre l'humanité, est homosexuel.

    Les OSC établies, pour la plupart progressistes, n'ont pas été ciblées par le gouvernement dirigé par le président Moon ; au contraire, des personnalités éminentes de la société civile ont été nommées ou élues à divers postes ou ont reçu de généreuses subventions. Il y a ceux qui expriment en privé leur consternation et leur inquiétude face aux tendances illibérales du gouvernement, mais peu de gens sont prêts à soulever la question publiquement en raison de la profonde polarisation politique.

    L'espace de la société civile - structuré par les libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression - devient-il plus restrictif sous l'actuel gouvernement sud-coréen ?

    Le gouvernement Moon a montré des tendances inquiétantes et illibérales envers les groupes qui, selon lui, se dressent sur son chemin, tels que les groupes nord-coréens de défense des droits humains et les transfuges, qui font face à une pression croissante pour garder le silence et cesser leur travail de plaidoyer.

    Le président Moon a rouvert le dialogue avec le gouvernement nord-coréen pour établir des relations pacifiques, neutraliser la menace nucléaire venant du Nord et ouvrir la voie au regroupement familial, entre autres objectifs louables.

    Cependant, conjointement au président américain Donald Trump, le président Moon a utilisé une stratégie diplomatique qui minimise le souci des droits humains. En particulier, ni la déclaration de Panmunjom de 2018 entre la Corée du Nord et la Corée du Sud ni la déclaration conjointe publiée après le sommet Trump-Kim de 2018 à Singapour ne mentionnent les violations flagrantes des droits humains commises par la Corée du Nord.

    Dans les semaines qui ont précédé la rencontre du président Moon avec le dirigeant nord-coréen Kim à Panmunjom, il a été signalé que les activistes nord-coréens étaient empêchés de mener leur activisme. En octobre 2018, la Corée du Sud s'est conformée à la demande de la Corée du Nord d'exclure un journaliste déserteur de la couverture d'une réunion en Corée du Nord. Le 7 juillet 2019, deux déserteurs, des pêcheurs présentés comme des tueurs fugitifs, ont été livrés en Corée du Nord cinq jours après leur arrivée et sans même maintenir l'apparence d'une procédure régulière.

    Le gouvernement Moon a également eu recours à des tactiques illibérales contre d'autres opposants présumés. Un homme qui, le 24 novembre 2019, avait accroché une affiche se moquant du président Moon en le qualifiant de « chien de poche de Xi Jinping » (faisant référence au président chinois) sur le campus de l'université Dankook, a été inculpé et le 23 juin 2020, le tribunal lui a infligé une amende pour « intrusion dans un bâtiment », conformément à l'article 319 (1) du Code pénal, alors que les autorités universitaires avaient clairement indiqué qu'elles ne souhaitaient pas porter plainte contre lui pour cet exercice de leur liberté d’expression. Beaucoup ont critiqué le processus pénal et la condamnation comme un retour aux vieux jours militaires.

    Le gouvernement a également pris des mesures pour exercer un contrôle croissant sur les procureurs. Le ministre de la Justice Choo Mi-ae a attaqué des procureurs qui ont osé enquêter sur des allégations de corruption et d'abus de pouvoir contre le gouvernement, alléguant l'existence d'un complot visant à saper le président Moon.

    Une autre tendance inquiétante est la tactique populiste des politiciens du parti au pouvoir, et du législateur Lee Jae-jung en particulier, d'utiliser Internet pour inciter leurs partisans à s'engager dans des actions de cyber-intimidation contre les journalistes.

    Que peut faire la communauté internationale pour soutenir les groupes attaqués ?

    En avril 2020, le parti au pouvoir a remporté les élections législatives, obtenant une écrasante majorité, remportant 180 sièges sur 300, grâce à son succès relatif à la contention de la pandémie de la COVID-19. L'opposition est désorganisée. Plutôt que de l'appeler à l'humilité, tout cela a enhardi le gouvernement, de sorte que ses tendances illibérales risquent de perdurer. En raison de la forte polarisation politique, il est peu probable que les politiciens du parti au pouvoir et leurs partisans prêtent beaucoup d'attention aux critiques internes.

    C’est pourquoi la voix de la communauté internationale sera essentielle. Il est beaucoup plus difficile pour le gouvernement d'ignorer les préoccupations soulevées par les OSC internationales et de les écarter comme des attaques à motivation politique. Une déclaration conjointe ou une lettre ouverte dirigée par CIVICUS serait utile pour transmettre fermement le message que les droits humains en Corée du Nord concernent réellement la communauté internationale.

    En outre, la Corée du Sud soumettra prochainement son cinquième rapport périodique au Comité des droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, élaboré en fonction de la liste de points à traiter préalables à la soumission des rapports. Étant donné que les questions et préoccupations concernant la Corée du Nord ne sont pas incluses dans cette liste, il serait utile que les OSC internationales unissent leurs forces pour les inclure dans la discussion orale avec les membres du Comité des droits de l’Homme et dans leurs observations finales.

    À court terme, des visites en Corée du Sud du Rapporteur spécial des Nations Unies sur la promotion et la protection du droit à la liberté d'opinion et d'expression, du Rapporteur spécial sur le droit à la liberté de réunion pacifique et d'association et du Rapporteur spécial sur la situation des défenseurs des droits humains seraient d’excellentes occasions d’internationaliser la question et de faire pression sur notre gouvernement.

    Même les progressistes pourraient soutenir une réforme de la loi obsolète sur l'enregistrement des OSC, par exemple, par intérêt personnel, si non pas par principe, en cas de changement de gouvernement.

    L'espace civique en Corée du Sud est classé « étroit » par leCIVICUS MonitorContactez le Groupe de travail sur la justice transitionnelle via sonsite Web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@TJWGSeoul sur Twitter.

     

     

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

    By David Kode

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

    Source:Pambazuka

     

  • Decisive leadership needed from SADC to address DRC crisis

    By David Kode

    The announcement of a date for general elections in a country roiled in political conflict and ruled by an unpopular leader should be regarded as a positive move. But not so in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

    Read on: Pambazuka 

     

     

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: stop the killing of protesters

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise (NSCC), condemn the senseless killing of at least 34 protesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days. The killings have come as citizens have called for President Joseph Kabila to step down, following the formal end of his mandate on 19 December.

     

  • DISINFORMATION: ‘The fact that profit drives content creation on the internet is dangerous to democracy’

    CIVICUS speaks with Rory Daniels about the 2019 elections in the UK and the dangers that disinformation poses to democracy.Rory is a student, activist and writer intent on promoting the voices of those left behind by governments and globalisation. In the 2017 general election, he stood as a 19-year-old parliamentarycandidate for the Liberal Democrats in the constituency of Llanelli. Since September 2019, he has been a member of Amnesty International's firstGlobal Youth Task Force.

    rory daniels

    What role would you say disinformation has played in the recent elections in the UK?

    As a candidate myself during the 2017 UK general election, I saw first-hand the role disinformation played throughout the campaign. Prominent newspapers often printed misleading headlines, biased websites attacked real journalists uncovering the truth and advertisements created by political parties lacked sources for statistics, featured heavily edited video footage and virtually never presented balanced arguments.

    Then the 2019 general election saw all this take place again, plus more. There were doctored videos, highly misleading websites and even signs of foreign interference. A doctored video came from the Conservative Party, which later admitted to editing a clip of a speech given by Labour MP Sir Keir Starmer. The video they released made it look like he had struggled to answer a question about exiting the European Union, while in fact he had answered the question. The same party then changed the name of one of its Twitter accounts to ‘FactcheckUK’. Twitter responded by warning the Conservatives that this effectively constituted an act of deception, as the account was not impartial as users may have been led to believe. Clearly not satisfied with deceiving videos and social media accounts, the Conservatives then bought ads on Google that appeared as the top result for anybody seeking the Labour Party’s manifesto. These criticised the proposals in a heavily biased fashion.

    The Labour Party also succumbed to disinformation. For example, their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, cited documents suggesting that the Conservatives would sell off large parts of the National Health Service to the USA in a post-Brexit trade agreement. It later transpired, however, that these documents were linked to a Russian disinformation campaign.

    Which platforms do you think are the most vulnerable to disinformation?

    It’s hard to say which platforms are more vulnerable to disinformation than others. In November 2019, I attended the World Forum for Democracy at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. The whole event revolved around the question of whether democracy is ‘in danger’ in the information age. It didn’t take long for me to see that vulnerabilities exist on any platform that possesses many users and is constrained by little regulation.

    In addition, with disinformation it’s often more about the content than the platform. For example, I remember reading a recent analysis conducted by BuzzFeed which found that during the final months of the 2016 US election campaign, fabricated news stories reached a greater online audience than actual news stories.

    What are the impacts of disinformation on democratic freedoms?

    All democracies depend upon facts, truth and scrutiny. Voters need reliable information in order to vote rationally – that is, to have good reason to vote for a certain politician or policy instead of others – to challenge their own worldview or preconceptions, and ultimately to hold power to account.

    In an age of disinformation, facts become indistinguishable from fiction, truth becomes impossible to discern among all the lies and scrutiny gets entangled in ideological polarisation. Where once there was the traditional media to keep the populace informed, now there is the internet – an unregulated mess of opinions, corporations and agendas.

    On the internet, the business model is simple: more clicks equal more revenue. This means that often, websites will only seek facts and the truth if they bring greater profits. If not, they may decide to prey on fear, stereotypes, insecurity, hatred and division. Authors know that readers achieve greater levels of satisfaction when they read opinions that confirm their worldview, rather than challenge it. This leads to greater polarisation, as empirical evidence is disregarded in favour of the ‘facts’ that confirm readers’ previously held views.

    We’ve already seen that if this occurs in a democracy, politics suffers. Voters develop apathy, because as they become overwhelmed by confusion and conflicting viewpoints, they switch off from political developments, while ‘establishment’ candidates lose out to populists who pedal quick solutions to complex problems. In short, rational, informed debate all but dies.

    What are the forces behind disinformation?

    Disinformation can be created by anybody at any time. State actors may intervene in foreign elections to tip the scales in their favour, while domestic activists may sow news stories that build support for far-right or populist actors. In other words, the ‘information war’ is fought from all sides.

    Since the creation of the internet, we’ve also seen what some people call the ‘democratisation of disinformation’ unfold. This means that anybody, whether in place A or with budget B, can create and share intentionally misleading content with ease. As a result, what only a few years ago was seen as a tool that was largely positive for democracy – the 2010 ‘Arab Spring’ came to be known as the ‘Facebook Revolution’ – is today perhaps its greatest threat.

    What is being done to combat disinformation, and what have the successes and challenges been so far?

    A few months ago, I spoke at UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy (MIL) conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. I did so because I believe that education can play an enormous role in addressing disinformation, and I also wanted to share some lessons I had learned from my 2017 parliamentary campaign. The conference was no doubt held in Sweden due to the country’s incredible push for MIL education in recent years, and after meeting many Swedish activists throughout the week, I can only applaud the valuable work they are doing in the field.

    I’m also looking to address some of the negative consequences of disinformation. For example, as a member of the Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, I’m part of a team of young activists planning a ‘Unity Day’ celebration to take place in London on 19 May 2020. Crucially, in a time of increasing division and hatred, this will see politicians, thought-leaders, community organisations and others come together to champion values and ideas that unite us. I urge you to visit the Unity Day website if you’re interested in pledging to take an action, no matter how big or small, that celebrates unity and combats division.

    Of course, trying to inform the debate about disinformation has not been easy. Still today, MIL education is woefully underprovided, sensible media regulations are too often labelled as censorship or attacks on free speech and social media platforms continue to constitute dangerous echo chambers.

    What more is needed to combat disinformation?

    Many of the causes of disinformation are structural by nature, and therefore I believe that many solutions must be too. We must finally recognise that the profit incentive driving content creation on the internet is dangerous to democracy and ultimately unsustainable, while tabloids that spew out sensationalist clickbait should be heavily regulated and severely fined if caught breaking the rules.

    In addition, I’m of the opinion that media and information literacy is by far the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy to countering disinformation and restoring our trust in democracy. MIL education should be offered far beyond schools, also targeting older generations who are less likely to identify disinformation and more likely to share it in the first place. Ultimately, readers must know how to spot and avoid disinformation, or else all the regulations and structural changes in the world will not solve the problem at hand.

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

    Get in touch with Rory throughLinkedIn if you’re interested in the regulation of big tech companies, London Global Shapers’ Unity Day or his work more generally.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    When were the elections originally scheduled?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • DRC: ‘The 2018 elections carried the hope of change’

    Felix Tshisekedi DRC1

    French 

    Following the publication of our report, ‘Democracy for All: Beyond a Crisis of Imagination’, we continue to interview civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so.In the aftermath of the December 2018 election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which led to a new president being elected, CIVICUS speaks to Pascal Mupenda, Programmes Director of Partnership for Integrated Protection (PPI), a not-for-profit, non-partisan and non-religious civil society organisation that seeks to protect human rights defenders and promote peace. Pascal is also the national rapporteur of New Dynamics of Civil Society in the DRC(NDSCI),a network of organisations established in 2013 to strengthen citizen action in the DRC. It currently has 103 local member associations, including two citizen movements.

    Félix Tshisekedi has just been inaugurated as President of the DRC. What were the major challenges encountered in the DRC between the elections of December 2018 and the inauguration?

    General elections were held in the DRC on 30 December 2018 to elect the successor of President Joseph Kabila, as well as to fill the 500 seats of the National Assembly and 715 Provincial Council seats. The post-election situation has been marked by four major elements.

    First, there was the assessment of appeals that some presidential candidates submitted to the Constitutional Court. The electoral law allows dissatisfied candidates to submit such appeals following national presidential and legislative elections. The final results are only proclaimed once the Constitutional Court has issued a ruling. It should be noted that, ever since the Constitutional Court was established in 2006, the Congolese people in general, and human rights defenders (HRDs) in particular, have decried its composition, given that several of its members have very close ties to the government. By way of illustration, the rulings on the appeals lodged with the Constitutional Court after the 2006 and 2011 elections did not satisfy the applicants and were at the root of the violent post-election conflicts between the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, and the candidates who claimed to be his legitimately elected successor.

    After the elections held on 30 December 2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) provisionally proclaimed the victory of Félix Tshisekedi, the candidate of the Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition. In response, supporters of Martin Fayulu, the Lamuka coalition candidate, began demonstrating and faced bloody police repression. In the meantime, Martin Fayulu filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court to contest CENI’s provisional results and request a vote recount at all polling stations. Several electoral observation missions, such as those of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), the Catholic Church, the Southern African Development Community, the African Union (AU) and Congolese civil society organisations (CSOs) also supported this approach, claiming that they hold evidence in that regard.

    Notably CENCO, which had deployed the largest number of election observers - around 40,000 - said that its data did not confirm Félix Tshisekedi’s electoral win. On this basis, Martin Fayulu has consistently called for the intervention of the national and international community to ensure that votes are counted and the popular will is respected. Thus, on 17 January 2019, AU heads of state requested the Constitutional Court to postpone its ruling, scheduled for 19 January, and offered to send a delegation that would arrive on 21 January, to try to solve the blossoming crisis. Their mission was cancelled as the Court went on to issue a ruling on 19 January as planned.

    As expected, the Constitutional Court confirmed and proclaimed Félix Tshisekedi as President of the DRC, after rejecting Martin Fayulu's request on the basis that it was unfounded. As soon as the decision was made public, Martin Fayulu held a press briefing saying that he rejected the ruling and considers himself the sole legitimate president, urging Congolese citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations to demand “the truth of the polls.” But apart from some demonstrations in a few places, overall a precarious calm persisted over the country. However, at the last minute the inauguration ceremony, initially scheduled for 22 January, was postponed, eventually taking place on 24 January.

    Second, there is the fact that the results of provincial and national elections were also challenged in several provinces across the country. CENI proclaimed these results when most of the paper ballots remained in the various localities and had not yet been compiled. Therefore, people wonder where CENI got those results from, given that the law does not allow for electronic voting, let alone electronic transmission of the results. Demonstrations around this issue are now taking place almost daily in various parts of the DRC. In the provinces of Kasai, North Kivu and South Kivu, for example, the population has continued to march to say ‘no’ to the election results. The vast majority of Congolese citizens, who voted for change, find it inconceivable that, although President Kabila's nominated successor failed miserably in his bid for the presidency, his Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition seems to have won an overwhelming majority of provincial elections and the majority of national legislative seats in 23 of DRC's 26 provinces.

    Third, the context has been marked by the violation of the Congolese people's right to access information. Indeed, for more than three weeks, the internet connection and signals from foreign media such as Radio France Internationale (RFI), TV5 Monde and France 24, as well as the text messaging system, were interrupted. To access the internet, listen to foreign radio, or watch foreign television, one had to resort to foreign internet providers. The shutdown of communications, along with the restrictions on the freedom of assembly following the elections, were aimed at creating an environment in which the civil and political rights of the Congolese citizens could more easily be violated.

    Finally, threats against HRDs, which had been massive before the elections, have not relented. The South Kivu artivist known as Cor Akim recently went missing and was found unconscious three days later. I was harassed and arrested during an observation mission and kept overnight in the Bukavu police headquarters. Several activists from the Lutte pour le changement (LUCHA) social movement were arbitrarily arrested. These are just a few of the many cases that PPI published in its monthly newsletter’s December 2018 edition.

    What was the significance of these elections for Congolese citizens?

    For Congolese people, the 2018 elections carried the hope of change, on hold since 2016, when the second and last term of incumbent President Joseph Kabila ended without him stepping down. For the first time in history, our country could now have both an outgoing living president and a living incoming president. All our previous presidents were either murdered before leaving power or driven out and forced to live in exile before being eventually murdered.

    But the elections would have been more interesting if the process had been inclusive. Some candidates were excluded as a result of politically motivated prosecution. In addition, CENI greatly undermined the credibility of the elections, especially because of the way it compiled results. Today most elected officials are young, but at the same time many are also from the FCC, which means that voters’ expectations of change will not necessarily be fulfilled.

    In sum, the elections were more significant in terms of voter aspirations than because of their results.

    What roles did civil society play in trying to make the elections as free and fair as possible?

    In the face of the elections civil society launched several campaigns calling for the renewal and rejuvenation of the political class. These included the ‘We, the Youth Can' campaign carried out by PPI alongside other CSOs. Numerous young people ran as candidates.

    Civil society also worked hard to raise awareness of the importance of elections. It contributed with awareness campaigns and programmes to encourage people not only to demand elections, but also to make a useful and responsible use of their vote to achieve the desired change. Thanks to the work done by CSOs, the population had a relatively good understanding of the voting method and how to use a voting machine, although it was not possible to guarantee total mastery of the voting machines by a population that is more than 80 per cent illiterate.

    In addition, many CSOs denounced the human rights violations orchestrated during the election campaign. They also collaborated with CENI to make sure the electoral calendar was respected, and everything was done in conformity with the Constitution and electoral laws.

    Civil society has continued to play an important role during the examination of the candidates’ appeals to both the Constitutional Court for the presidential race and to the Courts of Appeals for the national and provincial legislative elections, providing evidence that the results from polling stations diverged from the provisional results that were proclaimed.

    Do you think the state of democracy in the DRC will improve in the short term?

    An improvement of the state of democracy in the DRC is possible, but some preconditions are necessary for it to happen. First, there needs to be systemic and systematic change of government personnel. If CENI would proclaim the actual results yielded by the ballot it would help avoid a popular uprising. It would also be wise for the Constitutional Court and the provincial courts of appeals to manage properly the cases surrounding national and provincial legislative seats so that the door to violence does not open.

    Second, local and municipal elections should be held, as provided for by the electoral law, in order to bridge the gap between rulers and ruled.

    Third, the justice sector should be reformed, including by strengthening its technical and managerial capacities.

    Fourth, bilateral partnerships between the technical bodies of ministerial cabinets and CSOs should be formed so that joint approaches are adopted to face the challenges of democracy.

    Finally, fundamental freedoms must be respected and tolerance encouraged, so that public space gradually opens up.

    What should the international community do to help improve democracy in the DRC?

    The international community can contribute in many ways. First, it should provide sufficient financial resources to CSOs involved in the protection and empowerment of HRDs and pro-democracy activists. It should also support the participation of Congolese civil society in the United Nations Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and their advocacy to question the Congolese government’s human rights record and demand that it respects the fundamental notions of democracy.

    Second, it should promote accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and for economic crimes committed by Congolese political and economic actors, often with the complicity of international partners.

    Looking to the future, it should also support government plans for security reform and national development, with an emphasis on strengthening relations between civilians and the military in a way that enhances the protection of democratic gains.

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

    Get in touch with PPI and NDSCI through their websites.

     

  • ECUADOR: ‘Civil society must highlight the added value of its participation’

    CIVICUS speaks with Estefanía Terán, advocacy director of Grupo FARO, about the role of organised civil society in Ecuador's presidential elections and the challenges civil society faces today. Grupo FARO is an independent research and action centre in Ecuador that produces evidence to influence public policy and promotes social transformation and innovation.

    Estefanía Terán

    What roles does Ecuadorian civil society play during electoral processes?

    Political parties do not reach out much to civil society organisations (CSOs) to take on board their proposals. While some turn to CSOs for information, others hire private consultants. This happens because very few political organisations have within their structures a team or the necessary tools to develop quality government plans, with clear content, and which respond to the needs of the population or their voters, and are rooted in a diagnosis based on rigorous and objective technical research.

    During elections, CSOs develop initiatives to promote informed voting. They build web platforms and other communication tools to give visibility from a citizen perspective, to the proposals of the various contenders. Through this work, in the latest elections, initiatives were organised according to ideological criteria and in terms of their response to the Sustainable Development Goals. Likewise, with the aim of highlighting the ‘how’ of the proposals, which in general only focus on the ‘what’, forums and debates are held among the candidates.

    Grupo FARO is part of a group of CSOs that promotes informed voting; within this framework we developed the Ecuador Decide initiative. This initiative, which has been activated at elections since 2017 – which means it has been implemented on four occasions – aims to encourage voting based on the programmatic proposals of the different candidates and the political organisations that support them. To this end, it compiles, disseminates and analyses the contents of all their government plans.

    In the 2021 elections, Grupo FARO analysed the government plans of all the presidential candidates. We found that, of the 1,500 proposals identified in 16 areas of national relevance, only 55.5 per cent contained information on how they would be implemented, and only 26.7 per cent made clear who their target audience was.

    In addition, based on our experience organising debates among candidates during local elections, we assisted the National Electoral Council in regulating presidential debates, which became mandatory after the Democracy Code was reformed in February 2020.

    What are the causes and consequences of the low quality of political plans?

    The low quality of plans for government, which makes them inadequate instruments to inform the population about the positions of the various candidates and political organisations, is due to the lack of enforcement and regulation by the governing body, which does not require that these documents meet minimum standards and be comparable with each other. In fact, we have analysed some plans that were three pages long and others of more than a hundred pages. Moreover, in many cases they differ from the candidate’s discourse or include proposals outside the candidate’s field of competence.

    It is not common for voters to access these documents to get informed, and therefore, they serve no other purpose than to fulfil a formal requirement to register a candidacy. This contradicts the fact that one of the grounds for requesting the revocation of the mandate of popularly elected authorities is their non-compliance with their plans.

    The high degree of generality of the proposals contained in government plans means that the candidates’ campaign discourse is aimed at the median voter, and that strategically the candidates do not differentiate themselves. This fragments voter preferences, creating complications, as seen in the very narrow margin between the candidates placing second and third in the latest elections, Guillermo Lasso, of Movimiento Creando Oportunidades, and Yaku Pérez, of Movimiento de Unidad Plurinacional Pachakutik. This meant that the winner in the second electoral round was someone who in the first round had not even reached 20 per cent of the total vote: he came to power as a result of a compulsory vote, with very low legitimacy, and a high risk of facing governance problems in the medium term.

    What challenges does Ecuadorian civil society face under the new government?

    Although no specific proposals were identified regarding the promotion of civil society participation, President Lasso has sought to send a friendly and collaborative message. However, due to its business background, the government tends to equate civil society with the private sector. This results in two challenges for civil society. The first is to differentiate itself from the private sector and the second is to work harmoniously with the private sector. To this end, it must promote an exercise of reflection on the current role of civil society and highlight the value that its involvement adds to public management. Furthermore, it must insist that this participation is not limited to a few organisations that are close to the government, but that it is open and inclusive, plural and diverse.

    This implies, on the one hand, pushing forward a process of organisational strengthening of civil society for collaborative work among itself and with others. And, on the other hand, it implies initiating a process of learning and trust building with the private sector. There is a great opportunity for organised civil society to contribute so that companies’ support for social causes is done with transparency and public oversight and based on international principles for the effective functioning of public-private partnerships, guaranteeing quality projects and actions going beyond corporate profit.

    The prelude to developing such alliances should be the passing of a minimum CSO law to give us legal security and protect us from the discretion of the incumbent government. At the moment we are regulated by an executive decree and under a logic of concession and control, rather than registration and co-responsibility. Ensuring the enactment of a law that contributes to building an enabling environment and promoting participation is therefore another challenge we face as a sector during this presidential term. In partnership with the Ecuadorian Confederation of Civil Society Organisations and other allied organisations, Grupo FARO is pushing a proposal for a minimum law, which in the previous National Assembly reached the stage of developing a report for second debate.

     

    Civic space in Ecuador rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Contact Grupo Faro through its website or its Facebook and Instagram pages, and follow@grupofaro and@eteranv on Twitter.

     

  • ÉTATS-UNIS : « L'élection de 2020 est un mandat politique et moral contre le fascisme »

    CIVICUS discute de la suppression d’électeurs et de ses implications pour la démocratie aux États-Unis avec Yael Bromberg, conseillère principale dans le domaine du droit de vote à la Fondation Andrew Goodman, une organisation qui travaille pour rendre la voix des jeunes - l'un des groupes d'électeurs les plus sous-représentés aux États-Unis – une force puissante pour la démocratie. La Fondation a été créée en 1966 pour perpétuer l'esprit et la mission d'Andy Goodman, qui en 1964 a rejoint Freedom Summer, un projet pour inscrire au vote les Afro-américains afin de démanteler la ségrégation et l'oppression, et a été assassiné par le Ku Klux Klan lors de son premier jour au Mississippi. La Fondation soutient le développement du leadership des jeunes, l'accessibilité au vote et des initiatives de justice sociale dans près d'une centaine d'établissements d'enseignement supérieur à travers le pays.

     

    Yael Bromberg

    Pour un observateur extérieur, il est déroutant qu'un pays qui se présente comme le paradigme de la démocratie érige des barrières qui limitent le droit de vote de millions de ses citoyens. Pouvez-vous nous parler un peu plus sur le phénomène de suppression des électeurs aux États-Unis ?

    Il est vrai que les États-Unis se sont présentés comme un modèle de démocratie. En tant que citoyenne immigrée naturalisée dont les grands-parents ont survécu à l'Holocauste et aux goulags soviétiques, j'apprécie le caractère unique de certaines des libertés dont bénéficie ce pays. Par exemple, alors même que notre système judiciaire est actuellement gravement menacé par la politisation et la polarisation des juges, il a généralement résisté au type de corruption enraciné dans d'autres pays. Bien que notre système juridique soit sous tension et qu'il existe certaines pratiques bien ancrées, telles que l'impunité policière extrême, qui doivent être corrigées, notre système législatif peut, s'il le souhaite, combler les lacunes du système judiciaire. Même si l'injection de grosses sommes d'argent, y compris de l'argent provenant de sources obscures, a étouffé notre politique, les plus sérieux défenseurs de la démocratie, qui ont résisté à bien pire, nous apprennent que la démocratie est un chemin long et persistant plus qu'une destination. Certes, dans ce pays, nous avons des problèmes systémiques qui nécessitent une réforme profonde, et les vies de personnes en chair et en os sont sous péril à cause des dysfonctionnements de la tyrannie d'une minorité. Mais nous avons aussi les principes fondateurs des Etats-Unis - la liberté et l'égalité - et la capacité d’atteindre notre idéal.

    A l’époque fondatrice de cette nation, seuls les hommes blancs qui possédaient des biens avaient le droit de vote. Grâce au processus de ratification constitutionnelle, l'esclavage a été aboli et le droit de vote a été accordé aux hommes libres. Des lois injustes ont persisté, tels que les tests d'alphabétisation et les taxes électorales, utilisés pour empêcher les minorités raciales de voter. Cela a été combiné avec d'autres lois de l'ère Jim Crow qui offraient des raisons arbitraires pour emprisonner les esclaves libérés et les forcer à retourner dans les camps de travail, les privant du droit de vote une fois libres. La résistance populaire s'est accrue au fur et à mesure que la violence physique et politique du système de ségrégation devenait apparente dans les années 1960, entraînant des lois plus fortes et de nouveaux amendements constitutionnels.

    Aujourd’hui, le système de suppression d’électeurs revient à « confier au renard la garde du poulailler » : ceux qui ont le privilège de définir les lois déterminent l’inclusion ou l’exclusion d’électeurs. Par exemple, après l’élection d’Obama à la présidence, une quantité considérable de lois strictes d’identification des électeurs exigeant plus qu’une preuve d’identité classique pour pouvoir voter se sont répandues dans l’ensemble du pays. L’Alabama, après avoir adopté de telles lois, a fermé les bureaux de délivrance des permis de conduire, où les preuves d’identité en question pouvaient être obtenues, dans les grandes zones rurales où réside la population afro-américaine.

    Les politiciens dessinent les limites de leurs districts pour assurer l'avenir de leur propre parti et leurs opportunités personnelles futures d’accès au poste. Il n'y a pas de bureaux de vote sur les campus universitaires, où les jeunes sont concentrés. Même pendant une pandémie mondiale, voter par correspondance n'est toujours pas un droit universel. Alors qu'un État, le New Jersey, établit au moins dix bureaux de vote par ville pour recueillir les bulletins de vote envoyés par la poste, un autre, le Texas, a fait recours aux tribunaux afin d’en limiter la quantité à un par comté, et a obtenu gain de cause. Ainsi, lorsque ces lois sont portées devant les tribunaux, ceux-ci ne se prononcent pas toujours en faveur des électeurs, ce qui est d’autant plus grave.

    La saison électorale de 2020 a été particulièrement surprenante. La magistrature fédérale semble obsédée par l'idée que les modifications de dernière minute des règles électorales conduisent à la suppression des électeurs, et ce même lorsqu'il s'agit de lois qui élargissent l'accès au vote. Cela défie la logique. Si une loi y limite l'accès, c'est compréhensible. Mais si une loi élargit simplement l'accès, le préjudice porté aux électeurs est difficilement identifiable.

    La question qui découle naturellement de notre paradigme est la suivante : si l'Amérique est vraiment un exemple de démocratie, alors pourquoi avons-nous peur d'embrasser les trois premiers mots de notre Constitution : « Nous, le peuple » ?

    Considérez-vous que la suppression des électeurs constitue une problématique cruciale dans le contexte des élections présidentielles de 2020 ?

    Absolument. L'élection présidentielle de 2020 engendre au moins cinq conclusions importantes : 1) Les gouvernements étatiques peuvent facilement élargir l'accès aux urnes en toute sécurité, notamment en prolongeant les périodes de vote anticipé et les possibilités de voter par correspondance; 2) Les électeurs de tous les partis profitent de ces mécanismes et en bénéficient, comme en témoigne le taux de participation électorale de cette année; 3) L'expansion et la modernisation électorales ne conduisent pas à la fraude électorale; 4) Cette année, les électeurs ont été motivés à voter malgré les obstacles discriminatoires et arbitraires qui se dressaient sur leur chemin; 5) Le mythe de la fraude électorale, plus que la preuve réelle et systémique de fraude, est apparu comme une menace importante à la fois pour protéger l'accès aux urnes et pour maintenir la confiance du public dans notre système électoral.

    En 2013, la Cour Suprême a supprimé une disposition clé (également appelée « disposition sunshine » dans le système américain) de la loi de 1965 sur les droits de vote. Cette mesure de sauvegarde exigeait que les États qui ont supprimé des électeurs dans le passé obtiennent une autorisation avant de modifier leurs lois électorales. L’annulation de la mesure de sauvegarde a considérablement favorisé la suppression d’électeurs. Le nombre de bureaux de vote a été réduit : 1 700 bureaux de vote ont été fermés entre 2012 et 2018, dont 1 100 entre les élections de mi-mandat de 2014 et 2018. Des lois strictes d’identification des électeurs ont été adoptées, ce qui rend difficile l’accès au vote pour les pauvres, les personnes de couleur et les jeunes. D’autres mesures, telles que l’épuration des listes électorales des États et la re-délimitation des circonscriptions électorales, ont encore dilué le pouvoir électoral. Il est important de garder à l’esprit que toutes ces initiatives sont prises au détriment des contribuables, qui devront composer avec un système judiciaire engorgé et assumer les frais de contentieux de la partie obtenant gain de cause ; et aux dépens des électeurs, qui sont contraints d’accepter les résultats d’un système électoral truqué, bien que la loi sur la suppression des électeurs puisse être abrogée dans le futur.

    Le chant mensonger de la fraude électorale a provoqué une régression des droits dans tous les domaines. Il n'y a aucune raison pour que, en particulier en pleine pandémie, l'accès au vote par correspondance ne soit pas universel. Cependant, huit États n'autorisaient que les électeurs de plus d'un certain âge à voter par correspondance, mais pas les plus jeunes. La pandémie ne discrimine pas et notre système électoral ne devrait pas le faire non plus. De même, le service postal des États-Unis s'est soudainement politisé car il devenait de plus en plus évident que les gens voteraient par la poste en nombre sans précédent. Les discussions sur sa privatisation ont repris et des ordres de démantèlement de machines coûteuses de tri du courrier ont été donnés ayant pour seul objectif de supprimer des votes. Après l'élection, la campagne électorale de Trump a beaucoup nuit dans sa tentative de délégitimer les résultats, malgré le fait qu'aucune preuve de fraude électorale n'ait été trouvée dans les plus de 50 poursuites qui ont contesté le résultat des élections. Or il a rendu un mauvais service au pays, car il a convaincu une proportion substantielle de la base de l'un des grands partis politiques de remettre en question le résultat d'une élection que l'Agence pour les Infrastructures et la Cybersécurité avait déclarée « la plus sûre dans l’histoire des États-Unis ».

    Pendant que tout cela se déroulait, la pandémie a également entraîné une extension de l'accès dans des domaines essentiels. Même certains États dirigés par les républicains ont mené l'élargissement de la période de vote anticipé et l'accès aux systèmes de vote par correspondance. Nous devons saisir cela comme une opportunité d'apprentissage pour conduire une modernisation électorale sensée, de sorte qu'il ne s'agisse pas d'un événement ponctuel associé à la pandémie. Le COVID-19 a normalisé la modernisation électorale, qui est passée d'une question marginale du progressisme à une question inscrite à l'ordre du jour partagé, accroissant le domaine d’action et le pouvoir des électeurs de tous les horizons politiques. De plus, si les poursuites sans fin et sans fondement intentées par la campagne de Trump peuvent imprégner un certain segment des électeurs, on se demande si elles finiront par convaincre le pouvoir judiciaire qu'il n'y a pas de fraude électorale généralisée. Ceci est important car de nouvelles lois étatiques de suppression des électeurs seront sans doute introduites à la suite de ces élections, comme après l'élection d'Obama en 2008, et celles-ci seront certainement contestées devant les tribunaux. Peut-être que cette fois-ci le pouvoir judiciaire répondra différemment à ces défis, à la lumière de l'examen du processus électoral de 2020.

    Pour faire face aux efforts visant à supprimer des électeurs, des initiatives ont été prises pour accroître au maximum la participation des électeurs. Comme attendu, la participation électorale a atteint des niveaux sans précédent. Selon les premières estimations, la participation des jeunes à ce cycle électoral était encore plus élevée qu’en 1971 (année au cours de laquelle l’âge de voter a été abaissée à 18 ans), et le nombre d’électeurs admissibles potentiels a soudainement augmenté. Nous ne pouvons tout simplement pas tolérer le niveau d’apathie électorale que nous avons connu dans le passé. En 2016, il y a eu des victoires de marge très faibles dans trois États clés : le Michigan, de 0,2 %, la Pennsylvanie, de 0,7 % et le Wisconsin, de 0,8 %. La suppression d’électeurs peut très certainement faire la différence dans les affrontements avec des marges aussi étroites. Il faut également prendre en compte que certains citoyens n’exercent pas leur droit de vote. En effet, environ 43 % des électeurs admissibles n’ont pas voté en 2016. Selon les estimations les plus récentes, environ 34 % des électeurs éligibles, soit environ un sur trois, n’ont pas voté en 2020. Comment maintenir ce nouveau taux de participation record, voire l’améliorer, alors que le fascisme n’est plus une option de vote ?

    Pouvez-vous nous parler du travail de la Fondation Andrew Goodman dans l'intersection entre deux grands enjeux : le droit de vote et le racisme systémique ?

    La mission de la Fondation Andrew Goodman est de transformer les voix et les votes des jeunes en une force puissante pour la démocratie. Notre programme Vote Everywhere est un mouvement national non partisan dirigé par des jeunes pour l'engagement civique et la justice sociale, présent sur des campus partout dans le pays. Le programme offre une formation, des ressources et un accès à un réseau de pairs. Nos ambassadeurs Andrew Goodman enregistrent les jeunes électeurs, éliminent les obstacles au vote et abordent d'importantes questions de justice sociale. Nous sommes présents dans près de 100 campus à travers le pays et avons une présence sur un large éventail de campus, y compris des institutions visant principalement des personnes noires, comme les collèges et universités historiquement afro-américains.

    Ce qui est puissant dans l'organisation et le vote des jeunes, c'est que cela transcende tous les clivages : sexe, race, origine nationale et même appartenance à un parti. Cette situation est née dans l'histoire de l'expansion du vote des jeunes en 1971, lorsque le 26e amendement à la Constitution a été ratifié, abaissant l'âge de vote à 18 ans et interdisant la discrimination fondée sur l'âge dans l'accès au droit de vote. Il s'agit de l'amendement le plus rapidement ratifié de l'histoire américaine, en grande partie parce qu'il a reçu un soutien quasi unanime à travers les divisions partisanes. Il a été reconnu que les jeunes électeurs aident à maintenir la boussole morale du pays, comme l'a déclaré le président de l'époque, Richard Nixon, lors de la cérémonie de signature de l'amendement.

    L'héritage d'Andrew Goodman est directement lié aux luttes de solidarité entre les communautés pour le bien de l'ensemble. Tout au long des années 1960, des étudiants noirs du sud se sont courageusement assis face aux comptoirs de salles appartenant aux Blancs lors d'un acte politique de désobéissance dans le but de protester pour atteindre l'intégration et l'égalité. En mai 1964, de jeunes Américains de tout le pays se sont rendus dans le sud à l’occasion du Freedom Summer pour inscrire des électeurs noirs et abolir le système de ségrégation de Jim Crow. Trois jeunes activistes des droits civiques ont été tués par le Ku Klux Klan avec le soutien du bureau du shérif du comté : Andy Goodman et Mickey Schwerner, deux hommes juifs de New York, ayant tout juste 20 et 24 ans, et James Chaney, un homme noir du Mississippi, de seulement 21 ans. Leurs histoires ont touché une corde sensible qui a contribué à galvaniser le soutien à l'adoption de la loi sur les droits civils de 1964 et de la loi sur les droits de vote de 1965. C'est une histoire sur le pouvoir de jeunes visionnaires qui luttent pour leur avenir, sur la solidarité et le pouvoir qui peuvent être construits à partir de la confluence et du travail conjoint d'Américains d'origines différentes.

    Les jeunes activistes ont dirigé divers mouvements de justice sociale des années 60, tout comme ils le font encore aujourd'hui. Lorsque ce pays a répondu en adoptant des réformes critiques, les jeunes ont utilisé leur propre droit de vote lorsqu'ils ont été envoyés à la mort au début de la guerre interminable du Vietnam. Aujourd'hui, les jeunes mènent l'appel pour la justice climatique, le contrôle des armes à feu, la dignité humaine pour nos communautés noires et immigrées et l'accès à l'enseignement supérieur. Ce sont eux qui ont le plus à gagner ou à perdre aux élections, car ce sont eux qui hériteront l’avenir. Ils reconnaissent, en particulier à la lumière des changements démographiques que le pays a connus, que la question du droit de vote des jeunes est une question de justice raciale. Dans la mesure où nous pouvons voir le vote des jeunes comme un facteur unificateur, puisque tous les électeurs ont autrefois été jeunes, nous espérons insuffler un peu de bon sens dans un système controversé et polarisé.

    L'espace civique aux États-Unis est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Entrez en contact avec la Fondation Andrew Goodman via sonsite Web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@AndrewGoodmanF et@YaelBromberg sur Twitter.

     

     

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

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

    bilen asrat

     

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

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

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

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

    Do limitations apply to CSOs promoting LGBTQI+ rights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think are the main challenges ahead?

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

    What role can society play in overcoming those challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How hopeful you are about the future?

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

  • ÉTHIOPIE : « Les élections de juin 2021 sont une question de vie ou de mort pour la démocratie »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Mesud Gebeyehu sur le conflit politique dans la région du Tigré en Ethiopie et les controversées élections nationales éthiopiennes qui auront lieu en juin 2021, dans un contexte de pandémie et d’état d’urgence prolongé. Mesud est directeur exécutif du Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO) et vice-président du comité exécutif du groupe d’affinité des associations nationales de CIVICUS. Mesud est également membre du comité exécutif du Conseil éthiopien des OSC, un organe statutaire établi pour coordonner l’autorégulation des organisations de la société civile (OSC) en Éthiopie.

     

  • ETIOPÍA: “Las elecciones de junio de 2021 son una cuestión de vida o muerte para la democracia”

    CIVICUS conversa con Mesud Gebeyehu acerca del conflicto político en la región de Tigray, en Etiopía, y sobre las próximas y muy disputadas elecciones nacionales etíopes, que tendrán lugar en junio de 2021 en medio de la pandemia y de un prolongado estado de emergencia. Mesud es Director Ejecutivo del Consorcio de Organizaciones Etíopes de Derechos Humanos (CEHRO) y vicepresidente del Comité Ejecutivo del Grupo de Afinidad de Asociaciones Nacionales de CIVICUS. Mesud también es miembro del Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de OSC de Etiopía, un órgano estatutario creado para coordinar la autorregulación de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) de Etiopía.