groupes anti-droits

 

  • COSTA RICA : « Une fois le changement juridique obtenu, la politique publique doit se concentrer sur l’exclusion structurelle »

    Le 26 mai 2020, le Costa Rica est devenu le premier pays d’Amérique centrale à reconnaître le mariage entre personnes de même sexe. CIVICUS s’entretient avec Herman Duarte, avocat exerçant au Costa Rica et au Salvador et directeur de Simple Legal Consulting, ainsi qu’agent de liaison pour l’Amérique latine du International Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee et fondateur et président de la Fondation Igualitxs. La Fondation Igualitxs est un groupe de réflexion de premier plan en Amérique centrale, axé sur la promotion du droit au mariage civil pour tous dans la région. Elle poursuit cet objectif en menant des actions en justice stratégiques aux niveaux national et interaméricain, en promouvant ses idées dans les milieux universitaires et en travaillant avec des partenaires internationaux de haut niveau.

    Herman Duarte

    Quels rôles la société civile et le gouvernement ont-ils joués dans le processus ayant mené à la légalisation du mariage homosexuel au Costa Rica ?

    Le Costa Rica est une démocratie constitutionnelle structurée comme un État unitaire doté de trois pouvoirs en principe indépendants - législatif, exécutif et judiciaire. En théorie du moins, les principes de l’État de droit et de l’égalité de traitement juridique de tous ses habitants sont respectés. Mais le Costa Rica est aussi un État confessionnel : sa Constitution reconnaît expressément le catholicisme comme religion officielle. Au cours des dernières décennies, le nombre de congrégations évangéliques a augmenté pour atteindre environ 3 800. En 2017, plus de 80 % de la population se déclarait de confession catholique ou évangélique ; de toute évidence, le Costa Rica est un pays culturellement conservateur.

    Dans le cadre d’une lutte menée depuis des décennies par le mouvement pour les droits LGBTQI+, le gouvernement costaricien a donné le coup d’envoi du processus en mai 2016 par sa demande d’un avis consultatif à la Cour interaméricaine des droits de l’homme (Cour IDH) concernant les droits patrimoniaux des couples de même sexe. Cette consultation a offert la possibilité à toutes les parties intéressées de présenter leurs arguments, ce qu’ont fait plus de 90 acteurs de nature variée, dont des États, des organisations internationales, des organisations de la société civile (OSC), des universités et des particuliers. Des audiences ont eu lieu les 16 et 17 mai 2017 et nous y avons participé.

    L’élan suscité par cet événement s’est traduit par l’organisation du premier congrès sur le droit égal au mariage, qui s’est tenu à San José en novembre 2017 et a rassemblé plus de 54 intervenants de toute la région. En janvier 2018, la Cour interaméricaine a publié sa décision, selon laquelle les États parties doivent réglementer le statut des familles non hétérosexuelles, ce qui ouvre la voie au mariage civil (non religieux) aux couples de même sexe. Un groupe de 60 organisations LGBTQI+ de la région a célébré cette décision comme la plus importante dans l’histoire des droits LGBTQI+ à ce jour.

    À l'époque, une grande discussion s'est engagée pour savoir si l'avis de la Cour interaméricaine était contraignant pour le Costa Rica. La Chambre constitutionnelle de la Cour suprême de justice du Costa Rica a réglé ce débat en août 2018, lorsqu’elle a soutenu que les articles du Code de la famille qui limitaient le mariage civil (non religieux) aux couples hétérosexuels étaient inconstitutionnels. La décision a accordé 18 mois à l’Assemblée législative pour modifier la législation, faute de quoi les restrictions seraient automatiquement levées et, à compter du 26 mai 2020, tout couple pourrait se marier sans entrave au Costa Rica. Et c'est ce qui s'est passé, puisqu'il n'y avait pas de consensus pour créer une nouvelle législation. 

    Au cours de la période précédant l’entrée en vigueur de l’arrêt de la Cour, d’importantes campagnes de la société civile ont été déployées pour susciter l’acceptation sociale du changement juridique.

    Avez-vous été confrontés à des réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits ?

    La réaction des milieux conservateurs a été brutale. Il est nécessaire de comprendre que la communauté LGBTQI+ a articulé ses luttes autour de la demande de reconnaissance de la dignité humaine de ses membres et de leur valeur égale en tant qu’être humain. Les groupes religieux se sont quant à eux mobilisés en tant que groupes identitaires - des groupes dont l'identité est définie de manière étroite, non universaliste, en opposition à un ennemi. Ces groupes ont canalisé les ressentiments provoqués par les changements juridiques visant à faire progresser l’égalité, et ont donné de l’espoir à ceux qui s’étaient sentis évincés par ces changements, ce qui a conduit à l’émergence de partis politiques religieux.

    Dans un tel contexte, l’élection présidentielle de 2018 est devenue une sorte de référendum sur les droits des personnes LGBTQI+, et plus précisément sur l’égalité du droit au mariage. Un pasteur évangélique, Fabricio Alvarado, alors seul membre du Congrès issu d’un parti évangélique, s’est présenté à la présidence, en jouant sur les sentiments d’indignation et de crainte des citoyens conservateurs face à l’arrêt de la Cour suprême. Le candidat s’est fait remarquer par ses déclarations incendiaires, affirmant notamment que l’homosexualité était « causée par le diable ». Il s’est hissé à la première place dans les sondages préélectoraux : en un mois seulement, il est passé de 3 % à 17 % des préférences de vote, et a remporté le premier tour des élections présidentielles. Il a également remporté 14 des 54 sièges législatifs, ce qui a représenté une augmentation de 1 300 % de la présence législative de son parti politique.

    Le second tour de l’élection présidentielle a porté sur les droits des personnes LGBTQI+. Le deuxième finaliste, Carlos Alvarado, était le candidat du parti au pouvoir et avait une position en faveur des droits des personnes LGBTQI+. Cette position a finalement prévalu, mais l’élection nous a obligés à nous confronter à la puissance considérable des églises évangéliques. La victoire de Carlos Alvarado s’explique par plusieurs facteurs, l’un d’entre eux étant la grande mobilisation de la société civile. Parmi les campagnes de la société civile qui ont eu un impact, citons celle du groupe Coalición por Costa Rica, qui a cherché à susciter un débat informé et inclusif, en diffusant les propositions des candidats afin que les citoyens puissent y réfléchir avant de voter ; et celle d’Igualitxs, « Por todas las familias », lancée une semaine avant les élections pour diffuser un message inclusif et appeler à l’égalité de traitement de la population LGBTQI+.

    La profonde division générée autour de l’élection a laissé des séquelles. Les politiciens qui utilisent la religion pour polariser la société continuent d'abonder. Ils protestent parce qu'ils pensent que le gouvernement a pris le parti de s'attaquer aux problèmes de la population LGBTQI+. La tension s’est intensifiée avec l’entrée en vigueur de l’égalité du droit au mariage et les propositions de lois visant à censurer les discours de haine et discriminatoires.

    Pensez-vous que les changements juridiques se sont accompagnés d’une évolution des mentalités ? Que fait la société civile pour promouvoir l’acceptation des personnes LGBTQI+ ?

    Le changement juridique est une chose, le changement culturel en est une autre. L’évolution juridique a représenté un progrès pour les droits humains et un moyen de concrétiser l’application universelle du droit. Elle est le résultat d’un combat de plusieurs décennies mené par la communauté LGBTQI+. Mais l’homophobie, la discrimination et la violence à l’encontre des personnes LGBTQI+ demeurent. Une fois le changement juridique réalisé, la politique publique doit continuer à se concentrer sur l’exclusion structurelle. Car le changement juridique en soi ne produit pas nécessairement un sentiment d’appartenance à une communauté. Comme l’explique le théoricien politique Bikku Parekh, alors que la citoyenneté est une question de statut et de droits, l’appartenance est atteinte lorsque l’on est accepté et que l’on se sent bienvenu. Et il y a encore beaucoup à faire pour que cela se produise. Les attitudes des gens ne changent pas automatiquement à la suite de la mise en œuvre d’une loi. La loi fixe un paramètre objectif de ce qui est autorisé, mais il reste beaucoup à faire pour modifier les paramètres de ce qui est considéré comme normal ou moralement acceptable.

    Par conséquent, afin de préparer le terrain pour le changement juridique, dans les 18 mois entre la publication de l’arrêt de la Cour suprême et l’entrée en vigueur de la décision, plus de 35 OSC locales ont développé la campagne « Sí acepto », appelant à la reconnaissance de l’égale dignité de tous les êtres humains. Cette campagne a également été relayée par les médias, des entreprises du secteur de la publicité, des associations telles que le Business Development Association, les Nations unies et des ambassades comme celles du Canada et des Pays-Bas.

    La campagne présentait des témoignages de personnes, de couples et de familles LGBTQI+, ainsi que de membres de leur famille, de leurs voisins et de leurs amis, dans le but de promouvoir l’acceptation, et de changer les perceptions de ce que signifie être une personne LBGTQI+ dans la société costaricienne. Elle a été activée à l’échelle nationale, et ses vidéos ont été diffusées non seulement sur les médias sociaux, mais aussi à la télévision nationale pendant des mois. C’est la meilleure campagne jamais conçue sur le sujet, et nous le devons à Mme Nisa Sanz, présidente de l’OSC Familias Homoparentales, et à Gia Miranda, porte-parole officielle de la campagne.

    Les vidéos suscitent des émotions et génèrent de l’empathie. Elles ont amené des milliers de personnes qui n’étaient pas engagées politiquement à renoncer à leur droit sacré à la vie privée et à montrer leur visage, à cesser d’être une abstraction pour devenir une réalité. Elles ont donné un visage humain à l’idée abstraite des « gays » telle que présentée par les journaux. En expliquant aux personnes qu'elles ne seraient pas rejetées, la campagne a participé à les libérer de leurs craintes, car la plupart des personnes LGBTQI+ subissent un certain type de rejet dans leur vie quotidienne, quel que soit leur statut social. En conséquence, une population active a pris part à la campagne, faisant savoir qu'avec ou sans pandémie, elle ne reculerait en rien par rapport aux acquis. Cela a été décisif pour faire comprendre aux législateurs qui tentaient de saboter le mariage civil pour les personnes de même sexe, qu’ils n’y parviendraient pas.

    Ce fut l'une des plus importantes campagnes de défense des droits civils de l'histoire, et elle restera dans les mémoires comme une lueur qui a brillé au milieu des ténèbres de la pandémie. La veille du jour où le mariage civil est devenu légal pour tous les adultes au Costa Rica, l’évêque de l’Église catholique d’Alajuela a délivré un message dans lequel il déclarait : « Nous sommes heureux qu’il existe différents types de relations humaines, différentes formes de famille, et je crois que là où il y a une démonstration d’affection et d’amour familial, d’une certaine manière, Dieu se manifeste, et nous devons favoriser cela ». Bien qu’ils ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position de l’ensemble de l’institution, les propos de ce représentant religieux sont le fruit de l’excellent travail réalisé par les activistes visant à provoquer le changement culturel nécessaire à l’acceptation des personnes LGBTQI+.

    Il est remarquable de voir comment le Costa Rica est passé de la criminalisation de l’homosexualité dans les années 70, la fermeture des bars gays jugés « pervers », la persécution des gays par des descentes de police sous le prétexte de santé publique dans les années 1980, à la demande d’un avis consultatif à la Cour interaméricaine en 2016 et, après une élection présidentielle centrée sur la question, à la nomination d’un commissaire aux affaires LGBTQI+ en 2018 et à la consécration du mariage pour les personnes de même sexe deux ans plus tard.

    Nous venons de laisser derrière nous une autre loi injuste. Et de nombreuses personnes ont fini par comprendre que le fait que l'union et les projets de vie de deux adultes de même sexe bénéficient d'une protection juridique ne les affecte en rien - tout au plus, cela valide l’institution du mariage dont ils font également partie - et qu’il n’y a rien de mal à être gay, et qu’en tout état de cause, personne ne « devient gay » à la suite de cette normalisation.

    Quelle est l’importance régionale des progrès réalisés au Costa Rica ?

    L’Amérique centrale est l’une des régions les plus hostiles d’Amérique latine pour les personnes LGBTQI+. Les meurtres de personnes homosexuelles et transgenres sont fréquents au Salvador, au Guatemala et au Honduras. Le Costa Rica, en tant que premier pays d’Amérique centrale à approuver le mariage pour les personnes de même sexe, devrait être un modèle pour toute la région. L’avis consultatif de la Cour IDH est valable pour la vingtaine de pays des Amériques qui reconnaissent sa compétence. Le Panama pourrait bientôt suivre le chemin du Costa Rica : un avertissement d’inconstitutionnalité basé sur la décision de la Cour IDH a été déposé, et la Fondation Iguales Panamá coordonne la participation de la société civile nationale et internationale dans le processus qui se déroule à la Cour suprême du Panama.

    La Fondation Igualitxs travaille dans le même sens depuis longtemps dans mon pays d’origine, le Salvador. La société civile salvadorienne a fait d’immenses progrès. Compte tenu des tendances régressives de l’Assemblée législative sur la question du mariage civil entre les personnes de même sexe, pendant une décennie et demie, nos efforts se sont concentrés sur le dépôt de plaintes pour contester l’inconstitutionnalité du Code de la famille. J’ai déposé une de ces actions en justice, intitulée Equality Lawsuit, le 11 novembre 2016. Peu après, plusieurs OSC, dont l´Association Entre Amigos, Comcavis et Hombres Trans El Salvador, ainsi que de nombreux activistes indépendants, ont intenté une action en justice similaire.

    Tout comme au Costa Rica, les secteurs conservateurs ont vivement réagi. À l’Assemblée législative, ils se sont empressés d’entamer le processus de ratification d’une réforme constitutionnelle excluante, bloquée depuis des années, qui donnerait un statut constitutionnel à la définition restrictive du mariage que nous avons remise en question dans le Code de la famille, interdisant effectivement le mariage homosexuel. En réponse, nous avons déposé une mesure conservatoire contre le processus de réforme constitutionnelle et obtenu de la Cour suprême qu’elle le suspende. C’est à la suite de ce procès qu’est né le mouvement Igualitos, qui est devenu par la suite la Fondation Igualitxs.

    Les deux demandes d’inconstitutionnalité de 2016 ont finalement été admises en août 2019, et en janvier 2020, un magistrat de la Chambre constitutionnelle de la Cour suprême a annoncé que la Cour se prononcerait bientôt, et a admis qu’il s’agissait de l’une de ses grandes décisions en suspens, attendues depuis longtemps. Nous sommes donc peut-être sur le point d'atteindre notre objectif. 

    De quel soutien la société civile qui défend les droits des personnes LGBTQI+ a-t-elle besoin de la part de la société civile internationale ?

    Dans le contexte de la pandémie de COVID-19, la situation devient de plus en plus difficile. Les États ont engagé leurs ressources dans la lutte contre la pandémie ; les OSC sont confrontées à des difficultés budgétaires et la crise affecte tout le monde. En outre, de nombreuses personnes se tournent vers la foi pour faire face à la crise et certains groupes religieux profitent de la crise pour mener des campagnes contre les personnes LGBTQI+. Cependant, il est encore possible de prendre des mesures et des actions concrètes, comme, par exemple, au Salvador, l’adoption d’un projet de loi que des dizaines d’organisations réclament pour reconnaître les défenseurs des droits humains.

    En ce qui concerne plus particulièrement notre organisation, qui n’est pas financée et fonctionne entièrement sur la base du volontariat, nous essayons de prendre les choses au jour le jour, de reprendre le contrôle que nous avons perdu à cause de la pandémie. Je pense qu’il est temps de se demander non seulement ce que nous voulons et pouvons obtenir de la vie, mais aussi ce que nous pouvons donner en retour. De cette façon, nous entrons dans une zone de pouvoir, où nous conservons notre pouvoir d’action malgré nos limites. Nous quittons ainsi notre zone de confort et entrons dans une zone de croissance. À partir de l’acceptation de la réalité qui nous touche, nous devons faire une profonde introspection pour nous réinventer. C’est le moment de croire à nouveau que nous avons tous le potentiel de faire de grandes choses et de laisser une trace, si nous agissons non pas pour obtenir des louanges et gagner en popularité, mais pour la satisfaction de faire ce qui est correct et juste, en ayant un impact positif dans le monde.

    L’espace civique au Costa Rica est classé comme « ouvert » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contactez la Fundación Igualitxs via sonsite web et son profilFacebook. 

     

  • DROITS DES MIGRANTS : " Les discours haineux sont motivés par des relations de pouvoir inégales et des stéréotypes négatifs "

    martin pairet

    Dans le cadre de notre rapport thématique de 2019, nous interrogeons des militants, des dirigeants et des experts de la société civile sur la manière dont ils sont confrontés aux réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits. CIVICUS parle de la montée des discours haineux en Europe et des stratégies de la société civile pour y faire face avec Martin Pairet, responsable des Réseaux chez European Alternatives, une organisation transnationale de la société civile et un mouvement citoyen qui promeut la démocratie, l'égalité et la culture au-delà de l'Etat-nation.

     

    European Alternatives se concentre sur la promotion de la démocratie au-delà des frontières. Dans quelle mesure êtes-vous préoccupé par la montée du nationalisme autoritaire en Europe ?

    European Alternatives s'efforce de soutenir la démocratie à travers le continent, et notre analyse actuelle est que la démocratie n'est pas assez mature et que les droits fondamentaux nécessaires au fonctionnement de la démocratie ne sont pas respectés en Europe. Le processus de dégradation des pratiques et des institutions démocratiques s'est déroulé sur un certain nombre d'années, au moins une décennie, mais s'est particulièrement accéléré avec la crise de l'hospitalité que nous connaissons actuellement face à la migration. Cette crise de l'hospitalité est avant tout une crise des valeurs européennes. Nous défendons le principe de solidarité et la création de nouvelles formes de communauté transnationale, et nous voyons exactement le contraire - la normalisation des mouvements et partis anti-droits dont le discours est amplifié par les médias, et les réseaux sociaux en particulier. C'est ce qui se passe dans tous les pays d'Europe, et en particulier dans les pays où les hommes politiques ont beaucoup à gagner avec une politique anti-migrants, comme en France, en Allemagne et en Italie.

    Considérez-vous cette situation comme le résultat d'un déficit démocratique ou d'un non-respect des droits humains ?

    Je pense que c'est un peu des deux. Il existe en fait un profond déficit démocratique et, ces dernières années, on s'interroge de plus en plus sur la manière dont les décisions sont prises à tous les niveaux - local, national, européen et mondial. Les gens réclament une plus grande représentation et une participation significative dans les processus décisionnels, par le biais de mécanismes tels que les référendums organisés à l'initiative des citoyens. Il y a beaucoup d'autres exemples que nous avons vus ces dernières années en Europe, de personnes s'organisant pour combler les lacunes des institutions représentatives et s'impliquant dans la prise de décision, par exemple à travers des Assemblées de citoyens. Beaucoup de gens ont l'impression que leur voix n'est pas entendue et se sentent donc impuissants - ils ont le sentiment que quoi qu'ils fassent, ils ne pourront pas changer les choses et ne reprendront pas le contrôle de la politique, ce qui signifie qu'ils n'auront pas leur mot à dire sur les décisions qui affectent leur vie et qu'ils ne pourront contrôler leur avenir.

    En ce sens, la démocratie est assez faible, et les gens ont de moins en moins d'espoir que quelqu'un occupant un poste de décision puisse vraiment comprendre leurs problèmes et leurs craintes, auxquels le système ne prête pas attention et n'est pas en mesure de répondre. C'est à ce moment que le nationalisme, l'extrémisme et la haine commencent à augmenter et que les discours haineux deviennent attrayants. Et dans ce contexte, il devient très difficile d'entendre le discours sur les droits humains, parce que ce n'est pas nécessairement quelque chose à quoi les gens se réfèrent ou auquel ils se connectent toujours, car il est assez abstrait. Les organisations européennes de défense des droits humains ont travaillé dur pour faire face à la crise humanitaire, mais elles ont parfois sous-estimé le pouvoir des émotions, et de la peur en particulier, et ne se sont donc pas concentrées sur la manière de répondre à ces craintes, ce qui a été problématique.

    Dans votre analyse de la crise actuelle de l'hospitalité, vous vous concentrez sur les discours haineux. Comment définiriez-vous cela ?

    Le discours haineux est un phénomène complexe qui ne peut pas vraiment entrer dans une définition simple. En fait, il n'existe pas de définition internationalement acceptée du discours haineux, et chaque État membre de l'Union européenne (UE) a sa propre définition juridique. La définition utilisée par le Conseil de l'Europe inclut toutes les formes d'expression qui propagent ou amplifient la xénophobie et diverses formes de haine et d'intolérance. Le discours haineux va à l'encontre des droits humains, c'est donc une forme de discours anti-droits. C'est aussi un phénomène social qui a été amplifié par les réseaux sociaux dans le contexte de relations de pouvoir de plus en plus sociales également liées à la crise économique et financière et au fait que le pouvoir financier et économique est concentré dans quelques mains. Mais les stéréotypes jouent aussi un rôle important. Je dirais que les discours haineux sont motivés à la fois par des relations de pouvoir inégales et par des stéréotypes négatifs.

    Ces dernières années, la normalisation des discours haineux a contribué à la radicalisation des personnes et des groupes contre ceux considérés comme " l'autre " : les attaques contre les groupes marginalisés, notamment les femmes, les LGBTQI, les Roms, les migrants, les réfugiés et les communautés religieuses minoritaires, se sont répandues sur les réseaux sociaux et le discours de haine se transforme progressivement en violence effective. C'est pourquoi nous avons constaté une augmentation des crimes haineux.

    L'un des problèmes, et la raison pour laquelle il est important d'avoir une définition claire du discours haineux, est que, bien qu’il soit une forme de discours contre les droits, une tentative de le réglementer et de le supprimer peut mener à la violation d'autres droits, et particulièrement d'un droit fondamental, le droit à la liberté d'expression.

    Bien que les droits des femmes, des LGBTQI, des personnes de couleur et des peuples autochtones doivent être respectés, leur droit d'être traités équitablement et avec respect peut parfois entrer en conflit avec la liberté d'expression. Il est donc important de savoir où tracer la ligne et comment identifier ce qui relève de la liberté d'expression et ce qui constitue un discours de haine ; et ce qui peut être fait à ce sujet. Mais il s'agit d'un processus très dynamique et les définitions changent continuellement, en partie à cause de l'essor des nouvelles technologies. Au fur et à mesure que de nouvelles formes de communication voient le jour, nous devons nous demander si tel ou tel discours est un discours haineux. Où est la limite ? Certains commentaires ou communications visuelles que l'on retrouve sur les plateformes médiatiques constituent-ils un discours haineux ? La distinction entre ce qui est ironique et ce qui est sérieux peut être difficile à saisir en ligne.

    Où, en Europe, la situation est-elle la plus préoccupante ?

    Le problème prend des formes différentes selon les endroits. Un exemple concret de cette situation préoccupante est celui de l'Italie, où il y a eu une augmentation significative des crimes haineux entre 2017 et 2018. En raison de l'utilisation de différentes méthodes de collecte de données, il est difficile de savoir dans quelle mesure ceux-ci ont augmenté, mais il est évident qu'ils ont fortement augmenté lorsque l'extrême droite est arrivée au pouvoir.

    En Italie, les discours haineux ont ciblé spécifiquement les réfugiés et les personnes de couleur. Cécile Kyenge, membre italienne noire du Parlement européen, est victime d'agressions racistes depuis des années. Lorsqu'elle a été nommée la première ministre noire du gouvernement d'Italie en 2013, elle a reçu des insultes racistes de la part du parti d'extrême droite de la Ligue. En 2018, une fois que le leader du Parti de la Ligue, Matteo Salvini, est arrivé au pouvoir, ils ont porté plainte pour diffamation contre elle, pour avoir accusé le parti et ses dirigeants d'être racistes !

    Il est très révélateur qu'un crime haineux ait été commis le jour même où Matteo Salvini a été assermenté comme Vice-Premier Ministre, le 3 juin 2018. Un migrant malien de 29 ans a été abattu (en anglais) par un homme blanc qui passait en voiture et lui a tiré dessus avec un fusil. Il a été tué alors qu'il ramassait de la ferraille pour construire des cabanes, aux côtés de deux autres migrants qui ont également été blessés. Ils vivaient tous dans un village de tentes qui abrite des centaines de travailleurs agricoles mal payés. Il s'agissait clairement d'un exemple de discours haineux transformé en acte, puisque cela s'est produit quelques heures à peine après que Matteo Salvini eut averti (en anglais) que, maintenant qu'il était au pouvoir, "les bons moments pour les sans-papiers étaient terminés" et que "l'Italie ne saurait être le camp de réfugiés de l'Europe".

    Le fait que l'extrême-droite ait accédé au pouvoir ou non fait une différence, ce qui devient évident lorsque l'on compare l'Italie et l'Allemagne. Les discours haineux sont également en hausse en Allemagne, mais dans ce cas, une nouvelle loi (en anglais) a été adoptée à la fin de 2017 pour réglementer les discours haineux en ligne. Cette loi exige que les plateformes de réseaux sociaux éliminent rapidement les discours haineux, les " fausses nouvelles " et tout matériel illégal, et elle semble avoir été très efficace pour réduire les discours haineux en ligne. En revanche, l'Italie ne dispose pas d'un cadre juridique aussi solide et le contexte n'est pas non plus propice à une révision du cadre juridique. En résumé, la montée des discours haineux en Italie est le résultat du mélange d'un environnement politique régressif et de l'absence d'une législation forte.

    Dans les cas de la Hongrie et de la Pologne, les gouvernements ont également réagi vigoureusement contre les migrants. Ces exemples sont particulièrement intéressants parce qu'il n'y a parfois pas de migrants dans certaines parties du pays, surtout à la campagne, mais il peut quand même y avoir des politiques anti-migrants même dans des endroits où il y a très peu de migrants. Cela a beaucoup à voir avec qui est au pouvoir et quel discours est livré par les dirigeants et diffusé sur les réseaux sociaux. Et si les discours de haine peuvent cibler divers groupes particuliers, je pense que dans la situation actuelle en Europe, ils commencent toujours par les migrants et les réfugiés, puis s'étendent à d'autres groupes marginalisés. Nous l'avons vu avec le Brexit au Royaume-Uni : la campagne référendaire a été imprégnée d'un discours anti-migrant, mais divers groupes de personnes qui n'étaient pas des migrants ou des réfugiés ont été de plus en plus menacés par des approches d'exclusion, qui ont fini par viser quiconque était différent, avait une apparence ou un langage différents.

    Existe-t-il une législation au niveau européen pour lutter contre les discours de haine ?

    Il n'y a rien de spécifique contre les discours haineux, mais parce qu'ils constituent une violation de tout un ensemble de droits, il existe un large éventail de règles applicables, telles que la décision-cadre sur la lutte contre certaines formes et manifestations de racisme et de xénophobie au moyen du droit pénal. Il y a aussi l'Agence des droits fondamentaux, une agence financée par l'UE qui collecte et analyse des données et effectue des recherches sur les droits fondamentaux. Elle fournit une assistance et une expertise aux niveaux européen et national, notamment dans les domaines de la non-discrimination, du racisme, de l'intolérance et des crimes de haine. Enfin, il existe un Code de conduite pour la lutte contre les discours haineux illégaux en ligne que la Commission européenne a récemment approuvé avec Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter et YouTube, qui vise à permettre aux utilisateurs des réseaux sociaux de donner librement leur avis en ligne et sans crainte de subir des attaques motivées par des considérations de race, couleur, religion, origine nationale ou ethnique, orientation et identité sexuelles, handicap ou autre. Elle vise également à faire en sorte que les législations communautaires et nationales en matière de lutte contre le discours  haineux soient mieux appliquées dans l'environnement en ligne dans l'ensemble de l'UE. Mais le processus d'adaptation de la législation européenne est lent et long, et l'UE ne dispose pas toujours de mécanismes suffisants pour tenir les États membres responsables lorsqu'ils ne se conforment pas à la législation.

    Que peut faire la société civile pour contrer les discours haineux, à part faire pression pour obtenir des changements législatifs ?

    Il existe de nombreuses stratégies qui peuvent être utilisées pour contrer efficacement le discours haineux. Bien sûr, il est important de modifier la législation pour garantir qu'elle couvre toutes les formes de discrimination et de discours de haine, mais il est également important - et très difficile - de sensibiliser la population. La prise de conscience de leur droit à l'égalité de traitement doit tout d'abord se faire auprès des personnes visées par les discours de haine. Même parmi les citoyens européens, nombreux sont ceux qui ne connaissent pas exactement leurs droits. Il est donc important de partager l'information avec la société civile et d'encourager les groupes de la société civile à la partager davantage.

    Le rôle des autorités locales et des organismes publics tels que la police est également essentiel pour garantir le droit à l'égalité de traitement, et le fait qu'ils agissent ou non face aux discours de haine fait une différence. Il est donc important que la société civile travaille avec ces acteurs pour qu'ils puissent reconnaître les propos haineux et agir contre eux.

    En outre, la société civile peut faire mieux dans le domaine des stratégies de communication pour protéger les droits fondamentaux en général. Cela nécessiterait un investissement dans le renforcement des capacités, étant donné que les connaissances requises ne sont pas uniformément diffusées. Les acteurs de base n'ont pas nécessairement les moyens de faire ce genre de travail, mais c'est souvent ce genre de travail qui a le plus d'impact sur les groupes affectés, car il est essentiel pour les aider à atteindre ces groupes.

    Il faut beaucoup plus d'investissements pour contrer les groupes haineux en ligne, car le contenu en ligne peut avoir un impact bien au-delà du contexte pour lequel il a été formulé. Selon des études sur le discours antisémite, les gens ont tendance à se sentir menacés par ce qu'ils voient en ligne, quel que soit l'impact direct sur leur réalité, de sorte qu'il est clair qu'il faut investir davantage pour contrer cet effet.

    Comment European Alternatives travaille-t-elle pour contrer les discours haineux ?

    Nous nous efforçons de mettre en contact les groupes qui travaillent sur des questions similaires et de combler les lacunes en matière de capacités. Nous y sommes parvenus grâce à une série d'activités de formation sur la lutte contre les discours haineux et le radicalisme d'extrême droite en Europe centrale et orientale. Il est important de réunir des militants et des citoyens de différents pays, car il est très difficile pour les gens de comprendre qu'il ne s'agit pas de phénomènes isolés qui se produisent dans leurs communautés, mais plutôt que beaucoup de communautés vivent la même chose et qu'il existe une gamme de solutions qui ont été essayées dans divers contextes locaux pour y remédier. Il est très important que ces échanges se poursuivent, parce que nous avons vu qu'ils fonctionnent : nous voyons des organisations qui collaborent au-delà des frontières et échangent des expériences qu'elles peuvent adapter pour lutter contre le discours haineux dans leur propre contexte.

    Il est également essentiel d'investir autant que possible dans l'éducation civique et l'éducation aux droits humains. Nous le faisons par le biais d'un cours en ligne sur la lutte contre les discours haineux en Europe, qui est basé sur le dialogue en ligne maintenu avec nos partenaires. Les vidéos sont open source et sont disponibles sur notre chaîne YouTube. Nous avons une liste de lecture appelée " Countering Hate Speech" (Contrecarrer les discours haineux), pour qu'ils puissent être regardés en séquence. Le cours offre aux participants l'opportunité d'accéder à des contenus d'experts développés par European Alternatives et de mettre en avant leurs propres expériences, valeurs et perspectives tout en s'engageant avec leurs pairs à travers un échange virtuel. À la fin du cours, les participants apprennent même à planifier et à organiser une journée d'action contre le discours haineux.

    Grâce à ces activités, nous essayons d'atteindre un grand nombre de jeunes. Le dialogue entre les individus et entre les communautés est essentiel parce que sur les réseaux sociaux, il y a de moins en moins d'espaces où les gens peuvent avoir une vraie conversation dans un environnement sûr. Et le dialogue est tout à fait efficace pour sensibiliser et réfléchir à des stratégies collectives.

    Je pense que la raison pour laquelle nous continuons dans cette voie, c'est parce que nous pensons qu'il ne peut y avoir une démocratie qui fonctionne bien lorsque les gens ne sont pas respectés. Le respect de notre humanité commune est une condition préalable à toute réforme démocratique.

    Prenez contact avec European Alternatives via son site web et sa page Facebook, ou suivez @EuroAlter et @MartPirate sur Twitter.

     

  • El Salvador es uno de los pocos países que aún no han decidido que la vida de las mujeres importa

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Sara García Gross, Coordinadora Ejecutiva de la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico de El Salvador e integrante de la Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos. Fundada en 2009, Agrupación Ciudadana es una organización de la sociedad civil multidisciplinaria que busca generar conciencia para cambiar la legislación sobre la interrupción del embarazo en el país; defender legalmente a las mujeres que han sido acusadas o condenadas o por abortos o delitos relacionados; y promover la educación en materia de salud sexual y reproductiva.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How has civil society responded to the changes?

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

    What are the major challenges that remain for civil society?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What role is hate speech playing in stoking ethnic conflict?

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

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

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

    How can further political reform be encouraged?

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

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

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

    What are the most urgent support needs of civil society?

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

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

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

     

     

  • GROUPES ANTI-DROITS: " Ils veulent nous arrêter parce que nous apportons une différence "

    Giada NegriDans le cadre de notre rapport thématique de 2019, nous interrogeons des militants, des dirigeants et des experts de la société civile sur leurs expériences face aux réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits. CIVICUS parle de la situation en Europe avec Giada Negri, chargée de recherche et de plaidoyer au Forum Civique Européen (FCE). Le FCE est un réseau d'organisations de la société civile travaillant sur l'éducation à la citoyenneté, la défense des droits humains et la promotion de la démocratie.

     

     

    Quel est le travail du Forum civique européen ?

    Le Forum civique européen (FCE) est un réseau européen qui regroupe plus d'une centaine d'organisations de la société civile (OSC) de toute l'Union européenne et des Balkans. Il a commencé en 2005 en tant que réseau informel et est devenu officiel en 2007. Cela s'est produit à un moment crucial parce que le traité constitutionnel - le traité établissant une Constitution pour l'Europe - venait d'être rejeté à la suite de votes populaires (en anglais). Il était temps de discuter des questions sérieuses liées à la démocratie, des questions transversales à la société civile dans tous les pays, et le FCE a pensé qu'il pourrait fournir un espace pour que ces débats aient lieu.

    Plus récemment, nous avons commencé à travailler sur l'espace civique, car nos membres et partenaires ont commencé à remarquer une pression accrue sur la société civile. Le point de basculement a été l'approbation de la loi contre les ONG étrangères en Hongrie en 2017. Il y a environ un an et demi, le FCE a créé une plate-forme pour l'espace civique, Civic Space Watch, afin de recueillir des ressources, des analyses, des mises à jour et des articles sur l'état de l'espace civique et des libertés civiques en Europe, et d'alimenter la réaction de la société civile face aux restrictions. Nous voulons que la société civile puisse demander et recevoir de la solidarité au-delà des frontières, de sorte qu'en cas d'attaque dans un pays, il y ait une compréhension commune de ce qui se passe et une réaction collective rapide contre elle.

    Quelles sont, selon vous, les principales menaces qui pèsent actuellement sur l'espace civique en Europe ?

    Pour comprendre ces menaces, nous devons prendre du recul et examiner ce que font les OSC et les mouvements sociaux depuis plusieurs années - dénoncer un système qui s'est avéré non durable sur les plans social, environnemental et politique et combler les lacunes dans de nombreux domaines et de différentes manières, soit en fournissant des services et en proposant des solutions pratiques ou en obligeant les dirigeants politiques à répondre de leurs actes et en maintenant à l'ordre du jour les valeurs et principes définis dans la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'Homme.

    L'espace civique, l'espace pour interpeller le pouvoir et exprimer les désaccords, a été restreint dans le but de maintenir un système qui ne fonctionne plus pour chacun. Nous constatons une montée de l'"illibéralisme" et la tendance à sécuriser le discours public et l'espace public en même temps que les politiques sociales s'amenuisent. Le facteur sous-jacent est une vision néolibérale du monde qui considère la société comme un simple ensemble d'individus réunis, et qui ne reconnaît pas l'importance de la valeur de la justice sociale et la responsabilité des politiques publiques d'agir pour tous et d'inclure chacun dans le débat.

    Les défis spécifiques auxquels la société civile est confrontée sont très divers et diffèrent d'un pays à l'autre, de même que les principaux acteurs visés. Mais certaines tendances se dessinent sur l'ensemble du continent européen, il est donc important de les inscrire à l'ordre du jour européen et de les soulever auprès des institutions de l'Union européenne (UE). Alors que certains cas de restriction dans des pays comme la Hongrie et la Pologne sont très bien couverts par les médias, d'autres pays font l'objet d'attaques qui ne sont pas suffisamment discutées, comme la violence policière et la censure en France ou en Espagne.

    Dans d'autres pays, les défis sont plus subtils et ont tendance à être ignorés. Par exemple, en février 2019, un tribunal allemand a décidé (en anglais) que la branche allemande de l'Association pour l'imposition des transactions financières et pour l'action citoyenne (ATTAC) devait se voir retirer son statut d'utilité publique en raison de ses activités "politiques". Cela soulève la crainte que les organisations qui promeuvent des causes comme la justice fiscale n'aient peur de s'élever contre les puissants et de dénoncer les politiques qui ne fonctionnent pas ou qui profitent à peu de gens, parce que leur capacité financière et donc leur survie pourraient être en jeu.

    Il est clair que l'espace civique n'est pas restreint de la même manière pour tout le monde : des groupes spécifiques sont ciblés. Quels sont les groupes les plus ciblés en Europe ?

    En ce qui concerne le Civic Space Watch, nous constatons que les personnes les plus touchées par l'introduction ou le renforcement des restrictions de l'espace civique ont été les organisations environnementales, les groupes de solidarité envers les migrants et ceux qui luttent pour l'inclusion, la durabilité sociale, l'État de droit et les droits sexuels et reproductifs. Tous se sont retrouvés au centre de controverses parce qu'ils mettent en évidence des échecs et des injustices systémiques. Les questions les plus controversées, et donc les groupes qui subissent le plus de pression, varient d'un pays à l'autre. Mais quelles que soient ces questions, ce sont les groupes qui y travaillent et qui dénoncent les défaillances du système qui sont le plus sous pression.

    Toutes ces restrictions proviennent-elles de l'État, ou sont-elles imposées aussi par d'autres ?

    Les autorités et agences étatiques, à tous les niveaux, restent les principaux acteurs responsables des restrictions de l'espace civique. Mais nous voyons aussi des acteurs non étatiques menacer l'espace civique. Dans plusieurs pays, nous avons signalé que des groupes non étatiques, y compris des entreprises privées, prenaient des mesures contre la liberté d'expression ou la liberté de réunion pacifique. D'autres recherches sont nécessaires à ce sujet, car il s'agit d'une menace émergente dans de nombreux contextes - des cas ont été signalés en France, au Portugal, au Royaume-Uni, etc. De plus, nous voyons aussi des groupes anti-droits qui prennent confiance pour agir contre les droits de certaines personnes.

    La société européenne est de plus en plus polarisée autour de nombreuses questions, ce qui permet à ces groupes d'obtenir plus facilement un soutien qu'on aurait cru impossible auparavant. Elles promeuvent une conception des droits qui crée une concurrence entre groupes vulnérables ou qui exclut certains groupes pour des raisons d'identité, de culture ou d'orientation sexuelle. Ils sont devenus très doués pour exploiter les craintes et les angoisses de leurs publics, qui sont à leur tour le résultat de politiques qui ont introduit dans nos sociétés la concurrence de tous contre tous. Ils sont capables d'utiliser le langage et les outils des droits humains, ce qui est également nouveau.

    En Roumanie, par exemple, des groupes anti-droits ont recueilli des milliers de signatures pour organiser un référendum (en anglais) en vue d'interdire le mariage homosexuel. Ils ont utilisé les outils de la démocratie participative pour tenter de modifier la Constitution, qui ne précisait pas le sexe des personnes dans un mariage. Bien que beaucoup de ressources aient été consacrées à sa promotion, ce référendum a échoué. Mais ce faisant, les groupes anti-droits ont ciblé les personnes et les militants LGBTQI (en anglais) et il y a eu une augmentation des crimes haineux. Dans des contextes comme celui-ci, je crains pour la démocratie. Le fait que ces groupes utilisent des outils démocratiques peut servir d'excuse aux gouvernements pour commencer à retirer ces outils démocratiques ; cependant, je suis convaincue que moins de démocratie ne peut jamais être la réponse à ces questions.

    Certains groupes extrémistes - en particulier les groupes néo-fascistes - utilisent des tactiques très conflictuelles (en anglais), telles que des attaques physiques contre la police, les militants, les groupes vulnérables et les OSC. Grâce à leurs stratégies de confrontation, ils gagnent de l'espace dans les médias, ce qui leur donne un public. Les pays européens ont une législation contre ce type de groupes, mais les autorités ne les interpellent pas, ne les poursuivent pas et ne les interdisent pas, ce qui leur confère une certaine légitimité. Autour de certaines questions, comme les migrations, ces groupes sont de plus en plus présents dans la sphère publique. Comme les gouvernements abordent également le sujet et traitent la migration comme un problème de la même manière, ils légitiment les groupes anti-migrants dans la même mesure qu'ils criminalisent les groupes de la société civile qui travaillent pour apporter un soutien aux migrants.

    On sait déjà beaucoup de choses sur ces groupes extrémistes dans les différents pays, mais moins sur les groupes conservateurs qui ne sont pas nécessairement extrémistes. Mais nous devons en apprendre davantage sur la façon dont ils sont interconnectés, parce qu'ils le sont clairement. Les connexions se font à tous les niveaux, de haut en bas. Au plus haut niveau politique, les dirigeants populistes de droite qui restreignent l'espace civique et ciblent les groupes marginalisés se connectent, coopèrent et apprennent les uns des autres. Dans un geste hautement symbolique, en mai 2019, le ministre italien de l'Intérieur d'extrême droite de l'époque, Matteo Salvini, a rencontré (en anglais) le Premier ministre hongrois Viktor Orbán à la frontière sud de la Hongrie avec la Serbie, où des clôtures avaient été construites pour arrêter le flux des migrants et des demandeurs d'asile venant des Balkans. Les mesures proposées par Salvini sont très similaires à celles d'Orbán, et ils voulaient montrer au monde un front uni contre la migration.

    Les groupes anti-droits sont également reliés au niveau local. Le Congrès mondial des familles (en anglais) qui s'est réuni en mars 2019 à Vérone, en Italie, en est un bon exemple. Il s'agissait d'un rassemblement massif de militants du monde entier, unis par leur rejet des droits sexuels et reproductifs et leur haine pour les personnes LGBTQI. Mais dans ce cas, l'opposition a également été forte et a amené des militants de toute l'Europe.

    Comment la société civile progressiste réagit-elle aux groupes anti-droits ? Et que devrait-elle faire de plus pour réagir plus efficacement ?

    La solidarité est la clé. La mobilisation de la société civile en faveur des groupes menacés fournit une grande partie de la force psychologique nécessaire pour continuer, et a également apporté des succès importants et tangibles. En mai 2018, l'Irlande a célébré un référendum historique qui a légalisé l'avortement et la société civile s'est mobilisée autour du droit des femmes à choisir non seulement en Irlande, mais aussi dans d'autres pays, pour dire : "Nous sommes solidaires avec vous, nous sommes unis pour la même cause, une attaque contre l'un de nous est une attaque contre nous tous". En Pologne, lorsque le gouvernement a tenté de faire adopter une législation encore plus restrictive (en anglais) en matière d'avortement, même si la loi en vigueur est déjà parmi les plus strictes au monde, la société civile s'est mobilisée à plusieurs reprises. Les femmes ont protesté (en anglais) massivement en 2016, en 2017, et continuent de le faire, non seulement en Pologne mais partout en Europe. Jusqu'à présent, ils ont très bien réussi à empêcher l'adoption de lois restrictives.

    Je pense que tous les droits sont liés- les droits économiques, politiques, sociaux, culturels et environnementaux - de sorte que si l'un d'entre eux est supprimé, l'universalité des droits se rétrécit également. La société civile a appris que nous devons réagir non seulement lorsque les droits pour lesquels nous luttons sont menacés, ou lorsque ce sont les droits politiques ou civils qui sont sous pression, mais à chaque fois qu'un droit est menacé. Et nous ne devrions pas seulement signaler les cas où les mécanismes démocratiques ne fonctionnent pas ; la démocratie ne devrait pas simplement fonctionner, mais elle devrait fonctionner pour tout le monde, et nous devrions donc continuer à signaler les cas où cela ne se produit pas.

    Il est aussi très important que nous commencions à raconter les histoires de nos victoires, parce que nous sommes vraiment doués pour signaler les problèmes mais parfois il faut juste se dire : " hey, nous avons accompli cela ". Nous devons célébrer nos victoires parce qu'elles sont des victoires pour tout le monde, mais aussi parce qu'elles renforcent notre confiance et nous donnent la force de continuer à nous battre. C'est pourquoi la campagne que nous avons lancée en 2018 autour du 70ème anniversaire de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme et que nous menons à nouveau cette année et, nous l'espérons, dans les années à venir, prend la forme d'une célébration de tout le travail accompli par la société civile, essayant de montrer l'impact réel et étonnant de nos actions et le fait que tout serait très différent sans nous, en raison de toutes les avancées en matière de droits humains qui ne se seraient jamais produites.

    Je pense que j'ai parfois fait cette erreur lorsque j'ai commencé à étudier l'espace civique et à en examiner les restrictions : en me concentrant autant sur les restrictions, j'ai perdu de vue le fait que ces restrictions ont été introduites en réaction à nos succès. Nous étions entravés précisément parce que nous étions en train de gagner, et quelqu'un nous en voulait. Ils veulent nous arrêter parce que nous apportons une différence.

    Prenez contact avec le Forum civique européen via son site web et sa page Facebook, et suivez @ForCivicEU et @GiadaNegri sur Twitter.

     

     

  • HATE SPEECH: ‘The fact that this is how online platforms are supposed to work is a big part of the problem’

    Brandi Geurkink

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks with Brandi Geurkink, European campaigner at the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit corporation based on the conviction that the internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible to all. The Mozilla Foundation seeks to fuel a movement for a healthy internet by supporting a diverse group offellows working on key internet issues, connecting open internet leaders at events such asMozFest, publishing critical research in theInternet Health Report and rallying citizens aroundadvocacy issues that connect the wellbeing of the internet directly to everyday life.

    The regular internet user possibly identifies Mozilla with Firefox and doesn’t know that there is also a Mozilla Foundation. Can you tell us what the Mozilla Foundation is and what it does?

    I get this question asked a lot. When I told my family I was working for Mozilla, they said, ‘wait, you are not a software professional, what are you doing there?’ What makes Mozilla different from other software developers is that it is a non-profit tech company. Mozilla is the creator of Firefox, which is a web browser, but an open source one. It also has users’ privacy at its core. And all of Mozilla’s work is guided by the Mozilla Manifesto, which provides a set of principles for an open, accessible and safe internet, viewed as a global public resource.

    Profits that come from the Firefox browser are invested into the Mozilla Foundation, which is the Mozilla Corporation’s sole shareholder, and our mission is to build an open and healthy web. Mozilla creates and enables open-source technologies and communities that support the Manifesto’s principles; creates and delivers consumer products that represent the Manifesto’s principles; uses the Mozilla assets – intellectual property such as copyrights and trademarks, infrastructure, funds and reputation – to keep the internet an open platform; promotes models for creating economic value for the public benefit; and promotes the Mozilla Manifesto principles in public discourse and within the internet industry.

    Mozilla promotes an open and healthy web through a variety of activities. For instance, we have a fellowships programme to empower and connect leaders from the internet health movement. This programme supports people doing all sorts of things, from informing debates on how user rights and privacy should be respected online to creating technologies that will enable greater user agency. Mozilla also produces an annual report, the Internet Health Report, and mobilises people in defence of a healthy internet. A lot of this work takes the form of campaigning for corporate accountability; we seek to influence the way in which tech companies are thinking about privacy and user agency within their products and to mobilise consumers so that they demand better behaviour and more control over their online lives.

    How do you define a healthy internet?

    A healthy internet is a place where people can safely and freely communicate and participate. For this to happen, the internet must truly be a global public resource rather than something that’s owned by a few giant tech companies, who are then in control of who participates and how they do it. Some key components of a healthy web are openness, privacy and security. We place a lot of emphasis on digital inclusion, which determines who has access; web literacy, which determines who can succeed online; and decentralisation, which focuses on who controls the web – ideally, many rather than just a few.

    The internet is currently dominated by eight American and Chinese companies: Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft and Tencent. These companies and their subsidiaries dominate all layers of the digital world, from search engines, browsers and social media services to core infrastructure like undersea cables and cloud computing. They built their empires by selling our attention to advertisers, creating new online marketplaces and designing hardware and software that we now cannot do without. Their influence is growing in both our private lives and public spaces.

    What’s wrong about giant tech companies, and why it would be advisable to curb their power?

    A lot of the problems that we see online are not ‘tech’ problems per se – they’re sociopolitical problems that are amplified, and in some cases incentivised, to spread like wildfire and reach more people than ever before. When it comes to disinformation, for instance, a big part of the problem is the business models that guide the major social media platforms that we communicate on. The most successful tech companies have grown the way they have because they have monetised our personal data. They cash in on our attention in the form of ad revenue. When you think about how we use platforms designed for viral advertising as our primary method of social and political discourse – and increasingly our consumption of news – you can start to see why disinformation thrives on platforms like Facebook and Google.

    Another example of the ‘attention economy’ is YouTube, Google’s video platform, which recommends videos to users automatically, often leading us down ‘rabbit holes’ of increasingly more extreme content in order to keep us hooked and watching. When content recommendation algorithms are designed to maximise attention to drive profit, they end up fuelling radical beliefs and often spreading misinformation.

    What can be done about people using the internet to disseminate extremist ideas, hate speech and false information?

    I’m glad that you asked this because there is definitely a risk of censorship and regulation to fix this problem that actually results in violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. Worryingly, we’re seeing ‘fake news laws’ that use this problem as an excuse to limit freedom of speech and crack down on dissent, particularly in countries where civic space is shrinking and press freedom lacking. Mozilla fellow Renee di Resta puts this best when she says that freedom of reach is not the same as freedom of speech. Most of the big internet platforms have rules around what constitutes acceptable speech, which basically take the form of community guidelines. At the same time, platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter give people the ability to amplify their ideas to a huge number of people. This is the ‘freedom of reach’, and increasingly we’re seeing that used to spread ideas that are at odds with the values that underpin peaceful and democratic societies, like equality and human rights.

    I think that it’s important to acknowledge that the business models of major technology platforms create the perfect storm for the manipulation of users. Disinformation and hate speech are content designed to appeal to emotions such as fear, anger and even humour. Combine this with the ability to target specific profiles of people in order to manipulate their ideas, and this becomes the perfect place for this sort of ideas to take hold. Once purveyors of disinformation have gained enough of a following, they can comfortably move offline and mobilise these newly-formed communities, which is something we’re seeing more and more of. It’s this freedom of reach problem that platforms have yet to grapple with, maybe because it’s at odds with the very way that they make money. The challenge is to come up with ideas that improve the mechanisms to eliminate, on one hand, the likelihood of amplification of anti-rights ideas and hate speech, and on the other, the danger of censorship and discrimination against certain types of legitimate discourse.

    There has been a lot of controversy about how social media platforms are, or are not, dealing with misinformation. Do you think fact-checking is the way to go?

    Responsible reporting and factual information are crucial for people to make informed choices, including about who should govern them; that is why fighting misinformation with care for free speech is key. Among the things that can be done about misinformation it is worth mentioning the verification of advertisers, as well as improved monitoring tools to detect bots and check facts. These are things that if implemented correctly would have an impact on these issues, and not just during the time of elections.

    But the critical place where platforms are currently failing to live up to their commitments is around transparency. There must be greater transparency into how people use platforms like Facebook and Google to pay for ads that are intended to manipulate political discourse. At the same time, we must ensure that these companies are open about how content monitoring happens on platforms and that there are redress policies in place for people whose content has been wrongfully removed or deleted. Specific attention should be paid to the situation of fragile democracies, where disinformation can be more harmful because of the absence or limited presence of independent media.

    There have been election campaigns plagued by disinformation tactics in many different places, from India to Brazil. In response to public pressure, Facebook expressed a commitment to provide better transparency around how their platform is used for political advertisement so that sophisticated disinformation campaigns can be detected and understood and ultimately prevented. But the transparency tools that the company has released are largely insufficient. This has been repeatedly verified by independent researchers. There is a big disconnect between what companies say in public regarding what they intend to do or have done to prevent disinformation and the actual tools they put out there to do the job. I think Facebook should focus on creating tools that can actually get the job done.

    And besides what the companies running the social media platforms are or are not doing, there have been independent initiatives that seem to have worked. A tactic that disinformation campaigns use is the repurposing of content, for instance using a photo that was taken in a different place and time or sharing an old article out of context to spread the rumour that something new has just happened when it’s actually something else entirely that has been reported five years ago. In response to this, The Guardian came up with a brilliant solution: when someone shares on Twitter or Facebook an article of theirs that’s over 12 months old a yellow sign will automatically appear on the shared image stating that the article is over 12 months old. The notice also appears when you click on the article. This initiative was a proactive move from The Guardian to empower people to think more critically about what they are seeing. We need many more initiatives like this.

    Are disinformation campaigns also plaguing European politics in the ways that we’ve seen in the USA and Brazil?

    Most definitely, which is why in the lead up to the 2019 European elections four leading internet companies – Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla – signed the European Commission’s Code of Practice on Disinformation pledging to take specific steps to prevent disinformation from manipulating citizens of the European Union. This was basically a voluntary code of conduct, and what we saw when monitoring its implementation ahead of the European elections was that the platforms did not deliver what they promised to the European Commission in terms of detecting and acting against disinformation.

    Fortunately, ahead of the European Parliamentary elections we didn’t see election interference and political propaganda on the scale that has happened in the Philippines, for example, which is an excellent case study if you want to learn about disinformation tactics that were used very successfully. But we still have a big problem with ‘culture war debates’ that create an atmosphere of confusion, opening rifts and undermining trust in democratic processes and traditional institutions. Social media platforms have still not delivered on transparency commitments that are desperately needed to better understand what is happening.

    Civil society identified a case in Poland where pro-government Facebook accounts posed as elderly people or pensioners to spread government propaganda. Before the European elections and following an independent investigation, Facebook took down 77 pages and 230 fake accounts from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK, which had been followed by an estimated 32 million people and generated 67 million interactions over the previous three months alone. These were mostly part of far-right disinformation networks. Among other things, they had spread a video that was seen by 10 million people, supposedly showing migrants in Italy destroying a police car, which was actually from an old movie, and a fake story about migrant taxi drivers raping white women in Poland. A UK-based disinformation network that was uncovered in March 2019 was dedicated to disseminating fake information on topics such as immigration, LGBTQI rights and religious beliefs.

    Of course this is happening all the time, and not only during elections, although elections are moments of particular visibility when a lot more than usual is at stake, so there seems to be a spike in the use of misinformation tactics around elections. This also tends to happen around other, particularly stressful situations, for example a terror attack or more generally any current event that draws people’s attention.

    Why do online dynamics favour the amplification of specific kinds of messages – i.e. messages of hate instead of a narrative of human rights?

    Internet platforms are designed to amplify certain types of content that are created to appeal to deep emotions, because their aim is to keep you on the platform as long as possible and make you want to share that content with friends who will also be retained as long as possible on the platform. The higher the numbers of people online and the longer they stay, the higher the number of ads that will be delivered, and the higher the ad revenue will be. What will naturally happen once these platforms are up and running is that people will develop content with a political purpose, and the dynamics around this content will be exactly the same.

    Some will say that users doing this are abusing internet platforms. I disagree: I think people doing this are using those platforms exactly how they were designed to be used, but for the purpose of spreading an extremist political discourse, and the fact that this is how platforms are supposed to work is indeed a big part of the problem. It does make a difference whether someone is trying to make money from users’ posts or the platform is just a space for people to exchange ideas. We need to understand that if we are not paying for the product, then we are the product. If nobody were trying to make money out of our online interactions, there would be a higher chance of online interactions being more similar to interactions happening anywhere else, with people exchanging ideas more naturally rather than trying to catch each other’s attention by trying to elicit the strongest possible reactions.

    Does it make sense for us to keep trying to use the internet to have reasonable and civilised political conversations, or is it not going to happen?

    I love the internet, and so I think it’s not an entirely hopeless situation. The fact that the attention economy, combined with the growing power of a handful of tech companies, drives the way that we use the internet is really problematic, but at the same time there is a lot of work being done to think through how alternative business models for the internet could look, and increasingly regulators and internet users are realising that the current model is really broken. A fundamental question worth asking is whether it is possible to balance a desire to maximise ad revenue, and therefore people’s time spent on social media, and social responsibility. I think that companies as big as Google or Facebook have a duty to invest in social responsibility even if it has a negative impact on their revenue or it requires a level of transparency and accountability that frightens them. Responsibility implies, among other things, getting people’s consent to use their data to determine what they see online, and provide users’ insights into when and how you’re making choices about what they see.

    You may wonder, ‘why would they do that?’. Well, it’s interesting. The CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, recently published a blog post saying that the spread of harmful content on YouTube is more of a revenue risk for the company because it damages their reputation. I think that there is an element of reputational damage, but the much bigger risk that these companies face is policy-makers cracking down on these platforms and their ability to continue operating as usual without greater accountability. For instance, the European code of practice on disinformation was self-regulatory; we have seen at least in this case that the platforms that committed to the Code didn’t deliver tools that were sufficient to provide greater political ad transparency, and they are still not held accountable for this. Does this example mean that policy-makers will be under greater pressure to regulate the online space by mandating transparency instead of requesting it? These are the sort of conversations that should define new approaches to dealing with harmful content online in order to make sure it remains a positive force in our lives.

    Get in touch with the Mozilla Foundation through itswebsite, andfollow@mozilla and@bgeurkink on Twitter.

     

  • HIV/AIDS: ‘We need a global civil society movement that stands together for all rights’

     

    Alessandra NiloCIVICUS speaks toAlessandra Nilo, co-founder and Executive Director of GESTOS – HIV and AIDS, Communication and Gender, a civil society organisation (CSO) created in 1993 in Recife, Brazil. She is a member of the NGO Delegation to the Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an institution that uniquely involves civil society in its governance board. Here, Alessandra discusses civil society’s important role in UNAIDS, her work on HIV/AIDS in the deteriorating political climate of Brazil and the growing challenge posed by anti-rights groups that oppose action on HIV/AIDS and human rights.

    Can you tell us about your background and how you came to work on issues of HIV/AIDS?

    I am a journalist, specialised in health and with a postgraduate qualification in diplomacy. I was also involved in student movements and workers’ and political movements. In 1993, a group of us created GESTOS. At that time, we didn’t know much about the epidemic. I lost a friend, whose family locked him in his house and wouldn’t allow us to talk to him. That was why GESTOS was born, to address the issues of people living with HIV/AIDS.

    We knew that having an organisation to help people was not enough. We needed to exercise accountability. We needed to improve policies. We were pioneers because at that time we knew that gender was an important dimension, and also that without communication, we could not move forward, because it was important to involve the public and mobilise them for our cause. This is why we were named GESTOS – Seropositivity, Communication and Gender.

    We started to engage with the national councils in Brazil. These are bodies established by the 1988 Federal Constitution, where government, civil society and interested parties sit together to define public policies. These were spaces where we could practise direct democracy and have direct participation. Through participation GESTOS became very close to the ministries of health and gender and we began to engage in social networks of the Latin American region.

    What have been some of the impacts of the HIV/AIDS movement, in Brazil and globally?

    In general Brazil’s HIV/AIDS movement is very strong. We have helped people take action to define their own responses to HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, the HIV/AIDS movement has been responsible for many breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS policies, and this happened in Brazil.

    We were the first movement to start pushing that treatment was a right, rather than a commodity delivered by governments depending on whether they wanted to or had capacity. We were responsible for big discussions around sexuality that contributed to the sexual and reproductive rights movement. We built strong alliances with the feminist movement. We were the first movements to include people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sex workers in a global resolution at the United Nations (UN). We also engaged in debates that led to the Sustainable Development Goals. The fact that in the Agenda 2030 resolution there is a mention of people living with HIV/AIDS is because GESTOS was there as part of the Brazilian delegation and Brazil proposed this at the last minute of negotiations in New York.

    The bottom line is that people living with HIV/AIDS proved at local, national and international levels to have a strong capacity to advocate for amplifying the spaces and formal sites and mechanisms for civil society participation in general.

    How did civil society’s role in UNAIDS develop?

    UNAIDS created the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), UNAIDS’ governing body, in 1995 – it started operating in 1996 – and it is super innovative because it is the only governing body in the UN system that includes formal participation by civil society. It has 22 voting Member States, 11 co-sponsors, who are other UN bodies, and five civil society delegates plus five alternates, which means 10 people from civil society are involved. We have one member and one alternate per region, from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia and Europe.

    The PCB is the place where the main global policies on HIV/AIDS have been discussed and formed, and these have informed other UN debates. More than that, it has informed and inspired the ways UN member states implement HIV/AIDS policies at national levels.

    The rationale for civil society’s involvement lies in the fact that the HIV/AIDS movement was really based on participation. Since the beginning, people living with HIV and key populations pushed and insisted that politicians, scientists and affected people should come together and figure out how to create solutions together. We built this social movement where it was almost impossible to move forward any discussion without involving us. We were pressing since the beginning to have meaningful participation.

    Because of this, when the PCB was formed, civil society was considered a very important player that had to participate. This was very innovative at that time and continues to be innovative today.

    How does civil society’s involvement work in practice? How are the delegates selected and how do they connect with wider civil society?

    The PCB NGO Delegation members have mandates for two years and depending on the performance of a delegate, the group can expand this mandate for one more year. Delegates are selected by current NGO PCB members. We put forward a public call, in response to which interested applicants make a submission. Shortlisted applicants are then invited to an interview panel. The panel, which consists of NGO delegates, as well as an external civil society partner or a former NGO delegate, makes a recommendation. Final deliberation and decision are done by the full Delegation.

    We have a number of requirements for these candidates. One is that they should have the capacity to represent and communicate with their constituencies. It is essential to have the capacity for broader communication.

    We have a very transparent process. We have a website where we publicise the calls, but also use social media to publicise the opportunity. We have a list of advisory groups, CSOs and activists who are always interested in issues of the UNAIDS PCB, and we communicate with them and involve them in preparations before, between and after the biannual PCB meetings. In recent years, we have been trying to reach out to other spheres, including groups working on issues such as sustainable development and financing for development.

    Since 2008, there has also been an independent Communication and Consultation Facility (CCF) to support the NGO Delegation by providing technical, administrative and programme support. Since 2013, the CCF’s host organisation has been the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV, based in Thailand. The CCF is the backbone of the NGO Delegation. It is hard to imagine how the Delegation would function effectively without it. A key objective of the CCF is to facilitate communication among the delegates and consultation with wider civil society.

    What have the impacts and challenges been?

    The NGO Delegation has no right to vote, but can participate in every other aspect of PCB activities. There is a very fine line between participating in deliberations and taking part in decision-making, because traditionally the PCB does not hold votes but decides by consensus. There have been so many examples where the NGO Delegation has been able to table decision points during meetings for critical agenda items, and had its points approved. Most decisions that have come out of the PCB came in one way or another after strong civil society participation.

    Civil society and communities are really strong players and our voice is considered in a very respectful manner. It has been proven that with civil society participation, policies, programmes and services are designed much more efficiently and with much higher chances of working and benefiting people.

    In terms of the process, since 2012, the NGO Delegation has been trying to create connections with other groups working with the UN to show them how the experience of the UNAIDS PCB accepting us and having us as formal members can be transposed to other UN bodies. We think this would be a great achievement for civil society in general. We tried to push this while the UN was having a conversation about restructuring and reforms. We talked with so many people, but it seems there is not an appetite for the UN to become more democratic in terms of the participation of civil society in formal decision-making bodies.

    To have formal spaces for civil society is important, but it is not enough. There is absolutely a need to be able to inform decisions and participate in the decision-making processes of the UN at this time when, at the national and international levels, we are every day being pushed farther away from spaces for participation because of the advancement of reactionary political forces.

    Although our PCB NGO Delegation succeeded, gaining formal space to participate was challenging. This is why we value it so much. If you think about the face of our movement you see people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, LGBTQI people and women, people who have always led our movement but who have been marginalised in society. And even nowadays, stigma and discrimination continue to prevent us from reaching and accessing some places. While the HIV/AIDS movement has been successful in gaining public attention and claiming spaces, it has been very hard to do so, because stigma, prejudice and discrimination continue to fuel this epidemic.

    With all these populist movements nowadays, the communities impacted on and affected by HIV/AIDS are not only the most marginalised but also the most criminalised. Criminalisation really impacts on the kind of organising we can do. In many countries in Africa and Asia, homosexuality, sex work and drug use are criminalised. There are real legal barriers for our communities that really impact on participation and engagement.

    How is the restricted space for civil society in many contexts impacting on your work?

    In the past decades we were fighting to improve the work that we were doing, but now we are working toward maintaining the rights we have, to resist, to recover from losses, and this is a very different game. In general, there is this trend of the space for civil society being increasingly restricted, and it is even more so for the HIV/AIDS movement because the forces opposing us are reactionary.

    We are seeing different experiences in different countries. And, including in countries that were known as democratic, we have seen civil society dismantled, and colleagues in civil society forced to flee their places in order to keep some movements alive.

    Besides this, in general, governments have used economic crises to justify cuts in programmes that used to have civil society participation. One very efficient way of diminishing civil society’s capacity is to cut funds, and this has happened to the HIV/AIDS movement. Until recently, we had countries investing in HIV/AIDS response, and that included investing in communities and civil society. This was working in a very progressive way, but now we have seen that resources for civil society, particularly international resources in middle-income countries, have decreased, and this has impacted negatively on our capacity to continue responding to HIV/AIDS and influencing governments.

    In recent years we have seen the rise of fundamentalism and nationalism and a rejection of multilateralism in general. This has completely jeopardised the progress made in previous years in human, economic and environmental rights. Even in contexts where states had no interest in supporting civil society participation, we used to have an organisation such as UNAIDS and other international entities that could fund international networks and those networks could support national work, or could directly fund communities on the ground. This is not the case any longer. Formal space is being diminished, resources have been reduced and the groups that organise to provide support face increasing demands, because when democratic spaces shrink, public services and policies that benefit everyone in society usually suffer. And then the demand on us increases further. This equation simply does not work.

    At the UNAIDS PCB itself, we see a political trend of some Member States becoming more aggressive towards CSOs, and some conservative governments questioning our model of participation. PCB meetings have seen attempts to challenge the existence of the NGO Delegation. In 2013 this was brought up by a couple of Member States that questioned the Delegation’s standing to participate in the meeting. In December 2018, a Member State questioned the recruitment process of the NGO delegates. I think the threat of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution that established the PCB being revised is always there, especially in the current climate of declining democracy in various parts of the world. If that resolution is revised, then anything can be revised.

    What challenges do you now face under an extreme right-wing president In Brazil?

    In Brazil, the federal government is really going after LGBTQI people, the indigenous population, people who use drugs, black people. In June the Senate approved a law to make the policy on drugs even more restrictive, going in the opposite direction to many other countries. LGBTQI people are much more scared of being visible now. Also in May, the new government issued a decree to basically shut down all civil society participation in national councils. All councils created by law will continue to function but their composition will be revised, and all councils created by decree were immediately cancelled.

    The government spread confusion about civil society in relation to the Amazon Fund, which is a big international fund to which CSOs can apply to fight climate change. The government lied by stating that the fund was being misused, while what they really want is not to let civil society get funding.

    Also, as soon as it took power, the government cut several contracts with CSOs. At this moment we do not know that will happen with women’s rights and human rights policies. All progressive agendas are being cut by 65 per cent, 85 per cent, 95 per cent. Can you imagine that the Environment Ministry’s fund for climate change was cut by 95 per cent? As well as being a fundamentalist and economically ultraliberal, the new President doesn’t believe in climate change, the Minister of International Affairs stated that "globalism is a cultural Marxist conspiracy" and they want to solve the violence problem by releasing weapons for the entire population. How do you deal with people like that?

     

    Given challenges, what is needed to improve the impact of the NGO Delegation?

    UNAIDS and Member States should improve the level of investment in the NGO Delegation. Because our delegation operates very differently from government delegations, we lack the resources we need to amplify our voices and our advocacy work. The reason why we have not done more structured advocacy work in other areas of the UN is that we never have funds for that.

    We also need more support in terms of communications, because we would like to do more campaigns around the results of our work and publicise key debates happening at the PCB, including intensifying our communication about the unique role of the PCB and civil society’s role within it.

    More generally, how can the challenges that HIV/AIDS-related civil society is facing be addressed?

    We need to improve our capacity to communicate and amplify our voice. If we could do that, people would pay more attention and value more what we do. It would be helpful if people could understand that the HIV/AIDS movement is an important part of the development agenda.

    We need to reshape the entire conversation about international cooperation and decision-making in terms of the allocation of funds for communities and civil society. Decisions not to support countries because of their income levels are flawed. Brazil, for example, is defined as a middle-income country; as a result, over the past 10 years or so international cooperation agencies have withdrawn from Brazil. As a consequence of the low capacity to respond to right-wing fundamentalism, repressive forces have flourished. We need to go back to the basics, to our peers, to frontline groups, to political education. Conservative forces were just hidden and waiting for the moment to rise again. And they did so with discourse filled with falsities, for instance claiming to oppose corruption, an issue that has dominated in Brazil in the past years.

    In countries with repressive right-wing leaders – such as Brazil, Hungary and the Philippines – civil society is doing its best to respond on several fronts despite lack of funding. Luckily for humanity, some people are born activists and do this work whether there is money or not. But I truly believe that, in order to keep our movement sustainable, we have to engage more deeply in global discussions about how to fund an independent civil society, one that does not rely upon states to raise funds and therefore remains independent of government decisions.

    Given the impossibility of engaging with the federal government, another response in Brazil is to engage more with sub-national authorities and parliament. More connections are needed at the sub-national level, where it is possible to identify many people who support our causes.

    Another idea is to make more use of litigation: to use legal frameworks to maintain the agenda. But, again, we need funds to do that.

    For the UN, we need to be mindful about institutional reforms that are taking place and be vigilant. We need innovative mechanisms and funds that can help make the UN more independent of Member States, and to increase civil society capacity to play a bigger part. There should not be such distance between the international and national levels. People on the ground can benefit from discussions at the global level, and international discussions should be informed by the desires of people on the ground. People on the ground need to know why multilateralism is important, what the UN is, what UNAIDS is, why they matter. But it is hard when international cooperation funds keep shrinking and most organisations are relegated to providing services rather than advocating for rights, developing capacity and enabling new activists.

    The issue of restricted space for civil society connects us all, independently of our field of action. Therefore it is crucial to have cross-movement dialogues and open conversations, because this is where we can build resilience and solidarity and support each other. We need different sectors to come together to keep growing and not to be intimidated into silence by forces that are sometimes literally killing us. We cannot be isolated in our own agendas. We really need a global civil society movement that stands together for all rights.

    We are in a very delicate movement for democracy where social media and education play a crucial role. Communication is also a major issue for social movements. At this point in history we should be able to communicate better. What is our role? What is our success story in terms of supporting and strengthening democracy? Well, if you look at history, you will see that our role is essential and that most existing rights resulted from civil society demands and victories. Because without meaningful community and civil society participation there is no sustainable development, there is no democracy, and it is unlikely that public policies can be translated into services and programmes that really serve the needs of people.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Visit the websites ofGESTOS and theUNAIDS PCB NGO Delegation.

     

  • HONGRIE : « Les personnes transgenres se voient retirer leurs droits »

    Krisztina Kolos OrbanUne nouvelle loi, adoptée en Hongrie en pleine pandémie de COVID-19, empêche les personnes transgenres de changer le genre sur leurs documents. CIVICUS s’entretient avec Krisztina Kolos Orbán, au poste de vice-présidence de l’association Transvanilla Transgender, une organisation hongroise qui défend les droits des personnes transgenres. Fondée en tant qu’initiative populaire en 2011, Transvanilla est la seule organisation enregistrée en Hongrie qui se concentre exclusivement sur les droits des personnes transgenres et les questions de non-conformité de genre. Elle milite pour la promotion de la reconnaissance du genre et des soins de santé trans-spécifiques au niveau national. Elle surveille également la discrimination et la violence fondées sur l’expression et l’identité de genre, et facilite l’organisation d’espaces et d’événements communautaires pour accroître la visibilité des questions et des personnes transgenres en Hongrie.

    Quelle a été la situation des droits LGBTQI+ en Hongrie ces dernières années ?

    En 2012, ILGA Europe a classé la Hongrie au 9ème rang sur 49 pays européens en termes de droits LGBTQI+, mais en 2019, nous avons reculé à la 19ème place et en 2020, nous avons de nouveau chuté à la 27ème place. L’année dernière, c’est la Hongrie qui a connu la plus forte baisse de son classement, et ce pour plusieurs raisons. En 2012, les choses semblaient plutôt positives sur le papier, mais depuis, de nouvelles mesures ont été introduites car le contexte des droits humains a changé. La Hongrie n’a pas fait de progrès ni suivi les recommandations internationales. L’autre facteur est l’énorme recul que nous avons connu ces dernières années. Auparavant, ce gouvernement n’avait pas supprimé les droits des personnes, même s’il avait certainement essayé, et nous savions qu’il ne soutenait pas les droits des personnes LGBTQI+. Mais maintenant nos droits nous sont retirés.

    En ce qui concerne les droits des transgenres, notre législation contre la discrimination et les crimes haineux, qui semble être assez bonne, mentionne spécifiquement l’identité de genre. Mais cela n’existe que sur le papier, car jusqu’à présent, aucun crime haineux motivé par l’identité de genre n’a été traduit en justice. De même, il y a eu très peu d’affaires axées sur la lutte contre la discrimination, car la loi n’est pas appliquée. Il n’existe pas de plan d’action national pour lutter contre la discrimination fondée sur l’identité de genre.

    Par conséquent, les droits des personnes transgenres n’ont jamais été légalement garantis. En termes de reconnaissance légale du genre et de soins médicaux spécifiques pour les personnes transgenres, il n’existe pas de lois ou de directives nationales. Toutefois, les pratiques se sont améliorées. Depuis 2003, les personnes transgenres peuvent modifier leur certificat de naissance, changer leur identité de genre et leur nom sur la base d’un diagnostic de santé mentale, sans autre intervention médicale. À l’époque, c’était incroyable. Le gouvernement avait promis de légiférer à ce sujet, mais ne l’a pas fait. Jusqu’à présent, aucun gouvernement ne s’est même penché sur la question. En conséquence, il n’existe aucune législation pour soutenir ces procédures administratives, qui n’ont même pas été annoncées sur le site web du gouvernement. Pendant un certain temps, tout allait bien, car la pratique était fiable et les procédures étaient plutôt favorables aux personnes transgenres. Les personnes qui ont fourni les documents requis ont pu changer leur certificat de naissance et le processus a été relativement facile et rapide. Mais le fait que cette pratique ne soit pas protégée par la loi n’est pas un détail mineur. Aujourd’hui, cette pratique a été rendue illégale. C’était un grand pas en arrière.

    En 2020, le Parlement a adopté, par 133 voix contre 57, une nouvelle réglementation qui ne reconnaît que le sexe attribué à la naissance et empêche les personnes transgenres de changer légalement de sexe et d’obtenir de nouveaux documents. Les dispositions sont contenues dans l’article 33 d’un projet de loi omnibus qui a été introduit le 31 mars et adopté le 19 mai. L’article 33 est en contradiction non seulement avec les normes internationales et européennes en matière de droits humains, mais aussi avec les précédents arrêts de la Cour constitutionnelle hongroise, qui a clairement indiqué que le changement de nom et d’identité de genre  est un droit fondamental des personnes transgenres. En 2016, puis en 2018, le commissaire aux droits fondamentaux a publié des rapports indiquant que les autorités devraient adopter une législation adéquate pour consacrer ce droit fondamental.

    Ce changement juridique s’inscrit dans le cadre de l’offensive contre le genre menée par le parti chrétien-démocrate, qui fait partie de la coalition gouvernementale. Ce parti a déjà interdit les études de genre et affirmé que le genre n’existe pas, puisqu’il n’y a même pas de mots distincts pour le sexe et le genre dans la langue hongroise. Cependant, l’année dernière, elle a eu recours à l’utilisation du mot « genre » en anglais pour attaquer le genre en tant que concept. Cela fait donc partie d’une offensive plus large contre la soi-disant « idéologie du genre ». La protection de ce que la nouvelle loi appelle le « sexe à la naissance » fait partie de cette offensive. Au cours des six dernières années, nous avons travaillé à l’élaboration d’une législation sur ces questions et, au départ, nous pensions que les autorités souhaitaient également s’en occuper, mais après un certain temps, il nous est apparu clairement que nos initiatives étaient bloquées.

    Il est difficile de travailler avec les autorités. Elles ne nous donnent pas beaucoup d’informations. Nous n’avons pas accès aux fonctionnaires ayant un pouvoir de décision, nous ne pouvons donc parler qu’à des fonctionnaires de rang inférieur, qui ont manifestement peur de nous donner des informations. Il n’y a pas de débat public et la société civile n’est pas impliquée. Nous n’avons pas été consultés sur les changements apportés concernant le Registry Act. Cette proposition émanait du gouvernement, et plus particulièrement des membres chrétiens de la coalition gouvernementale, et était soutenue par des organisations de la société civile (OSC) qui défendent les soi-disant « valeurs familiales ». Le moment choisi a également soulevé de nombreuses questions : pourquoi était-il si important d’aborder cette question en pleine pandémie ? Pourquoi maintenant, et pourquoi de cette manière ?

    Quelles sont les principales restrictions aux libertés d’organisation, d’expression et de protestation que connaît la communauté LGBTQI+ hongroise ?

    En Hongrie, il existe une loi sur les ONG qui oblige les OSC dont les revenus dépassent un certain montant à s’enregistrer si elles reçoivent des fonds étrangers. Le seuil est relativement bas, si bien que de nombreuses OSC, dont nous-mêmes, doivent s’enregistrer. Il existe une liste des OSC financées par des fonds étrangers qui est publiée et que tout le monde peut consulter. Ce n’est pas un secret que nous recherchons des fonds étrangers parce que nous ne pouvons pas accéder à des fonds en Hongrie. Le gouvernement qualifie les OSC, et notamment celles qui le critiquent, d’« ennemis » du peuple hongrois. Évidemment, cela a également affecté les organisations LGBTQI+.

    Il ne s’agit pas seulement de rhétorique. Dans la pratique, le gouvernement ne consulte pas les OSC qui sont indépendantes ou qu’il n’aime pas, notamment notre organisation. Les instructions visant à marginaliser ces organisations viennent du sommet du gouvernement, et si certains fonctionnaires de niveau inférieur peuvent essayer de nouer le dialogue avec nous, ils n’y sont pas autorisés. Comment les OSC peuvent-elles mener des actions de sensibilisation ou traiter avec les autorités si les fonctionnaires n’ont aucun contact avec elles ?

    En outre, la plupart des médias sont contrôlés par le gouvernement, et le reste tend à avoir une perspective néolibérale, ce qui en rend généralement difficile l’accès aux organisations ayant un programme différent, comme Transvanilla.

    Notre liberté de mener nos activités légitimes est également remise en question. L’année dernière, par exemple, plusieurs attaques ont été perpétrées contre des événements organisés pendant le mois de la Fierté. Un événement de speed dating pour les personnes pansexuelles qui avait été organisé par Transvanilla a été perturbé par des militants d’extrême droite. Nous n’avons pas pu poursuivre l’événement et la police ne nous a pas protégés. Les militants d’extrême droite ont filmé les participants pendant plus d’une heure et nous n’avons pas été autorisés à fermer les portes. Ils agissaient manifestement dans l’illégalité, mais la police n’a pris aucune mesure à leur encontre. Dans d’autres cas, des militants d’extrême droite ont détruit ou endommagé des lieux de réunion. Il s’agissait de situations nouvelles : par le passé, lorsque de telles choses se produisaient, nos événements bénéficiaient d’une protection policière.

    Année après année, des tentatives ont également été faites pour interdire les événements de la Fierté, mais les tribunaux ont statué qu’ils ne pouvaient pas être interdits. C’est un combat permanent. Les autorités ont clôturé les itinéraires du défilé des Fiertés sous le prétexte de protéger les marcheurs, mais il s’agissait en fait d’une tentative flagrante de restreindre leurs déplacements.

    Comment la communauté LGBTQI+ a-t-elle réagi à l’adoption de la nouvelle loi ?

    Cela a été un événement traumatisant parce que c’était clairement une attaque contre nous. Cet amendement ne concerne que les personnes transsexuelles et intersexes qui souhaitent changer leur identité de genre et les personnes trans qui, bien que ne souhaitant pas changer leurs identités de genre, aimeraient tout de même changer leur nom, ce qui n’est plus possible en Hongrie. Mais toutes les personnes LGBTQI+ se sentent désormais comme des citoyens de seconde zone, des parias qui ne sont pas respectés par le gouvernement.

    Personnellement, en tant que personne non-binaire, la loi a eu un grand effet sur moi, car mon identité était loin d’être reconnue dans mes documents, et maintenant j’en suis encore plus loin. Beaucoup de mes amis qui étaient sur le point de changer leur identité légale de genre sont dans  l’incertitude. Au moins une centaine de dossiers initiés avaient déjà été suspendus au cours des deux dernières années et demie parce que les demandes n’étaient pas évaluées. Ces gens ont perdu tout espoir. Ils sont frustrés et dévastés.

    Il y a aussi la peur parce que nous ne savons pas ce qui va suivre, ce qui nous attend. Bien que la loi puisse être contestée, cela pourrait prendre de nombreuses années. Et même si nous nous débarrassons de cette loi, la situation risque de ne pas s’améliorer. Certaines personnes ont des sentiments suicidaires, beaucoup veulent quitter le pays. Une grande partie de la communauté souffre en silence et ne peut faire entendre sa voix. Si quelques activistes ont émergé de cette situation et gagnent en visibilité, la grande majorité souffre dans la solitude de leur foyer. Les gens étaient déjà isolés auparavant, et cela ne va pas s’améliorer. À partir de maintenant, de plus en plus de personnes vont cacher leur identité.

    Depuis 2016, des problèmes sont apparus dans les procédures administratives, si bien qu’un nombre croissant de personnes ayant commencé leur transition peuvent avoir une apparence différente du sexe enregistré sur leurs documents. Et si une personne est ouvertement et visiblement transgenre, il lui est difficile de trouver un emploi ; la discrimination fait partie du quotidien. Et maintenant, c’est de pire en pire. Nous avons constaté une augmentation des niveaux de discrimination, non seulement dans l’emploi mais aussi dans la vie quotidienne. En Hongrie, les gens doivent présenter leurs documents d’identité très souvent, vous êtes donc obligé de vous montrer tout le temps. Les gens ne vous croient pas et vous questionnent. Par exemple, récemment, une personne transgenre essayait d’acheter une maison et l’avocat qui rédigeait le contrat a émis des doutes sur sa carte d’identité parce qu’elle ne correspondait pas à sa description de genre.

    Compte tenu des restrictions à la liberté de réunion pacifique imposées dans le cadre de la pandémie de COVID-19, quel plaidoyer et quel type de campagnes avez-vous pu développer pour empêcher l’adoption de l’article 33 ?

    Chez Transvanilla, nous sommes très stratégiques : nous n’entreprenons que des activités qui peuvent avoir un impact. Par conséquent, nous ne nous concentrons pas sur le contexte hongrois. Au Parlement, l’opposition est impuissante car le Fidesz, le parti du Premier ministre Viktor Orbán, dispose de deux tiers des sièges et peut donc l’emporter à chaque vote. Nous savions également que nous ne pourrions pas mobiliser suffisamment de personnes : il n’était pas possible de sortir en masse dans les rues à cause de la pandémie, ce n’était donc même pas une option. Si cela ne s’était pas produit pendant la pandémie, certaines organisations auraient peut-être essayé d’organiser des protestations. Jusqu’à ce que l’amendement soit proposé, Transvanilla n’a pas soulevé publiquement la question de la reconnaissance légale du genre car nous faisions un plaidoyer silencieux. Le 1er avril, lorsque nous avons entendu parler de cette initiative, nous avons demandé à la communauté internationale d’élever la voix publiquement et d’engager un dialogue multilatéral avec notre gouvernement sur cette question.

    Nous avons attiré l’attention internationale, et de nombreuses voix internationales se sont élevées contre la proposition. En avril 2020, nous avons également fait appel au commissaire hongrois aux droits fondamentaux et lui avons demandé de faire tout son possible pour empêcher l’amendement. Bien sûr, nous avons interagi avec les médias internationaux et nationaux. Nous avons lancé une pétition et avons réussi à recueillir plus de 30 000 signatures. Aujourd’hui, nous adressons une nouvelle pétition à l’Union européenne (UE) et nous espérons qu’elle aura un effet.

    En bref, nous avons fait appel au médiateur, qui aurait pu intervenir, mais ne l’a pas fait, et nous avons exercé une pression internationale sur le gouvernement, ce qui fonctionne parfois, mais cette fois-ci, cela n’a pas fonctionné. La loi a été adoptée, et le jour de son entrée en vigueur, nous avons déposé deux plaintes auprès de la Cour constitutionnelle. Le tribunal pourrait les rejeter pour n’importe quelle raison, mais nous espérons qu’il ne le fera pas. Dans le même temps, nous faisons pression sur le commissaire aux droits fondamentaux, car il a le pouvoir de demander à la Cour constitutionnelle d’examiner la loi, et s’il le fait, la Cour doit le faire. La pression est très importante et de nombreux acteurs internationaux apportent leur aide, notamment Amnesty International Hongrie, qui a lancé une campagne. Nous avons 23 affaires devant la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme (CEDH), toutes concernant la reconnaissance du genre, dont les demandeurs sont représentés par notre avocat. Le gouvernement et les autres parties intéressées avaient jusqu’à juin 2020 pour résoudre ces affaires, et s’ils ne le faisaient pas, la Cour devait prendre une décision. En raison de la pandémie de COVID-19, l’échéance pour le gouvernement a été repoussée à septembre 2020, ce qui n’est pas une bonne nouvelle pour nous. Mais compte tenu des antécédents de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme, nous sommes convaincus qu’elle respectera les droits des personnes transgenres. Nous continuerons à porter des affaires devant ce tribunal et à représenter les personnes qui ont été spécifiquement affectées par cette loi. Nous voulons faire pression sur le tribunal pour qu’il prenne une décision le plus rapidement possible.

    Nous continuons également à nous engager auprès des mécanismes des droits humains de l’UE, du Conseil de l’Europe et de l’ONU. Nous avons réussi à ce que de nombreuses OSC signent une déclaration afin de faire pression sur la Commission européenne (CE), qui est restée jusqu’à présent silencieuse sur la question. Nous voulons nous assurer que ce qui s’est passé en Hongrie ne se reproduise pas dans d’autres pays. Nous avons donc créé une alliance de la société civile pour faire passer le message selon lequel, si d’autres gouvernements tentent de faire la même chose, ils se heurteront à une forte résistance. Et, bien sûr, nous essayons toujours de communiquer avec les ministères, bien que nous leur ayons envoyé des lettres et que nous n’ayons pas reçu de réponse.

     

    Comment un gouvernement de plus en plus autoritaire comme celui de la Hongrie peut-il être tenu pour responsable ?

    Nous avons essayé de nous engager directement avec le gouvernement pour lui demander des comptes, mais cela n’a pas fonctionné jusqu’à présent. Nous représentons un groupe minoritaire et nous ne pouvons pas lutter seuls contre ce gouvernement. Mais les institutions internationales influencent parfois les actions du gouvernement. Nous espérons qu’une décision de justice de la CEDH ou de la Cour constitutionnelle aura un effet.

    Malheureusement, ce que nous avons vu depuis 2010, c’est qu’en raison de la façon dont elle est conçue, l’UE ne peut pas prendre de mesures définitives contre un pays, surtout si ce pays n’est pas seul. Et c’est ce qui se passe dans ce cas, car la Pologne et la Hongrie se soutiennent toujours mutuellement. Les citoyens ont le sentiment que l’UE n’a pas la volonté politique d’agir. Nous continuons sans cesse de répéter que l’UE devrait couper les fonds, car la Hongrie vit grâce à l’argent de l’UE et si l’UE coupe le flux de fonds, le gouvernement commencera à se comporter différemment. Mais l’UE refuse de le faire.

    L’UE devrait agir non seulement sur cette législation spécifique, mais aussi sur des questions plus larges liées à l’État de droit et aux droits fondamentaux en Hongrie. Elle devrait faire quelque chose à propos de ses propres États membres, ou alors ne pas faire de commentaires sur les pays tiers. Le fait que la CE ne mentionne pas explicitement la Hongrie est scandaleux. Lorsque la loi d’autorisation a été adoptée à la fin du mois de mars, donnant au Premier ministre Orbán des pouvoirs supplémentaires pour lutter contre la pandémie, la présidente de la CE, Ursula von der Leyen, a fait une déclaration qui faisait clairement référence à la Hongrie, mais sans mentionner le pays nommément, dans la mesure où la Hongrie a également signé la déclaration. La commissaire européenne à l’égalité a récemment été invitée à condamner la Hongrie pour l’amendement visant les personnes transgenres, et elle a refusé de le faire ; elle a préféré parler des droits des transgenres en général. C’est inacceptable.

    L’UE ne doit pas se contenter de parler, elle doit aussi agir vis-à-vis de la Hongrie et de la Pologne. Si la CE continue à refuser de s’attaquer à la situation sur le terrain, nous ne savons vraiment pas vers qui nous tourner. Jusqu’à présent, le gouvernement a suivi les décisions de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme, mais cette année, il a cessé d’obéir aux décisions des tribunaux hongrois, ce qui est très inquiétant. En 2018, une décision de la Cour constitutionnelle dans le cas d’un réfugié transgenre a obligé le Parlement à adopter une législation sur la reconnaissance légale du genre pour les citoyens non hongrois, ce qu’il n’a pas encore fait.

    De quel soutien les OSC hongroises ont-elles besoin de la part de la société civile internationale ?

    Il est important d’essayer d’unifier les différents mouvements et de servir de pont entre eux, et je pense que les OSC internationales peuvent jouer un rôle à cet égard. En tant qu’organisation transgenre, nous nous occupons des personnes transgenres, mais il y a une immense diversité : il y a des personnes transgenres migrantes, des personnes transgenres roms, des personnes transgenres handicapées, et nous devons tous nous unir. De plus, même si ce sont actuellement les personnes transgenres qui sont visées en Hongrie, nous ne savons pas quel sera le prochain groupe vulnérable sur la liste, et je pense que les OSC internationales devraient se préoccuper de tout le monde. Elles devraient également contribuer à sensibiliser les institutions internationales ; en Hongrie, par exemple, la pression internationale est importante car Orbán se soucie parfois encore de la manière dont le pays est perçu à l’étranger. L’implication de la communauté internationale est donc utile. La société civile internationale peut également contribuer à fournir de bons exemples, car plus la situation des personnes transgenres sera améliorée dans d’autres pays, plus grande sera la honte du gouvernement hongrois. Mais si d’autres pays de l’UE commencent à suivre la Hongrie, alors le gouvernement s’en tirera à bon compte. Des organisations comme CIVICUS peuvent aider à unir la société civile.

    L’espace civique en Hongrie est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor. La Hongrie figure également sur notre liste de surveillance de l’espace civique.

    Contactez l’association Transvanilla Transgender Association via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook,et suivez@Transvanilla sur Twitter et@transvanilla.official sur Instagram.

     

  • HUMAN RIGHTS: ‘People have a great desire for positive stories’

    Saleem VaillancourtCIVICUS speaks with Saleem Vaillancourt, a journalist and media producer who works to promote the rights of Iran’s Bahá’í community and to encourage positive action to realise human rights. Saleem works with the street art for social justice project,Paint the Change.

    Can you tell us how your work began?

    I work closely with the Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker, Maziar Bahari. Maziar’s story is well known. He was jailed in Iran and held in solitary confinement in 2009 after covering the Iran election crisis. He was released after an international campaign and the book he wrote about his ordeal, ‘Then They Came for Me’, was made into a film, ‘Rosewater’, by Jon Stewart. Maziar was no longer simply a journalist; he was also a human rights advocate. Once released, he could talk about all the things going on in Iran that he couldn’t when he was working in Iran.

    Chief among these is the situation of the Bahá’í community, which is the largest religious minority in Iran. They are persecuted by the Iranian government because their beliefs come up against the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam practised by the government. Bahá’ís are routinely arbitrarily detained, held either without charge or under false charges and jailed. They are denied the right to go to university. There is a lot of misinformation and propaganda against them from the state media.

    I’m a Bahá’í and I worked with the Bahá’í community, and also as a journalist and in public communications, and that’s how my path crossed with Maziar. In 2014 he made a documentary, ‘To Light a Candle’, about the story of the Bahá’ís and particularly about the denial of their right to education, and their response, which was to create an informal educational project – an underground university – in which they created opportunities to educate themselves. This is a programme that for 30 years has given thousands of people an education, many of whom have gone on to pursue graduate studies in western universities. It’s a huge success and a major example of constructive resilience, or what Maziar calls peaceful resistance: meeting injustice not with conflict but by building a positive alternative to overcome the situation.

    I joined him for what was meant to be a short time to help promote his film and things grew from there. We created a campaign, ‘Education is not a Crime’, which is a street art and human rights campaign in which we use murals to talk about the story of the Bahá’í in Iran and more broadly to try to address education inequity and uneven access to education in other contexts as well.

    What are the key methods by which you work?

    We create murals, and then the murals have a social media dimension, because we share them online as videos and create local conversations, explaining why we are doing these, and especially relating what we are doing to local stories. For example we painted 20 murals in Harlem in New York, and people in this neighbourhood really saw a parallel in our work between Bahá’ís in Iran and the African-American experience of discrimination and the attempt to overcome discrimination, including in the area of education. We made a documentary about that in 2017, ‘Changing the World One Wall at a Time,’ which has been screened around the world.

    This led to an initiative in Detroit, where we’ve partnered with the City of Detroit and local schools. The city government was already working to encourage school attendance, which is something we care about in terms of access to education. They created a bus route called the ‘GOAL Line’ – GOAL stands for ‘get on and learn’ – but we observed that the bus route had no shelters, so we offered to build some shelters and put artwork on them. The artwork was created in art workshops through a partnership with local students and local artists. The works represent the community in a direct way and create a visual cue in the community around the issue of education. In this activity, we moved from the area of pure awareness-raising to a kind of indirect social action.

    We’re also starting to do a locally orientated street art project in London, producing work with local communities that celebrates local heroes, people who contribute to their community, whether they are known by their community or not. We put them on the side of buildings so they become positive stories that can encourage local young people.

    Another thing we have been doing is producing an oral history video series in the USA, about the Bahá’í community, not only about Iran but also about the work of the community to promote race unity over the past several generations. Again, this is about telling a positive story and something that perhaps helps others in US society to look again at the issue of race – something that is obviously very charged and challenging – and find other ways of addressing it.

    So that’s what I do. It’s a chance for both Maziar and I to talk about issues we think are important, but that are not limited to a focus on the Bahá’í community. Our work is at the intersection of human rights, social action and media. Sometimes it is about raising awareness or fighting instances of violations of human rights, as with the rights of the Bahá’í in Iran, but more and more now it is about finding positive stories and celebrating them through street art or a film or through other media. We want to do this in a way that can help a community see a positive version of themselves and put that at the centre of their own narrative.

    What would you say you do that is different from the conventional work of a human rights organisation?

    Because we are principally a media-driven group, we try to apply our media work to human rights issues and social issues, and we are looking to go beyond human rights awareness-raising to try to contribute to social processes in local communities. The Detroit project is an example of that. So that’s a kind of social action that’s distinct from awareness-raising as a conventional discipline.

    We are trying to do human rights work and social action work together. We see them as different sides of basically the same work. We want to reach audiences that perhaps haven’t been engaged in human rights discussions or social action before, through media and through education workshops. So our focus is not so much on informing policy-makers, but on trying to reach local communities through accessible media and artforms.

    What are the challenges faced when defending the rights of Bahá’í people in Iran?

    I am also involved in IranWire, an independent news website. I know through this that Iranian journalists are targeted. Our site was recently down for a few hours over the course of several days because of a sustained denial of service attack originating from Iran.

    Maziar is continually attacked on Twitter and by Iranian state media, as are other people we work with. Many people who have worked in the public space on the issue of the Bahá’ís are vilified by the Iranian media. When Maziar and others talk to United Nations institutions, they get criticised and there is a lot of disinformation spread about them. It’s clear that the Iranian authorities seek to discredit people through disinformation to try to limit their legitimacy in the international space when they talk about human rights issues happening inside Iran. The Iranian government attempts to control the narrative.

    Turning to your work outside Iran, what would you say the major successes and challenges have been?

    I think the big success we’ve had so far is the initiative to create the murals, especially in Harlem but also around the world: to create a story out of them, and for that story to be something that people respond to, and for us to find a way to relate that story to other situations around the world.

    In the early stage of developing these murals in New York, after we had produced one or two in Harlem, the questions of these parallels between the Bahá’ís and the African-American community started to sit up. It’s not a parallel in terms of scale or severity or even of type, but it’s a parallel in terms of individual experiences and the ideology that has created a situation. African-American people who learned about the project brought that parallel to the fore in our discussions. Here was one community that is struggling identifying with the struggle of another community, that was undergoing the kind of suffering that makes the community more empathetic and more aware of the struggles of another.

    We decided to tell that story as much as we could and in our work in Harlem to work with local artists and local community leaders as much as possible, and to hold educational workshops for young people around the creation of the murals. I think the fact that those murals became possible and were welcomed into the community, that there was the opportunity to see these parallels and to tell that story around the world, and that the story was broadcast inside Iran in Persian on satellite TV and seen by millions of people there, was probably the biggest success.

    I think there’s not so much one major challenge we have been unable to overcome, although there are things that are harder to do than others, but it’s more that nobody is particularly out there asking for anybody to do something positive. I think a lot of people have a great desire, appetite and thirst for encountering positive stories even if they address challenging issues, but it’s not something you see being asked for in market terms, and in terms of what audience there is, and what funding you can get to do projects.

    So it is a challenge to create the audience and explain our reasons for approaching our work as we do, and maintain these projects, because it’s not something that is being asked for in a commercial sense. I don’t necessarily mean commercial in terms of being driven by profit, but even non-profitable works need grants, and while there are grants that are tailored around work that tries to introduce positive narratives, it takes a lot of effort to identify them and to massage an idea into a format that would meet the requirements of a particular grant.

    What more needs to change, and what further support is needed, to enable your work to achieve even more?

    I think there are two levels. At the level of human attitudes, in general the world is in a very difficult place and much of what’s happening is turning people towards conflict. I think what needs to change – in order for the kind of stories we want to produce and tell to be more easily relatable and for people to be able to understand what we are getting at – is that people need to be orientated towards positive stories, towards sharing and finding them, and to seeing the world through the lens of positivity. This is not to deny there are negative things or pretend that everything is fine, but to say that we address a challenge or a difficulty not by more contention but by means of conciliation and friendliness. I think if people’s minds are orientated more that way they would be likelier to seek out or ask for the positive stories we try to tell. I’m not saying we’ve nailed that formula, but that’s our motivation and we’re trying to work in that direction.

    At the structural level I think the kinds of grants, and often the kinds of initiatives that organisations want to support or are asking for, need to change. Again, it is possible to do that in terms of some grants that exist, but there is a lack of a structure and approach that says: this organisation really wants to find positive stories because positive stories change the nature of a society’s view of how to deal with challenging issues.

    So much of what civil society does is about countering things that are negative. This is important work, but I also think that civil society should be going towards what it wants to see in the future. If there could be a harmonious sense across civil society about what the future ought to be, how human rights ought to be respected and what the nature of society should be in order to realise those ideals, then I think we could move towards shared civil society agendas that make it possible to work for these goals more easily.

    In the civil society space, the media space and the human rights space – and partly because we are all too busy but also because there is no clearing house or central organising system – I don’t know who in civil society would want to work in the same way. But I’d love to know more about who’s out there and what they’re doing, in order to more easily find the appropriate partners.

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

    Get in touch with Paint the Change through itswebsite.

     

  • IRAN: Political humour as a tool against authoritarian regimes

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to the Iranian-born political cartoonist Nik Kowsar, who was jailed for his humorous criticism before eventually emigrating to Canada, where he became a citizen. A former recipient of the international Award for Courage for Editorial Cartooning, he currently resides in the United States.

    1. Would you tell us the story of that crocodile you drew, and how it changed your life?

    Iran CartoonI was born in Iran, and I had always lived in Iran until I had to get out of the country in 2003. I was a geologist by training and a cartoonist by trade. In 2000 I drew a cartoon and went to prison for it. My drawing apparently caused a national security issue: thousands of clergy students gathered and shouted for my death and they sat there for four nights, until I was arrested.

    All I had done was draw a crocodile that was shedding crocodile tears and strangling a journalist, while claiming that the journalist was killing him. The name that I gave the crocodile rhymed with the name of an ayatollah. Of course, I denied any resemblance between the two, but still, you know, there was a political message there. From that day on, I became a sponsor for Lacoste – they didn’t sponsor me, but I started buying the shirts with the crocodile logo for myself, and I always wear them as a symbol and a reminder.

    Long story short, I went to prison and underwent interrogation, and eventually I walked free. But I didn’t quit my job as a cartoonist and I started receiving death threats that eventually got serious, and in 2003 I had to escape. I had to leave my wife and daughter behind – they were only able to join me in Canada four years later, in 2007.

    2. Did you see cartoons as a safer means of expression, a way of saying some things without saying them, when speech is heavily censored?

    In Iran we used to say: ‘We have freedom of speech, what we don’t have is freedom afterspeech’. When you produce content that powerful people or organisations dislike, no matter how that content is packaged, they will try to shut you down by all means, including allegations and criminal charges like undermining national security, working with the enemy, indecency or attacking Islam. Anything can be used against you in Iran – and in other Islamic countries as well. I’ve been working with Tunisian and Palestinian cartoonists, and they all have problems with their governments.

    What is said with a cartoon is more difficult to erase than anything else: a good cartoon is even more valuable than a thousand words, because it stays in your mind for ages. A ‘joke’ is a serious matter: it goes directly to the point, it exposes the absurd. In a way, cartoonists can be the conscience, the moral compass of a society – it is not a matter of right and left, but a matter of right or wrong. So, cartoonists are very important, and it is not wonder that many governments – from Iran to Equatorial Guinea to Turkey – are trying to pressure them into silence.

    3. What have you done since leaving Iran?

    While in Canada, I studied journalism and worked with a news agency for three years. I joined IFEX in 2008, and starting in 2009 I ran a news website specifically for and about Iran. This became one of the top news websites on Iranian issues, although it was filtered and firewalled in Iran. At some point, however, we stopped getting funding; we understood that the Obama administration’s policies towards Iran, their efforts to connect with the regime, were a major reason why other organisations stopped funding us. We had to let it go.

    As a cartoonist with fibromyalgia, who has had to stop drawing as a professional, I now work with Cartoonist Rights Network International. I was once a client, now I am a board member. We are a human rights organisation, focused on the freedom of expression, and we support cartoonists in distress: cartoonists who are oppressed by the regimes in their countries, threatened, arrested or sent to prison.

    Cartoonists are vulnerable, and even more so after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There is increasing solidarity among them, and they are better connected now, through our organisation and others – but still, they are in danger. What needs to be done is provide a means of sustenance for cartoonists who are in trouble. That’s very difficult, because non-profits are not rich, and also because a cartoonist cannot live off assistance funds forever – they need to be paid to do what they do best.

    Finally, as a geologist and an expert on Iran’s water problems, I am back to working on water issues. Iran has a big water problem, which is possibly going to create big chaos in the near future. There was an uprising in December 2017 and January 2018, and only in cities hit by water crisis and drought, where people were too desperate and felt they had nothing left to lose, were the protests not easily contained and people were killed. We will see more and more clashes in areas that are hit by drought.

    4. Do you think environmental issues, including water, should be treated as political issues?

    Most definitely. That is exactly what I am working on. Water may easily become a major political issue, in Iran and in the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, an already unstable one. Iran has always been a dry country, with rainfall about a third of the median around the world. But for 3,500 years Iranians were able to manage their water resources through various technologies. Over the past 50 years, however, mega-dams and deep wells have ruined our environment and most aquifers have been depleted; as a result, 85 percent of our groundwater is now gone. Climate change has only made it worse: last year, we had 78 percent less snow storage in our mountains compared to the previous year.

    Now, Iranians may be oppressed because of their beliefs and ideas, but when there’s not enough water to drink and produce food, they have reached a tipping point. In Syria the drought worsened from 2006 to 2009, as a result of which a million people from the north-eastern provinces had to leave their lands and migrate to the margins of bigger cities. When the Arab Spring started, it sparked protests in Syria as well – but in this case, they led to civil war. We are talking about farmers and herdsmen, people who had lost their livelihoods, many of whom had joined militant groups. Factor in an intolerant, authoritarian government that could not manage the protests, and there you go. Something similar could happen in Iran.

    5. Are you saying civil war is a likely outcome for Iran? Isn’t there any way pro-democracy forces could turn the discontent in their favour?

    That’s what some of us are worrying about. Pressure for water could, maybe, lead to a democratic opening as well. We are educating the public about the water situation. Unfortunately, many political groups have no clue about environmental issues – they have never cared about them, don’t understand them and don’t see how they could connect to their political struggles. In trying to change this, I am currently working on a documentary about water, connecting the struggles with water shortages that we are seeing in places as diverse as Cape Town in South Africa, Seville in Spain and even the Vatican City and some parts of the US. Our contacts in Iran are collecting material for us and documenting the situation as well, and we are doing a collaborative bilingual project, in English and Persian, to educate the public, including academics and politicians. Because if we don’t do anything about it, rather than democracy what we will get is more uprisings, repression, and hundreds or thousands of people killed in places hit by drought.

    Civic space in Iran is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor,indicating overwhelming restrictions in the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    Get in touch with Nik Kowsar through hisFacebook page, or follow@nikahang on Twitter.

     

  • LATVIA: ‘Faced with hatred, we focus on delivering a human rights message’

    Kaspars ZalitisAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Kaspars Zālītis about the challenges faced by LGBTI people in Latvia, and the actions undertaken by civil society to broaden civic space for sexual minorities and therefore to make democracy truly inclusive. Kaspars is the director ofMozaika - Association of LGBT and their friends, currently the only LGBTI rights civil society organisation (CSO) in Latvia. Established in 2006, Mozaika promotes gender equality and anti-discrimination; raises awareness of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions of identity;promotes an understanding of diverse family models and their legal recognition; and advocates for the harmonisation ofLatvian laws with international standards.

    1. What is the current situation of LGBTI rights in Latvia?

    On the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map, which measures each country’s respect for LGBTI rights, Latvia ranks 40th within Europe, and last of all European Union (EU) member countries. In turn, the CIVICUS Monitor has reported several restrictions of civic space in Latvia. CSOs working on controversial topics are being targeted, and civil society has found it increasingly difficult to gain access to policy-makers. Mozaika has tried to lobby politicians and policy-makers for years, but they often prefer to meet in private rather than attract any attention that can lead to attacks from right-wing activists and politicians.

    The political climate is hostile for sexual diversity and for diversity as a whole. ‘Moral upbringing’ amendments introduced into the Education Law in 2015 - which mandate schools to promote ‘family values’ and marriage as part of education - have been implemented through the publication of guidelines that have caused fear among teachers of negative reactions if they touch on any LGBTI issues, and sexual and reproductive rights issues more generally. In 2016, a schoolteacher whose students had requested her to start a Gay-Straight Alliance was asked to refrain from doing so, and another teacher faced calls that he should close all his social media accounts so that students wouldn’t see his ‘LGBT-friendly’ attitudes - in other words, he was asked to hide his sexual orientation. Legislators bashed him on social media and insinuated that he was ‘recruiting’ children.

    In March 2018, parliament was quick to dismiss a Cohabitation Bill that would have granted basic rights to non-married couples, including same-sex ones. It did so on the grounds that couples could access these rights by getting married, even though the Latvian Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage. The initiative had started three years earlier through an online petition that gathered 10,000 signatures, which was why parliament had to consider it.

    2. What is the role of religious groups in this?

    Indeed. The Catholic Church has a lot of influence, and it is taking the lead in fighting the LGBTI community and pushing back against women’s rights. For instance, there has been a lot of disagreement over the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, and parliamentary debate on the issue has been postponed until after parliamentary elections are held in October 2018.

    Church leaders and many public officials oppose ratification of the Istanbul Convention because one of its non-discrimination clauses concerns sexual orientation and gender identity. The Catholic Archbishop is rallying against it and has gathered considerable support among political parties and parliamentarians. He has managed to convince them that ratification is part of the secret agenda of so-called ‘genderists’ – an expression that originated in Russia, a country with a very strong cultural influence in Latvia. Church officials, right-wing activists and politicians and anti-LGBTI and anti-abortion groups depict the Convention as contrary to Latvian traditional values and as being aimed at over-sexualising and ‘converting’ children. These arguments are gaining ground among the public.

    This rhetoric is not the exclusive preserve of the Catholic church: the Lutheran church, which is the largest Protestant church in Latvia, is also taking a lead in fighting us and the Istanbul Convention. This is quite strange, because Lutherans, prevalent in Nordic countries, tend to be more liberal. But in Latvia they even voted against having female priests, following the lead of the Catholic church. Additionally, new religious organisations with direct links with US evangelical groups are emerging. Some of their leaders have been trained in the USA and are quite good at influencing people.

    Although religious leaders and organisations don’t have a direct and institutionalised role in policy-making, given that the Latvian Constitution establishes a separation between church and state, in practice they have a lot of influence. Church-state separation notwithstanding, the state has a religious advisory council, as does the City Council. It is not uncommon for the Catholic Archbishop to meet with the ruling coalition’s leading party, and for the party’s leader to then say that he has ‘consulted’ with the Catholic church and has decided to vote in one way or another. You can see a direct link because all this happens in public.

    We, on the contrary, don’t have access to leading politicians because they are not willing to risk their reputations by meeting us in public. At the most, we can expect to have a private meeting here and there. This has a lot of impact on us, especially as we see the religious right rise all over Europe. Religious organisations and right-wing parties are increasingly organised and coordinated to fight against gender equality and LGBTI rights at the European level, and they are getting a major influx of resources from the USA. They have way more resources than we do, and their message also resonates better with the latent homophobia in Latvian society, which is becoming increasingly vocal. And after the Brexit vote and the Trump victory, they are emboldened. The latest developments in Hungary and Poland are also proof to them that they may be closer to winning.

    3. Has this discourse penetrated the media?

    Most definitely. Our media landscape is quite pluralistic, and the state channel and public broadcaster at least try to provide balanced coverage. But some media outlets are outright hostile towards LGBTI groups, and one of them, a Russian outlet with a major agenda against the rights of women, migrants, refugees and LGBTI people, is clearly leading a crusade against us.

    Vilification of women’s and LGBTI rights groups is also increasingly taking place online. We are now constantly harassed on Facebook. At some point we realised these were not the usual people who used to attack us and we did some research to find out where the attacks were coming from, and found links to evangelical churches.

    Since January 2018, Mozaika has reported over 200 posts that are openly homophobic to social media administrators, and most of them have been taken down and their authors temporarily or permanently blocked. This caused all Mozaika activists to be blocked from accessing certain groups and pages, and we have evidence that a number of secret Facebook and WhatsApp chat groups have been created to follow our activities.

    4. Can you tell us more about the significance of Pride in Latvia and the Baltic Pride that was recently held in the capital, Riga?

    Pride in Latvia is the most visible LGBTI event in the country. It draws widespread social and media attention to our cause, but it also attracts a large number of expressions of hatred and brings to the surface negative attitudes towards the LGBTI community. Pride in Latvia grew from 70 participants who faced 3,000 protesters in 2005, to 5,000 participants at EuroPride 2015, which was held in Riga, and 8,000 in the recent Baltic Pride. In between, it was banned by Riga City Council three times.

    Mozaika applied for permission to hold Baltic Pride in February 2018. Latvian laws state that applications must be submitted no earlier than four months prior to the event and that if there is more than one application for an event to be held at the same time, priority will be given to the first applicant. Mozaika’s representative arrived at Riga City Council an hour before opening to make sure that Baltic Pride was the first applicant, and just seconds after he entered the building Antiglobalists, an anti-rights organisation, arrived to submit another request for an event that would take place at the exact same time and venue, but under the name “Promotion of paedophilia, zoophilia, necrophilia and other perversions.” They wanted to make the statement that if ‘homosexuals’ can promote their ‘perversions’, then they should also be allowed to promote any other perversion they could think of.

    Since it became known in late 2017 that Riga would host Baltic Pride, both Mozaika and Baltic Pride became targets. The leader of the Latvian Green Party-Riga Unit started a //medium.com/@juriskaza/latvian-science-fund-head-asks-to-ban-riga-pride-event-87173b6e2cbe">personal campaign against so-called ‘genderists’. He insisted that Baltic Pride should be banned and set up a Facebook page to ‘inspire’ activists for ‘traditional values’. Starting in January, Baltic Pride organisers received over a hundred personal attacks, warnings or threats. We were insulted, called sick and branded perverts on our Facebook pages on a daily basis. Hate campaigns were launched to convey the idea that Pride is a ‘sex festival’. Countless posts were made showing rainbows and guns, to create fear among potential participants and the LGBTI community and dissuade them from attending. Antiglobalists, Tautas tiesību kustība (National Rights Movement) and activists inspired by right-wing politicians also constantly posted statements to encourage others to stand against Baltic Pride. Sometimes they provided details about our activities, forcing us to restrict them to registered participants to ensure safety. We also had to take unprecedented security measures for Pride events.

    Fortunately, we could find common ground and work closely with the police. Counter-protesters attack and humiliate the police, but we treat them with respect. No public official or security officer supporting us would ever say so publicly, but we have been able to work together behind closed doors. In the end, Baltic Pride was a great success. We would have considered it a success if 2,000 people had attended, but over 8,000 did. There were no major incidents, although at some point eggs and smoke bombs were thrown at participants.

    5. How do you counter the anti-rights message?

    We focus on delivering a human rights message. We never blame the church or call anyone by name - we don’t talk about them. We counter argument with argument, and fiction with facts. If they say that perverts will march, we state the fact that 70 per cent of those ‘perverts’ are straight people with children. Against arguments that ‘naked people’ will march, we simply say we don’t know what Pride they are referring to because we have never had people marching naked in Latvia. When we are called perverts, we thank them for their opinion but insist that we want to have a conversation within a human rights framework. That is, we don’t want to limit anyone’s rights and we want to be able to exercise ours. Compromising and always staying within the confines of a positive message may be personally difficult for many activists, but that is what we are going for, no matter what we hear. We might explode afterwards, but while we meet we listen and stay calm.

    I always meet the Catholic Archbishop at state visits or embassy receptions and we have polite exchanges. I’ve told him I’m non-believer but I know that the message of Jesus is all about love and respect and I don’t see that coming from him – that’s when he leaves the conversation. Within Mozaika there are also religious people, and we have invited churches to have an open and public dialogue, but so far, they have always refused.

    6. What is civil society in Latvia doing to overcome these challenges?

    Civil society uses all the available mechanisms to highlight rights violations in the international arena, including at the EU level, and to try and influence decision-makers and politicians. However, our Minister of Justice, who is openly homophobic and transphobic, ‘does not see’ any restrictions. While we were organising our Pride event, the government was putting a lot of effort into organising celebrations for the centennial of the Latvian state, and often blamed critical CSOs for shaming the country abroad as such an important date approached.

    In this context, Mozaika planned several actions, including a social media campaign (‘I support freedom’) in which public personalities publicly expressed their support for LGBTI rights, and human rights more generally, and demanded that our government ensure that Baltic Pride could take place safely. We aimed to bring in people who are not typically seen as supporters of human rights and LGBTI rights, and then amplify their voices as allies of the LGBTI community. Ultimately, what we wanted to show is that the LGBTI community and its supporters were a lot more numerous and diverse than the handful of activists and the few hundred people who normally show up to our events. We also undertook efforts targeted at international organisations and foreign governments and activists. We asked them to encourage people to participate in Baltic Pride and demand that the authorities guarantee their safety.

    Of course, we continue to monitor, document and report online and offline abuses against LGBTI people, activists and organisations. We take down hate comments and instruct the community to report any attacks that they experience on social media to us so we can work to take down the posts. If prominent hate expressions get out there, we try to respond to them with a counter-message. But we have limited resources, so sometimes we leave them for liberal commentators to deal with, and we focus on using social media to counter the most blatant expressions of hatred, particularly if someone is attacked physically.

    Finally, we are trying to place LGBTI issues and broader diversity issues on the agenda of the campaign for the upcoming October 2018 parliamentary election. We are promoting public debate on these issues, presenting political parties with examples of the rights restrictions that LGBTI people face on a daily basis and asking them to provide policy solutions to create a safe environment for LGBTI people and other minorities. We will consider it a success if three or four political parties include LGBTI issues or other diversity issues on their agenda.

    7. What are your needs and what can donors do to help?

    The one thing we have wanted to do for a long time is a long-term communications campaign – not the kind that individual CSOs put together on their own, but a broader one coordinated by various CSO leaders and activists who provide the substance and set the tone, and that is executed and managed by a professional communications team. The problem is that all CSOs live from project to project and are barely sustainable. Mozaika is able to function thanks to the work of volunteers. So what we need most is resources to ensure sustainability. This includes building capacity, but this has to be done on the basis of the expertise that we already have. We have attended countless training events and seminars, and are tired of going to international meetings just to be told ‘this is the right way to do it’. We need customised approaches to find practical solutions to our specific problems. There is a lot for us to learn from France, Germany, or the USA, but lessons must be customised and they should come alongside the resources to ensure sustainability.

    Civic space in Latvia is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Mozaika through their Facebook page or follow @lgbt_mozaika and @KasparZ on Twitter and Instagram.

     

  • LES GROUPES ANTI-DROITS DE L'HOMME: "Ils ne pensent pas que les droits de l'homme sont universels ou ils ne considèrent pas toutes les personnes comme des êtres humains égaux "

    gordan bosanacDans le cadre de notre rapport thématique de 2019, nous interrogeons des militants de la société civile, des dirigeants et des experts sur leur expérience des réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits humains. CIVICUS parle de la montée de l'extrémisme des groupes d'extrême droite et du fondamentalisme religieux en Europe de l'Est avec Gordan Bosanac, co-auteur d'une étude de cas sur l'Europe de l'Est pour le rapport du Global Philanthropy Project: « Conservatisme religieux sur la scène mondiale : Menaces et défis pour les droits LGBTI ».

     

    Vous avez travaillé sur diverses questions, du racisme et de la xénophobie au conservatisme religieux et aux droits LGBTQI. Pensez-vous que la montée du nationalisme et attaques contre les droits des migrants et les droits sexuels et reproductifs font tous partie de la même tendance ?

    Tout cela fait indéniablement partie du même phénomène. La grande majorité des organisations qui se mobilisent contre les droits des femmes rejettent également les personnes LGBTQI et les migrants et réfugiés. Ils font tous partie du même mouvement mondial qui rejette les idées démocratiques libérales, et ils se mobilisent tous contre les minorités ou les groupes vulnérables.

    Il s'agit d'un ensemble très hétérogène de groupes et d'organisations. Leur dénominateur commun est ce contre quoi ils luttent : la démocratie libérale. Les groupes néonazis, misogynes, anti-LGBTQI et anti-migrants ont des objectifs différents, mais ils partagent le même programme et y collaborent. Beaucoup de ces groupes se réunissent au Congrès mondial des familles, où vous trouverez beaucoup de discours de haine contre la communauté LGBTQI, contre les femmes et contre les migrants. Ils partagent la même philosophie.

    Pour moi, ces groupes sont exactement l'inverse du mouvement des droits de l'homme, où certaines organisations se concentrent sur les droits des femmes, d'autres sur les droits des LGBTQI, d'autres encore sur les migrants ou les peuples indigènes, ou sur les droits sociaux, culturels ou environnementaux, mais nous avons tous une philosophie fondée sur une vision positive des droits humains. Nous faisons tous partie du mouvement des droits de la personne. C'est exactement le contraire pour eux : ils partagent tous une vision négative des droits de l'homme, ils ne pensent pas qu'ils sont universels, ou ils ne considèrent pas tous les gens comme des êtres humains égaux. Quoi qu'il en soit, ils se mobilisent contre les droits de l'homme.

    Quand et pourquoi des groupes fondamentalistes chrétiens sont-ils apparus en Europe de l'Est ?

    L'une de mes collègues dit que ces groupes existent depuis longtemps. Elle enquête actuellement sur la troisième génération de ces groupes et affirme qu'ils ont vu le jour dans les années 1970, lorsqu'ils se sont mobilisés pour la première fois autour des idées néonazies et contre les droits des femmes. Le tournant le plus récent en Europe de l'Est s'est produit au début des années 2010. Dans de nombreux cas, il s'agit d'une réaction contre les débats politiques nationaux sur les LGBTQI et les droits reproductifs. La Croatie, d'où je viens, était l'une des exceptions en ce sens que ces groupes ne se sont pas mobilisés en réaction aux avancées politiques des groupes de défense des droits des femmes et des LGBTQI, mais plutôt par anticipation et à titre de mesure préventive contre les processus qui progressaient au niveau international, et en particulier contre le mariage homosexuel.

    L'expérience croate s'est déroulée en trois phases. A partir des années 1990, un mouvement anti-avortement s'est développé, dirigé par des prêtres catholiques charismatiques. Après la chute du communisme, l'avortement a été présenté comme étant contraire à la foi religieuse, aux valeurs familiales et à l'identité nationale. L'Église catholique a créé des " centres familiaux " qui offrent des services de soutien aux familles. Depuis le début des années 2000, des organisations indépendantes de la société civile (OSC) formées par des citoyens religieux " concernés " sont apparues. Leur naissance est liée à l'introduction de l'éducation sexuelle dans les programmes scolaires publics. Une troisième phase a commencé vers 2010, avec la montée en puissance d'OSC fondamentalistes liées au niveau national et international, indépendantes de la structure de l'Eglise. Par exemple, les nouveaux groupes avaient des liens avec les mouvements polonais ultraconservateurs "Tradition, Famille, Propriété" et "Ordo Iuris". L'Église catholique est restée à l'arrière-plan et le rôle des porte-paroles anti-droits a été relégué aux citoyens religieux " concernés ".

    En Croatie, les fondamentalistes ont fait bon usage des référendums nationaux organisés à l'initiative des citoyens. En 2013, ils ont rejeté l'égalité en matière de mariage, en grande partie grâce à des lois électorales qui n'exigent pas une participation électorale minimale aux référendums nationaux; la faible participation d'environ 38 %, suffisant à permettre un changement constitutionnel. En revanche, des référendums similaires ont échoué en Roumanie et en Slovaquie grâce à l'exigence d'une participation minimale de 50 %.

    Les groupes de défense des droits de l'homme semblent avoir fait beaucoup de progrès en Europe de l'Est depuis le début des années 2010. Pourquoi ?

    Nous avons commencé à suivre de près ces groupes en Croatie au moment du référendum, et ce que nous avons vu, c'est que leur progression a été liée à la redéfinition de leurs stratégies. Ils étaient démodés, peu attrayants pour leurs publics potentiels et peu habiles dans l'utilisation des instruments de la démocratie directe. A partir de 2010, ils ont changé de stratégie. Le mouvement de lutte contre les droits de l'homme a connu un renouveau rapide, et ses nouveaux dirigeants étaient très jeunes, éloquents et conscients du potentiel des instruments démocratiques. Dans leurs apparitions publiques, ils ont commencé à minimiser la religion, passant du symbolisme religieux à des visuels contemporains, colorés et joyeux. Ils ont commencé à organiser des mobilisations de masse telles que les marches contre l'avortement "Walk for Life", ainsi que des actions de rue à petite échelle, comme la prière contre l'avortement devant les hôpitaux ou la mise en scène de performances. Ironiquement, ils ont appris en observant de près ce que les OSC progressistes en matière de droits de la personne avaient fait : tout ce qu'elles faisaient avec succès, ils l'ont copié. Ils ont également relancé et amélioré les méthodes traditionnelles de pétition, en allant en ligne avec des plateformes telles que CitizenGo.

    Sur le plan international, les groupes de lutte contre les droits ont commencé à prendre forme au milieu des années 1990 en réaction à la quatrième Conférence mondiale des Nations Unies sur les femmes, tenue en 1995 à Beijing. C'est alors qu'un consensus s'est formé autour des droits des femmes en tant que droits humains, et que le genre est apparu à l'ordre du jour. Les groupes religieux se sont sentis vaincus à Pékin. Beaucoup d'universitaires qui ont étudié ce processus ont conclu que l'Église catholique était alors irritée parce qu'elle avait perdu une grande bataille. Ils ont subi plusieurs défaites dans les années qui ont suivi, ce qui les a rendus encore plus furieux. En 2004, la candidature de Rocco Buttiglione, candidat italien à la Commission européenne, a été retirée sous la pression du Parlement européen en raison de ses positions sexistes et homophobes. Les fondamentalistes chrétiens ont également été furieux lorsque des discussions animées ont eu lieu sur la possibilité que les "racines chrétiennes" de l'Europe soient mentionnées dans la Constitution européenne. Tout cela a mis le Vatican très en colère. Il y a eu quelques moments symboliques qui les ont rendus furieux et les ont poussés à lutter plus fermement contre les idées libérales.

    En réaction à cela, ils se sont modernisés, ce qui leur a permis d'avoir des liens de plus en plus étroits avec des groupes évangéliques fondamentalistes basés aux États-Unis, ayant une longue expérience dans l'élaboration de politiques à l'intérieur et en dehors des États-Unis.

    Pensez-vous qu'il s'agit surtout d'un processus du sommet vers la base, ou ces groupes ont-ils véritablement atteint la base ?

    En Europe de l'Est, il s'agit surtout d'un processus descendant, peut-être lié au fait que la plupart de ces groupes sont catholiques chrétiens, et non évangéliques. Ces idées viennent de très haut. Elles sont produites et diffusées par le Vatican depuis des décennies. Ces groupes ne sont pas spontanés et sont très bien organisés. Leurs stratégies ne se sont pas répandues par imitation, mais plutôt parce qu'elles sont toutes dictées par le sommet.

    Cela ne veut pas dire qu'ils n'ont pas pu faire appel aux citoyens ; au contraire, ils l'ont fait avec beaucoup de succès, encore plus que les groupes anti-droits humains. C'est parce qu'ils utilisent un langage très simple et jouent sur les peurs et les insécurités des gens. Ils construisent leur popularité sur les préjugés et les craintes des autres qui sont différents. La peur semble être un moyen facile de mobiliser les gens, mais les gens de gauche ne veulent pas l'utiliser parce qu'ils estiment qu'il n'est pas juste de manipuler les gens. Les groupes de défense des droits, par contre, n'ont aucun problème à faire peur aux gens. Lorsqu'ils sont apparus pour la première fois en Croatie, ces groupes ont obtenu un énorme soutien parce qu'ils ont suscité la peur et se sont ensuite présentés comme les protecteurs et les sauveurs des citoyens contre ce monstre fictif qu'ils avaient créé.

    Quelles sont les principales stratégies que ces groupes ont utilisées pour se développer ?

    Premièrement, ils partagent un discours unifié qui s'articule autour du rejet de ce qu'ils appellent "l'idéologie du genre", qui n'est qu'un signifiant vide pour désigner toute menace qu'ils perçoivent dans un contexte particulier. Ils se déclarent les protecteurs de la famille et de l'ordre naturel et utilisent des stratégies de diffamation et un discours pseudo-scientifique contre les droits des femmes et des personnes LGBTQI. Une rhétorique nationaliste est également omniprésente dans les pays d'Europe de l'Est.

    Deuxièmement, ils ont coopté le discours sur les droits de l'homme et adopté les pratiques d'organisation civique du mouvement des droits de l'homme. Ils profitent non seulement de l'accès direct aux citoyens qui vont à l'église, mais ils mobilisent aussi la base à travers des conférences, des formations, des camps de jeunes et les réseaux sociaux. Ils bénéficient également d'un financement suffisant pour emmener les gens en bus aux rassemblements importants comme les marches « Walk for Life », payer les dépenses de nombreux bénévoles et couvrir le coût de la publicité dispendieuse.

    Troisièmement, ils ont utilisé avec succès des mécanismes référendaires à l'initiative des citoyens. En Croatie et en Slovénie, ils ont recueilli le nombre requis de signatures pour lancer des référendums nationaux contre le mariage homosexuel, qu'ils ont remportés. En Roumanie et en Slovaquie, à leur tour, ils ont réussi à recueillir les signatures mais n'ont pas réussi à satisfaire à l'exigence minimale de participation. Le taux de participation à tous ces référendums a varié de 20 % en Roumanie à 38 % en Croatie, ce qui montre que les fondamentalistes ne bénéficient d'aucun soutien majoritaire, mais qu'ils utilisent toujours intelligemment les mécanismes démocratiques pour faire avancer leur programme.

    Quatrièmement, ils ont recours aux poursuites judiciaires à la fois pour influencer et modifier la législation et pour arrêter les militants des droits humains et les journalistes qui critiquent leur travail. Afin de les faire taire, ils les poursuivent en justice pour diffamation et 'discours de haine contre les chrétiens'. Bien que ces affaires soient généralement rejetées, elles les aident à se positionner en tant que victimes en raison de leurs croyances religieuses.

    Cinquièmement, ils bénéficient non seulement d'une bonne couverture de leurs événements dans les médias grand public, mais ils ont aussi leurs propres médias, principalement des portails d'information en ligne, dans lesquels ils publient de fausses nouvelles qui diffament leurs adversaires, qu'ils diffusent ensuite sur les réseaux sociaux. Ils accueillent et couvrent également des événements conservateurs mettant en vedette des " experts internationaux " qui sont présentés comme les plus hautes autorités sur des questions telles que la sexualité et les droits de l'enfant.

    Sixièmement, ils s'appuient sur une collaboration transnationale à travers l'Europe et avec des groupes basés aux États-Unis.

    Septièmement, ils ciblent le système scolaire, par exemple avec des programmes extrascolaires destinés à influencer les enfants âgés de 4 à 14 ans, lorsqu'ils sont les plus vulnérables et les plus facilement convertibles.

    Enfin, ils travaillent non seulement par l'intermédiaire d'OSC, mais aussi de partis politiques. De cette façon, ils sont également présents aux élections et, dans certains cas, ils acquièrent un pouvoir significatif. C'est le cas du parti d'extrême droite polonais Droit et Justice, qui a pleinement intégré ces groupes dans ses activités. Dans d'autres cas, ils créent leur propre parti politique. C'est ce qui s'est passé en Croatie, où la principale OSC fondamentaliste, "Au nom de la famille", a créé un parti politique appelé "Project Homeland". Le cas de la Roumanie est particulièrement préoccupant à cet égard, car il montre comment les positions fondamentalistes chrétiennes sur les droits LGBTQI peuvent être intégrées dans l'ensemble du spectre politique et religieux.

    En d'autres termes, ces groupes sont présents dans divers espaces, pas seulement au sein de la société civile. Et ils ciblent les principaux partis conservateurs, notamment ceux qui sont membres du Parti populaire européen, le groupe de centre-droit du Parlement européen. Ils essaient de déplacer les partis de centre-droit et conservateurs vers l'extrême droite. C'est leur combat crucial parce que cela peut les mener au pouvoir. Il est de la responsabilité des partis conservateurs du monde entier de résister à ces attaques, et il est dans l'intérêt des groupes progressistes de les protéger également, car s'ils perdent, nous perdons tous.

    Pensez-vous qu'il y a quelque chose que la société civile progressiste puisse faire pour arrêter les groupes anti-droits ?

    Je ne suis pas très optimiste parce que nous les combattons depuis plusieurs années et c'est très difficile, d'autant plus que la mouvance mondiale est aussi en train de changer : il y a une tendance générale à droite qui semble très difficile à contrer.

    Cependant, il y a encore plusieurs choses à faire. La première chose à faire serait de faire la lumière sur ces groupes, de dire aux gens qui ils sont vraiment. Nous devons les exposer pour ce qu'ils sont- les fondamentalistes religieux, les néonazis et ainsi de suite - parce qu'ils cachent leur vrai visage. Selon le contexte local, ils ne sont parfois même pas fiers d'admettre qu'ils sont liés à l'Église. Une fois que ces liens sont mis en évidence, de nombreuses personnes deviennent méfiantes à leur égard. Il faudrait aussi espérer qu'il y ait du bon sens, que les circuits d'argent sale soient dévoilés et que les gens réagissent, ce qui arrive parfois, mais pas toujours.

    Le rôle principal devrait être joué par les croyants qui refusent d'accepter l'utilisation abusive de la religion à des fins extrémistes. Les croyants sont les porte-paroles les plus authentiques contre le fondamentalisme et leur voix peut être beaucoup plus forte que celle des laïcs mobilisés ou de l'opposition politique. Toutefois, l'absence de tels groupes au niveau local, en raison des pressions exercées par les autorités religieuses locales, peut être un problème. Le pape François a sérieusement affaibli les groupes fondamentalistes et il est un excellent exemple de la manière dont les chefs religieux peuvent combattre l'extrémisme religieux et le fondamentalisme.

    Il est également productif d'utiliser l'humour contre eux. Ils ne savent pas vraiment plaisanter ; les situations sarcastiques et humoristiques les déconcertent. Cela peut susciter des soupçons chez de nombreuses personnes. Mais nous devons veiller à ne pas en faire des victimes, car ce sont des experts en matière d'auto-victimisation et ils sauront comment s'en servir contre nous.

    Enfin, permettez-moi de le redire parce que c'est fondamental. Cela peut sembler contre-intuitif, mais il est très important de donner aux partis conservateurs du monde entier les moyens de tenir bon et de résister aux tentatives de détournement d'extrême droite. Les progressistes doivent protéger les partis conservateurs contre les attaques d'extrémistes, sinon ils deviendront des véhicules de l'extrême droite pour accéder au pouvoir, et il sera alors trop tard.

    L'espace civique en Croatie est classé comme " rétréci " par le Monitor CIVICUS.

    Suivez @GordanBosanac sur Twitter.

     

  • Les manifestations prouvent le pouvoir de l'action collective alors que les États échouent face à la pandémie selon un nouveau rapport

    Alors que la COVID-19 balayait la planète, creusant les fractures déjà existantes dans les sociétés et générant peur et incertitude, de nombreux gouvernements ont utilisé cette pandémie comme prétexte pour restreindre les libertés civiques, déclenchant des manifestations dans de nombreux pays. Le Rapport sur l'état de la société civile 2021, publié par l'alliance mondiale de la société civile CIVICUS, montre que malgré les obstacles, des millions de personnes dans le monde se sont mobilisées pendant la pandémie pour réclamer des sociétés plus justes, plus égalitaires et plus durables.

     

  • LGBTQI RIGHTS: ‘There is an ongoing desire among many to more closely regulate morality’

    T King OeyAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to T King Oey, an Indonesian capacity development expert and a founder and board member ofArus Pelangi, the Indonesian Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual and Intersex Communities.

    How does your network work, and what are the challenges you are addressing?

    Our organisation, Arus Pelangi, which means the Flow of the Rainbow, was established in 2006. This was during the Reformasi era that followed the ousting of President Suharto in 1998 after three decades in power. After this there was much more freedom and many repressive laws were revised. At this time LGBTQI people felt we should come together to stand for our rights. Before then the only context in which people talked about LGBTQI people was in relation to the mitigation of HIV/AIDS. So we decided to form an organisation purely to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI people.

    Arus Pelangi is a coalition of national and local groups of LGBTQI people. We network a lot with other human rights organisations, including those working on other aspects of diversity and legal reform. We have also been instrumental in the formation of a network across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries – the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus. It is based in the Philippines and Arus Pelangi is an important member. At the same time we are reaching out to local communities around the huge country of Indonesia. There are still capacity challenges in enabling far-distant communities to make their voices heard.

    What challenges have you faced in recent years?

    The space for democracy in Indonesia is becoming more restricted, and it is harder for us to be visible. When we started in 2006 we saw it as strategic to raise our visibility as much as possible, so people could see and understand LGBTQI people and know who we are. So we took part in demonstrations, held flash mobs, held public discussions, made media appearances – anything to make us visible as a group.

    From the very beginning there were all kinds of groups attacking us. But things got much worse in 2016, when all of a sudden there was this massive wave of attacks. Persecutions also began from 2016 onwards. The trigger was a pronouncement by the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, that LGBTQI people should be banned from university campuses. Suddenly everyone joined in, saying that LGBTQI people should be banned from everywhere, that we should be criminalised.

    These attacks came especially from hardline religious groups. These groups had always advocated for criminalisation, but suddenly they had momentum because of what the minister had said.

    From then on it was no longer possible to be visible as an organisation, and to some degree even as individuals.

    How have extremist groups been able to organise, and how have they mobilised support?

    The Reformasi era created all kinds of freedoms for people to organise themselves, but the fundamentalists had the same freedoms, and they did very well in organising themselves. They have received lots of funding from Saudi Arabia.

    There has been a two-track development in Indonesia. Indonesia has become more part of a global society, more integrated in terms of technology, but at the same time people’s minds have become more conservative, due to the influence of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists have had more chances to preach, and to organise in all kinds of groups and organisations. One of the most well-known is Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), which has been very vocal in attacking us, and they have been able to stop some of our activities.

    The attitude of the police has been ambivalent. They haven’t stopped the FPI from attacking us. Rather they have said that for our safety it would be better if we disband. They always use this argument of safety. Since 2016 the police have also been proactive in outing and arresting people. People are arrested, paraded in front of the media and then released without charge.

    This has had a huge effect on the whole community. People have become afraid. Since 2016 we have held hardly any public events. We have to keep things secret and do everything underground. We have also had to learn to take security measures. Many of our people became depressed and closed themselves away, stopped going out. It’s just like being back in the Suharto era. We aren’t free any more.

    Fundamentalists reached the level of power that in 2017 they were able to put Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of our capital city, Jakarta, into jail for blasphemy. This was when the network of fundamentalist groups reached the height of their power. They were able to work together to do this. Indonesia has a blasphemy law, and once someone has been indicted, it is certain they will be convicted. I haven’t heard of any case when someone charged with blasphemy has walked free.

    How has the government responded?

    What is interesting is that this level of fundamentalism got to the point where it was threatening the position of President Jokowi. Only then did we see a concerted effort from the government to push back, and this process is still going on. The government has banned one of the fundamentalist groups, an international Muslim network that calls for the establishment of the caliphate, on the grounds that it does not adhere to the national ideology, known as Pancasila.

    A law the government recently passed on civil society organisations enabled it to do this. Human rights organisations criticised this law for being too loose and flexible. It could potentially enable the government to ban any group. This is the first time it has been used. The same law could be used against any group. It’s a double-edged sword.

    The government is considering banning the FPI. The government is also saying that it is coming to realise how many campuses have been infiltrated by fundamentalist groups, but it’s hard to know what’s going on behind the scenes.

    Has the April 2019 presidential election brought any changes?

    President Jokowi won re-election in April, but it seems he felt he couldn’t do it without the support of the moderate Muslims, as he took an Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate. Ma’ruf is a fairly conservative cleric who has made all kinds of negative pronouncements against LGBTQI people. It’s a mystery for many people, even for supporters of President Jokowi, why he was chosen over all other candidates.

    For LGBTQI people, now President Jokowi has won re-election, it remains to be seen whether the coming five years will bring any improvement. We don’t believe President Jokowi is against LGBTQI people, and on some occasions, he has said that the rights of LGBTQI people should be protected. But this is the kind of thing he has said when he has been interviewed by the BBC. It is a message for the outside world, rather than for a domestic audience.

    What is also disappointing is that in his first term, President Jokowi prioritised a focus on the investment climate, emphasising massive infrastructure projects, such as ports, roads and power plants, and reforming the bureaucracy to remove obstacles against investment. Just recently he has announced that his second-term priorities are the same. He said nothing about human rights. Many were hoping that he would be less cautious in his second term. It remains to be seen how committed he will be to human rights.

    As well as LGBTQI groups, which other communities are subject to persecution?

    Other groups particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses are minority Muslim sects, which have been heavily persecuted over the years, and communists and those associated with them. This goes way back to the mass killings of 1965-1966. Survivors and second and third-generation family members are still suffering from discrimination and threats.

    The struggle for gender equality goes back many decades. Women are targeted by conservative groups. Shariah law applies in the province of Aceh, and they have introduced and are applying draconian punishments such as caning and stoning to death. Several LGBTQI people have been the victim of caning. There are attempts to criminalise non-normative sexuality elsewhere in Indonesia.

    There is an ongoing effort and desire among many to more closely regulate morality. It is a continuous battle to try to prevent more repressive measures. For example, parliament is currently debating a law on domestic violence, and conservative law-makers are asserting that many things we would consider as sexual violence, like marital rape, are not included. The dividing line is between following a hardline interpretation of the Quran or not. Despite its secular appearance, Indonesia has become a de facto religious state.

    How is civil society responding to these challenges, and what support could the international community and international civil society best offer to Indonesia’s LGBTQI community?

    Civil society has been trying to respond through networking, joint statements, lobbying parliament and campaigning, including through Change.org. But it can feel like fighting an impossible war, because the conservatives always seem to be more powerful, better organised and better resourced.

    We have to be careful when considering outside assistance, because one of the arguments that fundamentalists always use is about foreign influences and attempts to make Indonesia a liberal country. LGBTQI is characterised as a western concept that is incompatible with the culture. Of course if you look at the culture and history of Indonesia you see all kinds of expressions of non-binary gender, including in dances, songs, literature and rituals. This culture has been denied consistently by conservatives who say that the only culture is hardline Islam. The conservatives forget that Islam itself is an imported religion.

    In 2015, when the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage, this created quite an uproar in Indonesia. Conservative groups always point to this and say that once they give in to one thing, this is what will happen. The global debate about same-sex marriage works both ways for us, because LGBTQI people in Indonesia have never suggested this – it seems too far away to even contemplate this, and we need to have our fundamental rights respected first – but at least it tells us we’re not alone.

    So you have to be careful, but solidarity helps. It helps LGBTQI people here to know they are not alone and have not been abandoned. If people have any chance to speak to government officials from Indonesia, they should use that opportunity to speak up for LGBTQI people and other vulnerable groups.

    At Indonesia’s United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session in 2017, many shadow reports pointed to the severe situation of LGBTQI people. There was quite a bit of criticism. The usual attitude of the Indonesian government is to cite social conservatism, but this time it was forced to acknowledge the need to take steps and it committed to hold a dialogue with the LGBTQI community. This was a concession that came because of international pressure. Of course, it remains to be seen what will happen on the ground. We have to keep the pressure on.

    Civic space in Indonesia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with T King Oey throughArus Pelangi‘s website.

     

  • MALAYSIA: ‘We need global solidarity to push back on attacks on rights’

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to Thilaga Sulathireh of Justice for Sisters and Seksualiti Merdeka about LGBTQI rights in Malaysia and the ways in which state and non-state forces are working together to deny rights.

    Can you tell us about your work and the status of LGBTQI rights in Malaysia?

    I work with Justice for Sisters and Seksualiti Merdeka. Justice for Sisters is a network that primarily works for the human rights of trans people in Malaysia, and we provide legal support, do human rights documentation, engage in national policy work and undertake advocacy with the United Nations (UN) to highlight human rights violations. At Seksualiti Merdeka, we recently launched a website, Queer Lapis. We do capacity strengthening and content production. The work we do is very much grounded in feminist, intersectional principles, and from a queer perspective.

    The human rights of LGBTQI people are definitely regressing in Malaysia. Malaysia historically inherited section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalises ‘unnatural’ sexual acts, from British colonial rule. Section 377 has been amended several times, and the last amendment in 2017 resulted in the imposition of mandatory whipping as a punishment for consensual carnal intercourse deemed unnatural. The law is gender-neutral but it is used in political ways. As a result, people see it as a law that applies to gay people. We also have shariah laws in three states of Malaysia, introduced between 1995 and 2013, that penalise same-sex relations and posing as a woman or man. Unlike Section 377, these laws directly criminalise sexual and gender identity. The implementation of these laws varies according to state, but amongst them, the law against posing as a woman is most actively used.

    Has the situation for LGBTQI people changed in recent years?

    In recent years, arrests and raids made under these laws have decreased, because of a legal challenge that took place between 2010 and 2015. An appeal went through the different stages of courts. We got a negative decision in the High Court and then won in the Court of Appeal, which upheld that the law was unconstitutional, but then the decision was overturned by the Federal Court. But because of the activism around this case, the number of arrests significantly reduced.

    At the same time we saw a shift in tactics by the government’s Islamic Department, which has adopted a softer evangelical approach towards LGBTQI people. They saw that heavy prosecutions were giving the department a bad image, so there was a shift towards a softer approach, around promoting the ‘rehabilitation’ of LGBTQI people. There is a narrative that LGBTQI people need help in returning to the ‘right path’.

    We saw an increase in state-funded ‘rehabilitation’ activities in this decade, at the same time that Seksualiti Merdeka, which used to organise festivals, was banned in 2011. The government decided it needed to increase its response to this growing LGBTQI movement. This gave rise to more groups that promote and provide ‘rehabilitation’ or ‘conversion therapy’. We have seen more anti-LGBTQI campaigns in universities and on social media. We have seen more concerted efforts overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which sits under the Prime Minister’s office, and which launched a five-year action to plan to address the ‘social ills’ caused by LGBTQI behaviour. This brought together most ministries.

    As well as the use of various laws and increased state funding for anti-LGBTQI activities, we have seen a heavy-handed response to the freedoms of association and assembly of LGBTQI people. For example, when LGBTQI people have taken part in women’s marches, their organisations have been investigated.

    Did anything alter as a result of the May 2018 election, which saw the first change of government in Malaysia’s independent history?

    The 2018 election has historic in that it changed the administration, but the government has adopted and continued the same policies. Nothing has changed from the LGBTQI perspective. We still see the same amount of resources going into policies that treat LGBTQI people as a problem.

    There is also an ongoing struggle between the new government and the former ruling party that is now in opposition, and this is used to justify the lack of change for LGBTQI people. Right after the election a lesbian couple was arrested in the state of Terengganu, which is an opposition-controlled state. They were charged for sexual relations between women and caned openly in the public court. After this there were also two cases of caning of sex workers.

    So there is all this moral policing. Homophobia is real, but there is also a political tussle and mind games being played over who are the guardians of Islam and race. In this crossfire LGBTQI issues and people become politicised.

    Who are the main groups attacking LGBTQI rights in Malaysia?

    All the groups attacking LGBTQI rights use evangelical language, similar to the right wing in Europe or the USA. They reject the universality of human rights, are nationalistic, oppose pluralism and diversity in many ways, prioritise a particular race or religion and support ‘conversion therapy’. Some of the state-funded activities towards LGBTQI people are carried out by these groups.

    There are celebrity preachers who post social media videos encouraging people to troll LGBTQI people and those who post LGBTQI-related content. There are also individuals who make homophobic comments and conservative student groups who organise against LGBTQI people. But they are less physically aggressive than those in Europe and the USA. They are often careful not to insult LGBTQI people out of fear of giving Islam a bad name.

    There are also ethno-nationalist groups, with the purpose of protecting Muslims and ethnic Malays, that also engage in anti-LGBTQI activity. These don’t adopt an evangelical approach. They engage more in reporting LGBTQI people to the police, and sometimes physical intimidation and violence. At the last women’s march, we saw some of these groups physically intimidating participants. They also issue statements and have an active social media presence.

    Then there are groups that call themselves Islamic non-governmental organisations (NGOs), some of which come together under a coalition of Islamic NGOs that participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). These include groups that use more rights-oriented language, given that they engage in the UPR process, and particularly use the language of religious rights. They position what they call the ‘rehabilitation’ of LGBTQI people as consistent with these religious rights. They also cite examples such as the case of a bakery in the USA that was taken to court for refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding to support their arguments for religious rights. Some of these are groups of doctors, lawyers and academics, and they make pseudo-scientific and legal arguments against LGBTQI rights. Some of these Islamic NGOs also provide services, and as such are involved in the government’s ‘rehabilitation’ programme.

    Within civil society, there is a tension between groups that support the universality of human rights and those that oppose it. Between those that promote pluralism and liberalism and those that oppose these. Between those that support LGBTQI rights and those that talk in terms of ‘rehabilitating’ LGBTQI people.

    How do these tensions play out around civil society’s engagement at the international level?

    Some of those Islamic NGOs engage in policy spaces. If LGBTQI CSOs attend a government consultation on the UPR, they share the space with these.

    The UPR process – and UN processes more generally – offer a key site of contestation between these two camps. The second UPR cycle in 2013 was seen by critics as an attempt by civil society to push for the recognition of LGBTQI rights and destabilise the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution. There was a lot of pushback. And then in the third UPR cycle in 2018, these groups participated in the process and claimed space. Some of the recommendations of this group were included in the report compiled by the UNHRC.

    When the Government of Malaysia tried to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, there was a lot of pushback from these groups and attempts to mobilise Muslim people against ratification. The government pulled out of ratifying on the grounds that it would affect the position of Islam and could offer an entry point to the recognition of LGBTQI rights.

    How do different groups that oppose LGBTQI rights connect and receive support?

    After the corruption scandal that led to the ruling party losing the election, ethno-nationalist groups are no longer as closely linked to political parties as they used to be. I suspect now they are mostly self-funded. With Islamic NGOs, I suspect they receive some foreign funding. Some have a presence outside Malaysia as well. There is an umbrella group, ISMA (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity), which apparently has an office in Germany.

    We also believe some groups receive state funding for their participation in the government’s anti-LGBTQI programme. When a colleague raised the issue of state-sponsored violence against LGBTQI people at a UPR meeting, this created a lot of protest from Islamic NGOs, including those linked with ISMA, who demanded an apology and retraction. The small organisations that are providing ‘rehabilitation’ services also mobilised in their support, making quite clear the connections between groups receiving state funding to provide services and Islamic NGOs advocating against LGBTQI rights.

    How is progressive, rights-oriented civil society trying to respond?

    In the last few years LGBTQI groups are also pushing back and being more organised. The coalition of human rights organisations that participated in the UPR process has also tried to engage with Islamic NGOs and tried to increase engagement by pro-human rights Islamic organisations. They had some success in the UPR process in getting some groups to recognise the discrimination LGBTQI people face. Now there are more civil society groups that are countering arguments against universal human rights online, and more actions to communicate human rights messages in popular ways and in different languages. LGBTQI groups are working on communication strategies. We need this because we face overwhelming misinformation about LGBTQI people.

    LGBTQI groups recognise that these issues aren’t restricted to Malaysia alone. We see a lot of tension at the UN level and realise these issues are ongoing, with states pushing the adoption of problematic language. For example at the Commission on the Status of Women in 2019, language about sexual orientation and gender identity was dropped because of pushback from conservatives. This is a global issue. Civil society everywhere is dealing with these challenges. So how can we come together and strategise around this? How can we do global activism better?

    We need to make sure there is diverse representation in these international forums. We need to have global solidarity to push back on attacks on rights.

    Because there’s a religious dimension to this, and because Islamophobia is on the rise, we need also to be careful when talking about these issues not to encourage more Islamophobia. We need to have more conversations about how we address intersectional forms of oppression and also give spaces for Islamic groups to participate in processes that help address Islamophobia. This is something that as civil society we need to be sensitive to.

    Civic space in Malaysia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Justice for Sisters through itswebsite andFacebook page, orfollow@justice_sisters on Twitter.

     

  • ONLINE CIVIC SPACE: ‘We shouldn’t expect tech giants to solve the problems that they have created’

    Marek TuszynskiAs part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to Marek Tuszynski, co-founder and creative director of Tactical Tech, aBerlin-based international civil society organisation that engages with citizens and civil society to explore the impacts of technologyon society and individual autonomy. Founded in 2003, in a context where optimism about technology prevailed but focus was lacking on what specifically it could do for civil society, Tactical Tech uses its research findings to create practical solutions for citizens and civil society.

    Some time ago it seemed that the online sphere could offer civil society a new space for debate and action – until it became apparent that online civic space was being restricted too. What kinds of restrictions are you currently seeing online, and what's changed in recent years?

    Fifteen years ago, the digital space in a way belonged to the people who were experimenting with it. People were building that space using the available tools, there was a movement towards open source software, and activists were trying build an online space that would empower people to exercise democratic freedoms, and even build democracy from the ground up. But those experimental spaces became gentrified, appropriated, taken over and assimilated into other existing spaces. In that sense, digital space underwent processes very similar to all other spaces that offer alternatives and in which people are able to experiment freely. That space shrank massively, and free spaces were replaced by centralised technology and started to be run as business models.

    For most people, including civil society, using the internet means resorting to commercial platforms and systems such as Google and Facebook. The biggest change has been the centralisation of what used to be a distributed system where anybody was able to run their own services. Now we rely on centralised, proprietary and controlled services. And those who initially weren’t very prevalent, like state or corporate entities, are now dominating. The difference is also in the physical aspect, because technology is becoming more and more accessible and way cheaper than it used to be, and a lot of operations that used to require much higher loads of technology have become affordable by a variety of state and non-state entities.

    The internet became not just a corporate space, but also a space for politics and confrontation on a much larger scale than it was five or ten years ago. Revelations coming from whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and scandals such as those with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are making people much more aware of what this space has become. It is now clear that it is not all about liberation movements and leftist politics, and that there are many groups on the other end of the political spectrum that have become quite savvy in using and abusing technology.

    In sum, changes are being driven by both economic and, increasingly, political factors. What makes them inescapable is that technology is everywhere, and it has proliferated so fast that it has become very hard to imagine going back to doing anything without it. It is also very hard, if not impossible, to compartmentalise your life and separate your professional and personal activities, or your political and everyday or mundane activities. From the point of view of technology, you always inhabit the same, single space.

    Do people who use the internet for activism rather than, say, to share cat pictures, face different or specific threats online?

    Yes, but I would not underestimate the cat pictures, as insignificant as they may seem to people who are using these tools for political or social work. It is the everyday user who defines the space that others use for activism. The way technologies are used by people who use them for entertainment ends up defining them for all of us.

    That said, there are indeed people who are much more vulnerable, whose exposure or monitoring can restrict their freedoms and be dangerous for them – not only physically but also psychologically. These people are exposed to potential interceptions and surveillance to find out what are they doing and how, and also face a different kind of threat, in the form of online harassment, which may impact on their lives well beyond their political activities, as people tend to be bullied not only for what they do, but also for what or who they are.

    There seems to be a very narrow understanding of what is political. In fact, regardless of whether you consider yourself political, very mundane activities and behaviours can be seen by others as political. So it is not just about what you directly produce in the form of text, speech, or interaction, but also about what can be inferred from these activities. Association with organisations, events, or places may become equally problematic. The same happens with the kind of tools you are using and the times you are using them, whether you are using encryption and why. All these elements that you may not be thinking of may end up defining you as a person who is trying to do something dangerous or politically controversial. And of course, many of the tools that activists use and need, like encryption, are also used by malicious actors, because technology is not intrinsically good or bad, but is defined by its users. You can potentially be targeted as a criminal just for using – for activism, for instance – the same technologies that criminals use.

    Who are the ‘vulnerable minorities’ you talk about in your recentreport on digital civic space, and why are they particularly vulnerable online?

    Vulnerable minorities are precisely those groups that face greater risks online because of their gender, race or sexual orientation. Women generally are more vulnerable to online harassment, and politically active women even more so. Women journalists, for instance, are subject to more online abuse than male journalists when speaking about controversial issues or voicing opinions. They are targeted because of their gender. This is also the case for civil society organisations (CSOs) focused on women’s rights, which are being targeted both offline and online, including through distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, website hacks, leaks of personal information, fabricated news, direct threats and false reports against Facebook content leading to the suspension of their pages. Digital attacks sometimes translate into physical violence, when actors emboldened by the hate speech promoted on online platforms end up posing serious threats not only to people’s voices but also to their lives.

    But online spaces can also be safe spaces for these groups. In many places the use of internet and online platforms creates spaces where people can exercise their freedoms of expression and protest. They can come out representing minorities, be it sexual or otherwise, in a way they would not be able to in the physical places where they live, because it would be too dangerous or practically impossible. They are able to exercise these freedoms in online spaces because these spaces are still separate from the places where they live. However, there is a limited understanding of the fact that this does not make these spaces neutral. Information can be leaked, shared, distorted and weaponised, and used to hurt you when you least expect it.

    Still, for many minorities, and especially for sexual minorities, social media platforms are the sole place where they can exercise their freedoms, access information and actually be who they are, and say it aloud. At the same time, they technically may retain anonymity but their interests and associations will give away who they are, and this can be used against them. These outlets can create an avenue for people to become political, but that avenue can always be closed down in non-democratic contexts, where those in power can decide to shut down entire services or cut off the internet entirely.

    Is this what you mean when you refer to social media as ‘a double-edged sword’? What does this mean for civil society, and how can we take advantage of the good side of social media?

    Social media platforms are a very important tool for CSOs. Organisations depend on them to share information, communicate and engage with their supporters, organise events, measure impact and response based on platform analytics, and even raise funds. But the use of these platforms has also raised concerns regarding the harvesting of data, which is analysed and used by the corporations themselves, by third-party companies and by governments.

    Over the years, government requests for data from and about social media users have increased, and so have arrests and criminalisation of organisations and activists based on their social media behaviour. So again, what happens online does not stay online – in fact, it sometimes has serious physical repercussions on the safety and well-being of activists and CSO staff. Digital attacks and restrictions affect individuals and their families, and may play a role in decisions on whether to continue to do their work, change tactics, or quit. Online restrictions can also cause a chilling effect on the civil society that is at the forefront of the promotion of human rights and liberties. For these organisations, digital space can be an important catalyst for wider civil political participation in physical spaces, so when it is attacked, restricted, or shrunk, it has repercussions for civic participation in general.

    Is there some way that citizens and civil society can put pressure on giant tech companies to do the right thing?

    When we talk about big social media actors we think of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp – three of which are in fact part of Facebook – and we don’t think of Google because it is not seen as social media, even though it is more pervasive, it is everywhere, and it is not even visible as such.

    We shouldn’t expect these companies to solve the problems they have created. They are clearly incapable of addressing the problems they cause. One of these problems is online harassment and abuse of the rules. They have no capacity to clean the space of certain activities and if they try to do so, then they will censor any content that resembles something dangerous, even if it isn’t, to not risk being accused of supporting radical views.

    We expect tech giants to be accountable and responsible for the problems they create, but that’s not very realistic, and it won’t just happen by itself. When it comes to digital-based repression and the use of surveillance and data collection to impose restrictions, there is a striking lack of accountability. Tech platforms depend on government authorisation to operate, so online platforms and tech companies are slow to react, if they do at all, in the face of accusations of surveillance, hate speech, online harassment and attacks, especially when powerful governments or other political forces are involved.

    These companies are not going to do the right thing if they are not encouraged to do so. There are small steps as well as large steps one can take, starting with deciding how and when to use each of these tools, and whether to use them at all. At every step of the way, there are alternatives that you can use to do different things – for one, you can decentralise the way you interact with people and not use one platform for everything.

    Of course, that’s not the whole problem, and the solution cannot be based on individual choices alone. A more structural solution would have to take place at the level of policy frameworks, as can be seen in Europe where regulations have been put in place and it is possible to see a framework shaping up for large companies to take more responsibility, and to define who they are benefiting from their access to personal information.

    What advice can you offer for activists to use the internet more safely?

    We have a set of tools and very basic steps to enable people who don’t want to leave these platforms, who depend on them, to understand what it is that they are doing, what kind of information they leave behind that can be used to identify them and how to avoid putting into the system more information than is strictly necessary. It is important to learn how to browse the internet privately and safely, how to choose the right settings on Google and Facebook and take back control of your data and your activity in these spaces.

    People don’t usually understand how much about themselves is online and can be easily found via search engines, and the ways in which by exposing themselves they also expose the people who they work with and the activities they do. When using the internet we reveal where we are, what we are working on, what device we are using, what events we are participating in, what we are interested in, who we are connecting with, the phone providers we use, the visas we apply for, our travel itineraries, the kinds of financial transactions we do and with whom, and so on. To do all kinds of things we are increasingly dependent on more and more interlinked and centralised platforms that share information with one another and with other entities, and we aren’t even aware that they are doing it because they use trackers and cookies, among other things. We are giving away data about ourselves and what we do all the time, not only when we are online, but also when others enter information about us, for instance when travelling.

    But there are ways to reduce our data trail, become more secure online and build a healthier relationship with technology. Some basic steps are to delete your activity as it is stored by search engines such as Google and switch to other browsers. You can delete unnecessary apps, switch to alternative apps for messaging, voice and video calls and maps – ideally to some that offer the same services you are used to, but that do not profit from your data – change passwords, declutter your accounts and renovate your social media profiles, separate your accounts to make it more difficult for tech giants to follow your activities, tighten your social media privacy settings, opt for private browsing (but still, be aware that this does not make you anonymous on the web), disable location services on mobile devices and do many other things that will keep you safer online.

    Another issue that activists face online is misinformation and disinformation strategies. In that regard, there is a need for new tactics and standards to enable civil society groups, activists, bloggers and journalists to react by verifying information and creating evidence based on solid information. Online space can enable this if we promote investigation as a form of engagement. If we know how to protect ourselves, we can make full use of this space, in which there is still room for many positive things.

    Get in touch with Tactical Tech through itswebsite and Facebook page, or follow@Info_Activism on Twitter.

     

  • PERU: ‘The ultra-conservative tide is affecting democratic life and fundamental rights’

    Eliana CanoAs part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks toEliana Cano, founder of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – Peru (Catholics for the Right to Decide – CDD-Peru), a Catholic and feminist movement committed to the pursuit of social justice and the change of cultural patterns that limit women's autonomy and their sexual and reproductive rights. CCD-Peru has recently been sued by the Tomás Moro Legal Centre, which wants to strip it of its legal status on the basis that, within the framework of an agreement between the Vatican State and Peru, it should not be using the term ‘Catholics’.

    CDD-Peru is being sued to have its legal personality withdrawn and prevented from calling itself 'Catholic'. Who is suing you, what do they have against you, and what are they trying to achieve?

    About a month and a half ago we were notified that the Santo Tomás Moro Legal Centre, which is a self-appointed representative of the Catholic Church, had brought a lawsuit against us. According to the lawyers who are advising us, this group began to look into the work done by our organisation about a year ago. They decided to sue us in the civil courts because they want to make this a long, tedious, tiring process, one of permanent appeal. The whole thing can take up to three or four years. Basically, their strategy is to drain us of energy in the process.

    They want us to cease to exist as a registered organisation, recognised by the National Superintendency of Public Registries. In other words, they want us to lose our legal status and not be able to continue operating in Peru. They argue that, by calling ourselves what we do, we are disrespecting the Catholic Church and its parishioners. They say that, in light of the existing agreement between the Vatican State and Peru – which recognises the role of the Catholic Church – we are using the term 'Catholic', which represents an institution and a historical identity, in bad faith. They do not accept the interpretation we make of biblical texts on the basis of feminist theology in order to question dogma, imposed conscience and control of people in the name of God. It is important to note that our organisation is not registered with the Catholic Church as a faith group, and therefore is not subject to the internal mandate of the Church.

    You have been around for a few years. Is this the first time you have faced such reaction?

    Indeed, the project of Catholics for the Right to Decide is quite old in Latin America. It began in Uruguay and then spread to the USA, and from there it passed on to Mexico and other countries of Latin America. In Peru the organisation has had a legal existence since 2009. We organised ourselves because we identify as feminists with a Catholic identity. We see ourselves as Catholic women of faith, but we have a critical view of dogma, of static and closed thought, especially where issues related to sexual and reproductive rights are concerned, as body and sexuality are a terrain where political battles are fought. In Peru there has always been a very homogenous public voice around the Gospels and the right to command over the bodies and lives of women, and we, by questioning this from the position of our Catholic identity, have received a rather aggressive response by the hierarchy of the local Catholic Church and groups linked to it.

    The first public attack happened on the occasion of the debate around the definition of a protocol for therapeutic abortion: abortion that is justified for medical reasons, when there are serious risks to the woman’s health or life. It was an attack tinged with the same resources these groups always use, based on defamation, vilification and lies. But in this case attacks basically took the form of verbal and written attacks on social media.

    Conservative groups know how to manage social media and constantly attack us publicly for everything we do that deviates from dogma or homogeneous discourse. However, this is the first time we have faced a lawsuit, and we were not expecting an attack so direct and of such magnitude. Maybe we should have foreseen it, since in Latin America, and in Peru specifically, ultra-conservative groups have penetrated deeply into the political structure of the country and are affecting democratic life.

    It would seem that these ultra-conservative groups are now larger and more emboldened than they used to be. Why is that?

    When looking back you realise that for several decades a global and regional response has developed to discourage and weaken the liberation theology discourse, which put the emphasis mostly on poverty. With a questioning discourse within the Church that extended to other areas of life, liberation theology made the most hardcore conservative elements of the Church very uncomfortable. The reaction against it has been sustained. It has made a lot of progress, to the point that today a highly organic network has become visible, which has bases in various Latin American countries and its own publications, conferences and considerable economic resources. Its presence began to make itself felt strongly in 2005, when the Center for Family Promotion and Regulation of Birth (Ceprofarena) organised the Second International Pro-Life Congress in the capital, Lima. This congress produced a document known as the Lima Declaration, an expression of the agreement reached by conservative groups.

    Ceprofarena has existed since the early eighties. It maintains close links to Human Life International, a powerful international conservative organisation, and among its members are renowned physicians and senior state officials, including former health ministers. The organisation acts within numerous medical and health organisations, both public and private. These actors put conservative ‘scientific’ discourse at the service of abuses such as the denial of emergency oral contraception, an issue on which they successfully took on the Ministry of Health. They sued the Ministry, bringing to court the right to information and choice of thousands of women, and succeeded in achieving the prohibition of the distribution of emergency contraception by all health services nationwide. Now they are campaigning to dismantle the therapeutic abortion protocol established during the 2011 to2016 period.

    The network of conservative organisations in Peru also includes the Office for Latin America of the Population Research Institute, based in Lima; the Peruvian headquarters of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, which promotes classic family formats and produces and disseminates school books; of course older organisations such as Opus Dei, which does local development and support work and is deeply embedded in educational spaces, as well as within the bureaucracy of the Church; and the Sodalicio de la Vida Cristiana, an organisation of lay people.

    These groups have a lot of money that comes from the conservative business sector and have appropriated effective strategies and discourses. This lawsuit is a practical strategy that denotes a change in their way of organising. They no longer speak the language of the divine and the clerical because they know that it attracts fewer and fewer people; instead they have appropriated the discourse of democracy and human rights.

    Are you thinking of new strategies to face this growing challenge?

    In the present scenario we view ourselves as in need of strengthening our communication strategies. We also need to strengthen our resourcing, since we do not have funds to face a lawsuit of this magnitude. International funders do not necessarily provide support that can be used to develop institutional defence plans. But at present, this is a profound need of human rights organisations. In our case, fortunately the Legal Defence Institute, which had already taken on similar cases affecting journalists, became interested and decided to sponsor the case as part of its institutional priorities. They consider that this is an "ideological fight" and that questioning our name is a "pretext" to make us disappear as influential actors. Theirs has been a gesture that we are infinitely thankful for.

    As far as discourse is concerned, however, we should not move from our positions, but rather show that the appropriation of the discourse of human rights and democracy by ultra-conservative groups is as superficial as disrespectful of democratic principles. As happened recently with the ‘Do not mess with my children’ campaign – against education about gender equality and respect for sexual identities – their discourse tends to become very aggressive every time they feel cornered. They seem to be desperate, because deep down they do nothing but react in the face of newly acquired rights.

    And the situation has indeed progressed, because this is not just us – new generations are mobilised and lots of people who are respectful of freedom and diversity and who uphold guarantees for rights are gaining ground. It is not just three or four old-time feminist organisations that are active in Lima; there are also the voices and faces of young people organised in universities, people in communities in various regions of Peru who think critically, do not accept dogmas, even react in a sarcastic tone to that type of discourse and perspective.

    Of course there is always a Catholic youth following that responds to the Pope and has decided to stay within the ultra-conservative field, but there is also youth social mobilisation around many issues, and with their help many aspects of the sexual and reproductive rights agenda are permeating the public debate. I think this is causing ultra-conservative groups to despair, and that is why they are reacting with such anger, frustration and, I would even dare say, hate. That is, they react with attitudes that are nowhere close to mercy, kindness, humility, understanding and non-judgement.

    Why does the fact that you define yourselves as both Catholics and feminists cause this type of reaction?

    We are women of faith and religion is part of our identity. We have been raised Catholic, and in that context the message that was instilled in us was one of obedience, prohibition and oppression. As we grew up, we rebelled against this and other aspects related to the control of our lives and their sexual dimension. We identify ourselves as Catholic on the basis of a renewed interpretation, but we do not renounce our faith. We are aware that Catholicism is not only a matter of faith, but it also operates within or materialises in an institution, and as such it includes both positive and negative practices that have an impact on the lives of many people, and specifically on its members.

    At the same time, we all come from organisations with a feminist identity. We are feminists and we question patriarchy as a system of asymmetric power relations, but we do not renounce our faith. We always ask ourselves these questions: why should our religion have to have one single voice, uniform and unquestionable? Why obey in silence and validate sacrifice and suffering in our own lives and bodies? We find a foothold in feminist theology, which offers a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Gospel. These conceptual and political tools strengthen our conviction and our public struggle for sexual and reproductive rights.

    High Church officials tell us: ‘you are not Catholic, who are you to speak in the name of Catholicism?’ We respond: ‘what makes you a Catholic, what allows you to trample rights in the name of God?’ We have claimed ownership of the language of the Gospel that focuses on the right of people to deliberate in conscience, to discern and to decide, and this bothers them. I am a Catholic, I was baptised and I am guided by feminist theology. You cannot question my faith, just as I cannot question yours. This is a very hard fight, because it is easy to fall in the face of a mass telling you that you are not one of them. From the beginning we knew that we would face disqualification, defamation and lies; we did not, however, think that the attacks would become as violent as those we are currently experiencing on social media, as well as in the form of a lawsuit.

    Given that the experience of faith cannot be taken away from us, what they are trying to do is take away our legal status, make us disappear. We represent a danger because we are not just a few. In fact, more and more people are increasingly getting to know us and identify with us. We represent the position of many people who do not necessarily have the opportunity to articulate this strand of thought publicly, but who feel it and live by it. There is a wide and diverse congregation that does not think the same way as the Church hierarchy and considers that the ultra-conservative response to public policy is more suitable to Inquisition times than today. According to polls, most Catholics disagree with the Church hierarchy on many important issues, such as homosexuality, which they do not consider to be an illness or a divine punishment, or same-sex marriage. Choosing an abortion in specific life circumstances is a highly ethical and responsible decision, and it does not make you a bad woman, a lesser Catholic, or a bad mother. Using contraceptives to regulate motherhood and fatherhood or enjoying a sexual relationship without procreating is not prohibited by the Gospels. The state of virginity is losing its divine quality and this is freeing women from feelings of guilt, even in societies such as Latin America’s, where governments and the Catholic Church have always worked in concert to regulate people’s lives. Still today they support one another every time one of them loses credibility.

    How else are you trying to encourage a distinction between private faith and public policy?

    Ours is also a struggle for a secular state, a state that is separated from all churches. This is very difficult to achieve in practice, since the Catholic Church and the Peruvian state maintain strong institutional ties. However, short of achieving constitutional and legal separation between Church and state, there is another fight to be had in the sphere of collective attitudes. Many people – politicians, public officials, civil servants – reach the public sphere without giving a thought to the importance of separating religious beliefs from public function. As a result, many lawmakers and public officials make decisions based on their religious beliefs. It is very common to find crucifixes, chapels and religious images in ministry buildings. In our everyday lives religion surrounds us and limits us; there are no clear boundaries between religious practice and public functions.

    Ultra-conservative groups set themselves on this ground and seek to further expand the dictates of a religion that presents itself as homogeneous, with the intention of forcing all citizens to live according to their own beliefs and mandates. The problem is not religion in itself; the difficulty lies with the political use of religion within the political-public sphere, where there is a duty to guarantee human rights.

     

    Civic space in Peru is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir-Perú through their webpage and Facebook

     

  • POLOGNE : « Nous avons inventé de nouvelles formes de protestation parce que nous n’avions pas d’autre choix »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Klementyna Suchanow, activiste, auteure et chercheuse basée à Varsovie, en Pologne, au sujet de l‘annonce récente du gouvernement polonais d’entamer le processus de retrait de la Convention d’Istanbul sur la violence contre les femmes. Klementyna est l’une des fondatrices de laGrève des femmes polonaises et de la Grève internationale des femmes. La grève des femmes polonaises est un mouvement féministe de base fondé en 2016 pour défendre les droits des femmes contre l’initiative du gouvernement visant à interdire et à criminaliser l’avortement. Pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19, le mouvement est resté uni et actif grâce à un groupe Facebook et continue de se mobiliser pour les droits des femmes polonaises.

     

  • RÉPUBLIQUE DOMINICAINE : « Nous faisons partie d’un mouvement antiraciste global »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Elena Lorac, coordinatrice de Reconoci.do, un réseau civique indépendant et pluraliste composé principalement de jeunes Dominicains d’origine haïtienne. Reconoci.do défend les droits humains et promeut l’intégration réelle, pleine et effective des Dominicains d’origine haïtienne dans la société dominicaine. Présent sur tout le territoire de la République dominicaine, Reconoci.do défend la vision d’un pays multiculturel où les personnes de toutes origines vivent ensemble avec dignité, sans stigmatisation ni discrimination, et où leurs droits fondamentaux sont respectés par la société et protégés par l’État.

     

  • SWEDEN: ‘Swedish civil society needs to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis’

    Anna Carin HallAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. Following Sweden’s September election, CIVICUS speaks to Anna-Carin Hall, press officer at Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman), a Swedish civil society foundation that seeks to strengthenthe role of women in conflict regions by collaborating with women’s organisations and supporting their work to promote women’s rights and peace. Its advocacy focuses on six thematic areas: safe meeting places, the empowerment of women’s rights defenders, increasing women’s power, women’s participation in peace processes, power over one’s body and security for all.

    Sweden’s September election saw support fall for the established centre-left and centre-right parties and rise for the far-right Sweden Democrats. What factors lie behind this result, and what broader trends do you think it points to?

    First, I must emphasise that my answers reflect my own personal opinions rather than those of the organisation I work for. Kvinna till Kvinna is a politically and ideologically independent organisation and has only taken one single standpoint regarding the elections – against what we see as the Sweden Democrats’ anti-feminist policy.

    That said, the drop in support for social democratic parties, for example, is an ongoing trend all over Europe, and not just in Sweden, so one answer could be that this global trend towards a more traditional, nationalist and authoritarian climate finally got hold of Sweden, too.

    Part of the explanation is, as always, fear of globalisation, as traditional jobs move out of Sweden as a result of cost-efficiency thinking, and a large influx of migrants over a short time span, particularly in 2015, create a heavy pressure on the Swedish welfare system, including education and health services, as well as housing shortages.

    Before the election there was also public discussion about the gap between urban and rural areas in Sweden, and around health services shutting down in remote areas. Support for the Sweden Democrats is more common in regions with low education, low income and high unemployment.

    Nevertheless, the Swedish economy is still very strong, and Swedes are in no way suffering economically because of heavy immigration. But large migration centres set up in the countryside have altered the makeup of the population very quickly, causing tension in these places. Additionally, long-term studies in Sweden have shown that for many decades public opinion has been less pro-immigrant than the policies of the dominant parties, and the Sweden Democrats are now being able to capitalise on this.

    Apart from the economy, insecurity issues have also been used to stir anti-immigrant sentiment. A rising level of spectacular shootings among criminal gangs in some immigrant-dominated suburbs has attracted the attention of both Swedish and international media – one of those events was even mentioned by US President Donald Trump, who incorrectly implied that it had been a terrorist attack – and alt-right websites have used these politically a lot.

    Longer term, do you expect support for far-right causes to continue rise, or do you think it has peaked?

    There are different views on this. Some analysts say that the Sweden Democrats have become popular because the other parties in parliament have tried to shut them out. As a result, the Sweden Democrats and their supporters have been able to play the role of victims and claim that the political elite does not care for the views of the common people. Some therefore argue that the Sweden Democrats should be included in the government, and refer to the case of Finland, where Sannfinnlandarna, a nationalist party, reached the government and showed themselves unfit to govern, as a result of which support for them rapidly dropped. This is suggested as one potentially easy way to get the Sweden Democrats off the agenda.

    Several analysts have predicted that the Sweden Democrats will rise a bit more in the next election and will then start to lose popularity. The explanation for this would be that the right turn in the Western world will eventually fade out - but this is really just an assumption, with not much in terms of facts to support it.

    Are these trends indicative of rising currents of xenophobia and racism? If so, how have the more mainstream political parties responded to these and how have they impacted on rights-oriented civil society?

    There is a discussion in Swedish media right now regarding whether support for the Sweden Democrats is driven mainly by xenophobia and racism. Some opinion-makers claim this is the case, but there are surveys pointing towards the fact that Swedes think that the problem is failed integration, rather than immigration itself. Swedish society hasn´t been able to provide immigrant groups with proper education in Swedish, guidance about the Swedish community, decent jobs and so on.

    The change in the political climate manifests itself in, for example, more outspoken discussion of the costs of immigration and its impact on the Swedish welfare system. We can also see a more vivid discussion around cultural or traditional behaviour, such as honour crimes, with some claiming that for too long Sweden has not taken a strong stand against this and avoided several conflictive issues around immigration and integration that were considered culturally sensitive.

    The normalisation of the Sweden Democrats, a party that originated in the Neo-Nazi movement of the 1970s and 1980s, has also led to a louder alt-right Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden, which though still low in numbers, gets a lot of media attention. Several alt-right media outlets are spreading fake news about crime rates among immigrants. Alt-right groups are also making threats, spreading hatred and running smear campaigns in social media. This climate may very well lead to self-censorship among pro-immigration, feminist and LGBTQI groups.

    Mainstream parties have responded to all of this by moving towards a more moderate immigration policy and placing higher demands on immigrants – for instance, by introducing new requirements that they must meet in order to receive social aid and subsidies. Rights-oriented civil society groups are still trying to raise their voices in favour of a generous immigration policy based on humanitarian values, but they aren’t getting much attention these days.

    How is civil society working to combat xenophobia, racism and right-wing populism in Sweden, and what else could it do to build support for human rights and social justice?

    Open racism and xenophobia are in no way tolerated by the vast majority of Swedes, and several local rallies have been staged against racism and the Neo-Nazi movement both before and after the elections. Rights-oriented civil society has prepared for a long time to counter these trends, but stills needs the support of large groups of everyday people to have an impact on official discourse and the public conversation.

    Swedes take great pride in their open society and will likely defend the free press, the freedom of speech and gender equality, among other values. Threats and hatred against immigrants, journalists, feminists and LGBTQI activists get much attention in the media and several political actions have been organised to prevent them from happening. So, if a right-wing government forms with silent or open parliamentary support from the Sweden Democrats, we will likely see a lot of strong reactions from the political and cultural establishment as well as from civil society.

    In the long run, Swedish civil society needs to work to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis, and maybe it also needs to go to the barricades to build opinion and change what could turn out to be a dangerous course of history.

    Civic space in Sweden is rated as ‘open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Kvinna till Kvinna through its website and Facebook page or follow@Kvinna_t_Kvinna on Twitter.