grupos anti-derechos

 

  • CHILE: ‘Se ha producido un despertar ciudadano de dimensiones históricas’

    soledad munozEn octubre de 2019 estallaron en Chile protestas protagonizadas por estudiantes, inicialmente en rechazo de un aumento en el precio del transporte, que rápidamente escalaron hasta convertirse en multitudinarias manifestaciones en reclamo de cambios estructurales, y fueron ferozmente reprimidas por las fuerzas de seguridad. CIVICUS conversa sobre las protestas con Soledad Fátima Muñoz, activista chilena y fundadora del programa de mentoría y festival feministaCurrent Symposium.  (Foto de Kati Jenson)

    ¿Cómo fue que lo que empezó con un pequeño aumento en el precio del boleto del metro se convirtió en una movilización de dimensiones sin precedentes?

    Lo primero que hay que aclarar es que esto no se debe tan solo a un aumento del precio del boleto del metro, ni tampoco es una protesta aislada. Las movilizaciones en contra de los abusos derivados del sistema neoliberal han sido constantes en Chile durante años. Entre ellas se destacaron las protestas masivas contra el sistema de pensiones privatizadas, contra el Acuerdo Transpacífico de Cooperación Económica y contra la Ley de Pesca, las protestas feministas y del movimiento impulsado bajo la consigna “Ni Una Menos”, las movilizaciones por la deuda histórica con los profesores, las protestas estudiantiles en 2006 y 2011, y las recientes movilizaciones de alumnos en contra de la llamada Ley de Aula Segura. A esto se le suma la indignación por la represión estatal sistemática de los pueblos originarios en Wallmapu, las muertes de Camilo Catrillanca y Macarena Valdés, y el encarcelamiento de la Machi Francisca Linconao y el Lonko Alberto Curamil, entre otros presos políticos. En combinación con el descontento generacional ante la impunidad de los culpables de las torturas, desapariciones y homicidios de miles de personas durante la dictadura de Augusto Pinochet, esto produjo un ambiente propicio para un despertar ciudadano de dimensiones históricas. Tras años de abusos, el pueblo chileno despertó y quiere una nueva constitución, ya que la actual fue creada durante la dictadura y está diseñada para promover la desigualdad social.

    La gran diferencia entre la protesta actual y todas las anteriores pasa por las acciones del gobierno de Sebastián Piñera, que declaró el estado de emergencia y el toque de queda, y con ello desató una represión de Carabineros y militares contra el pueblo chileno que solo es comparable con los crímenes perpetrados durante la dictadura.

    Las protestas no tienen un único ente organizador ni una consigna política específica, sino que hay muchas iniciativas independientes que hacen llamados a reunirse y manifestar, a través de las redes sociales o por distintos canales de información independiente. Algunas de las demandas generalizadas reclaman el llamado a una Asamblea Constituyente que redacte una nueva Constitución. También se reclama una estatización de los servicios básicos y la nacionalización de los recursos naturales, entre ellos el cobre, el litio y el agua. Hay también demandas de democracia directa y plebiscitos vinculantes, penalización de la corrupción político-empresarial, reivindicación de los pueblos originarios y respeto de la soberanía plurinacional del territorio, y salud, educación y pensiones dignas. A ello se suman algunas demandas más específicas, tales como el aumento del salario mínimo a $500.000 (unos 650 dólares estadounidenses), la reducción de los sueldos de los legisladores y el alza de los impuestos a los más ricos.

    Estos fueron los reclamos por los cuales empezó el movimiento, pero ante la represión desmedida del Estado, la ciudadanía hoy pide también la renuncia y el enjuiciamiento de Sebastián Piñera y de las personas involucradas en las violaciones sistemáticas de los derechos humanos ocurridas en el pasado mes.

    Se ha reportado una veintena de muertos durante la represión de las movilizaciones, además de gran cantidad de personas heridas y bajo arresto. ¿Podrías describir las violaciones de derechos cometidas contra los manifestantes?

    Es difícil dimensionar en este minuto las violaciones de derechos humanos que está cometiendo el gobierno de Sebastián Piñera, ya que – al igual que ocurría en la dictadura - hay miles de detenidos incomunicados. Es por eso que cuando se las llevan detenidas en las calles, las personas gritan su nombre, apellido y cédula de identidad. Las últimas cifras oficiales del Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos (INDH) de Chile son de 335 acciones judiciales, 489 víctimas representadas, 6.199 personas detenidas (726 de ellas menores de edad) y 2.365 personas heridas registradas en hospitales. Pero es difícil asegurar la veracidad de estas cifras ya que las instituciones que las difunden pueden haberse visto presionadas por el gobierno.

    El INDH, específicamente, perdió parte de su credibilidad cuando su director negó en un programa de televisión abierta la existencia de violaciones sistemáticas de derechos humanos en nuestro país. Eso es simplemente una mentira, ya que la propia institución se ha querellado en contra del actuar de Carabineros y militares. Se constataron más de 200 casos de mutilación ocular por el uso desmedido de perdigones por parte de Carabineros y maltratos, violencia sexual y torturas en los centros de detención. A esto se sumó el caso del Liceo 7 de Santiago, donde un carabinero disparó en contra de las estudiantes que se encontraban dentro del recinto. Se han efectuado allanamientos en domicilios privados y detenciones desde automóviles sin acreditamientos policial.

    A esta represión uniformada se agrega la acción de un grupo de ciudadanos que se autoproclaman “chalecos amarillos” y dicen que su misión es mantener el orden cívico y proteger la labor de Carabineros, pero en realidad son un grupo violento de ultraderecha. Entre ellos se encuentra un tal John Cobin, quien disparó un arma de fuego contra un manifestante a plena luz del día en las calles ocupadas del balneario de Reñaca y pertenece a la Liga del Sur, una organización de supremacistas blancos de California.

    ¿Qué acciones inmediatas debería adoptar el gobierno de Chile para salvaguardar los derechos civiles y las libertades democráticas?

    A un mes del inicio de las manifestaciones, el gobierno se ha caracterizado por no escuchar a la ciudadanía, y en cambio ha respondido con mayor violencia. En la madrugada del 15 de noviembre los parlamentarios llegaron a un acuerdo político entre cuatro paredes, autodenominado “Acuerdo de Paz” que daría paso a una nueva Constitución. El acuerdo garantiza una “hoja en blanco” para que haya una discusión libre y establece el llamado a una convención constituyente a través de un plebiscito público. Pero parte de la ciudadanía movilizada no está conforme con los plazos ni con el quórum (de dos tercios) establecido para la toma de decisiones del órgano constituyente, ya que piensa que reencauzará el actual proceso democrático a un sistema diseñado para proteger a la clase política y evitar que las voces minoritarias adquieran poder.

    Pienso que lo más importante en este minuto es la seguridad de la ciudadanía y, sobre todo, de las comunidades en mayor riesgo social, que no solo son las más afectadas por el sistema neoliberal, sino que también son el epicentro de la violencia descriteriada de los Carabineros y las Fuerzas Armadas. Un ejemplo de ello fue la comunidad de Lo Hermida, en Peñalolén, que tras el anuncio de las autoridades de no construir las viviendas dignas que les habían prometido se tomaron la viña de Cousiño-Macul. La represión de Carabineros no tardó en llegar, y en una noche hubo más de 200 personas heridas, dos de ellas con trauma ocular severo. Además, Carabineros ingresó y lanzó gas pimienta dentro de hogares donde había personas de la tercera edad y menores.

    Es hora de que el gobierno de Sebastián Piñera detenga la represión, deje en libertad a los más de 6.000 manifestantes que hoy se encuentran en centros de detención, asuma las consecuencias de sus acciones, y - por primera vez en la historia de Chile desde Pinochet - acabe con la impunidad ante las violaciones sistemáticas de derechos humanos. El gobierno de Piñera deberá responder ante la ley por los más de 20 personas muertas y 200 con mutilaciones oculares, las torturas a menores y los abusos sexuales contra mujeres, hombres y personas de género no binario, ya que todo esto fue consecuencia de la pésima administración de su gobierno, y se hubiese evitado, por lo menos en parte, si desde un principio hubiera mantenido un diálogo directo con la población. En ese sentido, la consigna en las calles es “Sin justicia no hay paz”.

    ¿Piensas que las movilizaciones en Chile forman parte de tendencias más amplias a nivel regional?

    Lo que está pasando en Chile es estructuralmente internacional, ya que se deriva de las medidas de austeridad perpetradas por el neoliberalismo. El sistema socioeconómico actual del país tiene sus raíces en el colonialismo europeo y fue consagrado con el golpe de Estado de Pinochet en 1973. Específicamente, con un grupo de estudiantes de las élites chilenas que a mediados de la década del ’50 se formaron en Estados Unidos en la ideología del monetarismo extremo y el neoliberalismo, bajo la tutela de Milton Friedman y Arnold Harberger. Estos alumnos - apodados “Chicago Boys” - sirvieron como ministros de Hacienda y Economía durante la dictadura, instalando medidas de privatización extrema. Estas medidas fueron incorporadas y naturalizadas por una población en estado de shock y represión.

    Las consecuencias de esa privatización se traducen en abusos de las corporaciones multinacionales que son habilitados por gobiernos en todo el mundo. En Chile, un buen ejemplo de ello es el caso expuesto por la periodista Meera Karunananthan en un artículo publicado en The Guardian en 2017. La autora explica que Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) es el mayor inversionista en Aguas del Valle, Essbio y Esval, que controla el 41% del sistema de agua y saneamiento en Chile. Esto es posible porque la Constitución chilena habilita la propiedad privada de las aguas, lo cual ha dejado a comunidades enteras en situación de sequía y sin el amparo de la ley. Sin embargo, en 2010 la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas aprobó una resolución que reconoció el acceso al agua y al saneamiento como un derecho humano; eso significa que en Chile los derechos humanos se violentan no solo a través de la represión policial sino también a través del sostenimiento de un sistema económico injusto y abusivo.

    El ejemplo citado es uno solo dentro de la gran cadena de abusos internacionales perpetrados por corporaciones que, como la empresa canadiense Barrick Gold y la empresa estatal de Noruega Statkraft, continúan abusando de las políticas del Estado subsidiario chileno y atentando en contra de nuestro planeta. Es por eso que debemos crear conciencia a nivel internacional para que se respeten las decisiones del pueblo de Chile y se brinde protección a sus pueblos originarios, sin los bloqueos ni las intervenciones políticas que resguardan al capital extranjero y perpetúan la destrucción de nuestro medio ambiente.

    ¿Qué apoyos necesita la sociedad civil chilena de la sociedad civil internacional en este proceso?

    En estos momentos es importante reconocer y crear conciencia internacional en torno de los abusos en contra de la clase obrera, los pueblos originarios, las comunidades afrodescendientes y las minorías sexuales. Personalmente he aprendido mucho en el curso de estas movilizaciones. Una de las cosas más subversivas que está impulsando la ciudadanía es el rechazo del binarismo derecha/izquierda que ha afectado severamente a las sociedades latinoamericanas y que ha sido utilizado por los gobiernos neoliberales como excusa para reprimir a la gente trabajadora.  El predominio de una política ciudadana no identificada con ninguna posición dogmática en el espectro derecha/izquierda hizo que el gobierno no pudiera identificar un enemigo ideológico y que acabara declarándole la guerra a su propio pueblo.

    La prensa establecida, nacional e internacional, está tergiversado los hechos y construyendo una narrativa en contra de la población movilizada. Pero a diferencia de lo que ocurría en el pasado, hoy estamos equipados de cámaras en nuestros celulares y podemos informar directamente. Invito a la gente del mundo a informarse a través de canales independientes y de la sociedad civil para saber realmente lo que está ocurriendo.

    El espacio cívico en Chile es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contáctese con Soledad Muñoz a través de supágina web o siga amúsica_del_telar en Instagram.

     

  • CONSPIRACY THEORIES: ‘When social trust has been eroded, people don’t know what to believe’

    Chip BerletAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups and how they are responding. CIVICUS speaks about the role that conspiracy theories are playing with Chip Berlet,an investigative journalist and activist who specialises in the study of extreme right-wing movements in the USA.

     

    You have done a lot of work around social and political speech that demonises specific groups in society. You call this the rhetoric of scripted violence. What is scripted violence, and how is it operating in the USA?

    Scripted violence is part of a dynamic process in a society under lots and lots of stress. It starts with stories circulating in a nation that warn of subversion and conspiracies. These stories are called ‘narratives of insecurity’ by Professor Abdelwahab El-Affendi, and he warns that these stories can lead to mass violence and other forms of terrorism. The process continues with ‘scripted violence’, which is when a high-status political or religious leader publicly identifies and demonises a specific group of people alleged to be conspiring to ruin the ideal nation. The result is called ‘stochastic terrorism’. That’s an awkward term, but it just means that the specific terrorist act is unpredictable. Yet the violence has been generated by this three-step process that starts with conspiracy theories.

    Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but now they seem to be more widespread than ever. What role has the internet played in spreading them?

    Conspiracy theories have always been around. Conspiracy theories are improbable explanations alleging a vast conspiracy by evil powerful people and their cronies. Stories circulate that make allegations posing as facts. During moments of societal stress and political change it is often harder for folks to separate what is reality-based, what is political propaganda and what is pure fantasy.

    The internet has been fertile ground for planting misinformation and conspiracy theories because it’s a new medium, and all new forms of mass media go through a phase in which they are easily misinterpreted, and there are as yet not enough safeguards in place, so it’s hard for folks to tell reliable and unreliable content apart. We live in a time in which too many people think stories are real if they are on the internet. When you go to a library, there is the fiction section, and then there’s the rest of the library, where you can find history, science and other material based on facts. But content has not yet been separated that way in the internet age.

    We are going through an adjustment period. We are still learning how to use the medium. In the past, misunderstandings arose when people were using a new medium that they didn’t truly understand. In the USA, the best example of this happened in 1938, when a fictional story about a Martian invasion, The War of the Worlds, was broadcast during a radio programme, and people didn’t realise it was not real news, so some people called the police and went running out into the streets in a panic. Similarly, it is really difficult for the average person to differentiate between what’s a reliable piece of information and what’s just a conspiracy theory recirculated by someone with no training or understanding of the subject they post on. Much worse is when sinister propaganda is spread for political gain. There currently is no mechanism to separate what’s true and what’s fake on the internet, although I hope someday there will be.

    Conspiracy theories abound on both right and left, but these days largely seem to be fuelling far-right movements. Do you see any affinity between conspiracy theories and the extreme right?

    I don’t think it has as much to do with the left or right side of the political spectrum, but rather with fear and instability in a specific society at a specific moment. What would cause relatively normal and average people, wherever they are on the political spectrum, to act out against a claimed enemy? It’s because they believe their society is under attack, and then act accordingly.

    In any healthy society there always are conspiracy theories circulating, but when you hear them from somebody pushing a shopping cart down the street with all their belongings and shouting about an imminent Martian invasion, almost nobody pays any attention. These conspiracy theories are dismissed because they are being circulated by marginal or low-status folks. Most rational people simply reject them.

    In an unhealthy and unstable society, in contrast, people don’t know what to believe, and may latch onto normally farfetched theories to explain why they feel so powerless. When social trust has been eroded and there is so much anger, increasingly less legitimacy is assigned to people who have actual knowledge. Instead, it is transferred to those who will name the evildoers. And some people lack the kind of restraints that most of us luckily have and prevent us from attacking others who are not like us and might seem threatening or dangerous.

    Let’s say I’m an average middle-aged, middle-class white male in the USA, and I’m stressed and anxious because I fear that my status in society is being diminished. And then someone comes and tells me it’s okay to feel that way because there are evil forces at play that are causing this and tells me who is to blame for what is happening to me. According to this narrative, I would be still seated near the top of the social ladder if it weren’t for those people.

    Of course, people who have privilege see it as normal. We are not aware of it. So, when the status quo that has folks like them near the top changes – because previously marginalised groups successfully claim rights for themselves – the privileged don’t see this as the loss of unfair privileges, but as undermining the natural order, the traditional community or the nation itself. They talk about themselves as real ‘producers’ in the society being dragged down by lazy, sinful, or subversive ‘parasites’.

    In other words, conspiracy theories are a reflection of a society that is under stress, and they cause people who would normally be ignored suddenly to have an audience to speak to because they appear to have the answer that everybody else is lacking. People are disoriented: they do not feel connected to a common narrative of a healthy nation. Folks feel that their society, ‘our’ society, is under attack by ‘the others’, whoever they might be. So, if someone comes and tells them the name of the group of ‘others’ who are destroying our idealised community or nation, then common sense will tell us to stop them. Perhaps we need to eliminate them before they attack us – and that’s the narrative storyline of every genocide in history.

    Isn’t it strange that so many ‘others’ in today’s conspiracy theories do not really have the power that they are attributed: they are usually already vulnerable groups whose rights are being attacked?

    There is an interesting dynamic storyline in many conspiracy theories about the sinister people below working with certain traitorous powerful people above. Conspiracy theories, especially in the middle class, tend to identify a group of evil people down below on the socio-economic spectrum when defining who belongs and who doesn’t belong to the nation. So, a lot of the problems are blamed on these people down below in the ‘lower’ class who are portrayed as lazy and ‘picking the pockets’ of the middle class by draining tax dollars. Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, wrote a book about this called Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class.

    But the middle-class conspiracy theorists generally also blame a sector of the ruling elites who are portrayed as traitors. So if you look, let’s say, at the US political scene today, the narrative during the Trump administration blames some people who are down below and who are portrayed as lazy, sinful, or subversive. These folks are breaking the rules or taking advantage. But some people listed as conspirators are high-status: such as those rich, Democratic Party bureaucrats who are depicted as the ones pulling the strings, as in a puppet show. Sometimes those spreading the conspiracy theories use a graphic of a huge mechanical vice squeezing the middle class from above and below.

    Is there anything that progressive civil society could do to counter these regressive trends?

    There sure is. Democratic civil society has historically developed mechanisms to face these challenges. Historically, religious leaders and journalists have played a very important role in making these kinds of claims become judged unacceptable. But the influence of both of these actors has now collapsed. Religious figures have been losing their status everywhere except in religious authoritarian countries. The internet is undermining the influence of major news organisations, and the cost of producing good journalism has become very high relative to the cost of posting a rumour on the internet. So, democracies need to develop new safeguards and mechanisms to counter these trends.

    In the age of the internet, these mechanisms have not yet been developed. But although we are going through a very unstable and stressful period, the situation is not hopeless. The history of democracy is a sort of cycle in which at some point things stabilise only to fall apart again eventually until resistance builds up and safeguards are put back in place.

    Leaders with some status and legitimacy within democratic civil society need to admit that we are in a really bad place and we’ve got to fix it together, so that the answer comes not from the demagogic and authoritarian political space, but from the democratic one – the demos – and that’s all of us. People need to start talking to their neighbours about the things that are not going well and about how to fix them, because these problems can only be solved collectively. When doing activist training sessions, I tell people to go sit at a bus stop and talk to the first person who sits down next to them. If you can get up the courage to do that, then you certainly can talk to your neighbours and co-workers. Regular people need to start doing just that.

    In the USA, there is a kind of smug, liberal treatment of people who feel that they are being pushed down the ladder. These folks are not ‘deplorables’; they are basically scared people. These are people who had a union job and worked in a machine shop or at building automobiles. They worked for 30 years and now have nothing: their whole world has been shot down while others have become billionaires. They cannot be dismissed as ‘deplorables’. That word slip may have actually cost Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton the election. We need to engage these people who are so angry and disoriented in face-to-face conversations. We need to care about them.

    How can these conversations take place when social media, increasingly the means of communication of choice, often operates as an echo chamber that solidifies beliefs and fuels polarisation?

    I know, I’m so old-fashioned. My solution is actually quite low-tech. You know, my wife and I have been political activists for many years, and as students in the 1960s we were involved in the anti-racist civil rights movement. At one point black organisers said: if white people really want to challenge racism against black people they should move into white communities where there is racism and try to turn it around. So in 1977, my wife and I picked up our household and moved to Chicago, Illinois. We lived in an overwhelmingly white Southwest side neighbourhood where there was white racism, but also Nazis, literally guys in Nazi uniforms, kicking black people out of the neighbourhood. A house on our street was firebombed.

    Eventually we became part of a community group, and for the first three years we were out-organised by neo-Nazis. Few things could be more mortifying for a leftist activist in 1970s USA. But in the Southwest side of Chicago there was also a multi-racial group, which we joined. One day some of us who were strategists were invited over to a house for a meeting with a group of black ministers. They sat us down and gave us coffee and tea, cakes and cookies, and then one of them asked, “Do you know why black parents take turns sleeping in your neighbourhood?” We looked at each other; we had no idea. They said, “That’s because when the firebomb explodes one of the adults has to be awake to get the kids out of the house.” It had never occurred to us that black parents had to take turns to stay up all night in their own homes so they could just stay alive. Then another of the ministers said, “Do you think all those white Catholic women want babies to get killed by firebombs?” We said no, and he replied, “Well, there’s your strategy.”

    Our strategy was to start talking to people: first to Catholic women who were horrified to learn what was going on, then getting them to talk to their neighbours and members of their congregations. Eventually some white Catholic priests started talking about what was happening. Five years later, the neighbourhood had become safe for black people to live in.

    It seems we still have a lot to learn from the civil rights movement and their organising tactics. Nowadays it’s so tempting to organise and mobilise online, because it’s so fast, but it’s also so much more difficult to create sustained commitment, isn’t it?

    Yes. I think face-to-face organising is still how you change neighbourhoods, and how neighbourhoods change societies. But of course, you cannot ask young people who are using technology to organise and protest to let go of the internet. You can’t tell people to ignore the technologies that exist. We do have a technology that enables instantaneity. I post constantly on the internet, I have a Facebook page and so on. I think it’s great to use the internet to organise people to confront racism online as well as to organise counter-demonstrations when white supremacists gather. But that’s not enough, in the same way as in the 1960s it wasn’t enough for writers to just write about the evils of racism. Those kinds of articles were published all along, but nothing really changed until people started organising – that is, talking to their neighbours to challenge the status quo.

    Take civil rights legend Rosa Parks, who sat down in the white section of a bus in Alabama. There is the misconception that her act was spontaneous, but it was nothing like that: it was a tactic created by a training centre that had been set up in the south by religious leaders and trade unions. Behind one black woman who refused to give up her seat in the front rows of a bus were 10 years of training and organising at the Highland Center.

    In a way, that’s also what the young climate activists and the members of the new democracy movements are doing. Look at Hong Kong: it is people rising up and saying ‘enough,’ often organising online while also organising and mobilising locally, staying in their neighbourhood, talking to their neighbours, building networks. And internationally we see young people demanding a right to stay alive – just stay alive.

    You need organisation, you need training in strategies and tactics, you need support groups, and you need to talk to your neighbours. That’s how it works; there is no magic formula.

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

    Get in touch with Chip Berlet through hisFacebook profile andAcademia page, follow@cberlet on Twitter, and visit Chip’sonline resources page on these topics.

     

  • COSTA RICA: ‘Logrado el cambio legal, la política pública debe continuar enfocándose en la exclusión estructural’

    El 26 de mayo de 2020 Costa Rica se convirtió en el primer país de Centroamérica en reconocer el matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo. CIVICUS conversa con Herman Duarte, abogado habilitado para ejercer en Costa Rica y El Salvador y director deSimple Legal Consulting, así como enlace para América Latina del Comité de Derechos Humanos de la Asociación Internacional de Abogados y fundador y presidente de la Fundación Igualitxs. Fundación Igualitxs es un centro de pensamiento líder en América Central, enfocado en la promoción del matrimonio civil igualitario en la región. Persigue este objetivo mediante la conducción de litigios estratégicos a nivel tanto nacional como interamericano, la presentación de sus ideas en sitios de alto prestigio académico y el trabajo con aliados internacionales de alto nivel.

    Herman Duarte 

    ¿Qué roles desempeñaron la sociedad civil y el gobierno en el proceso que condujo a la legalización del matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo en Costa Rica?

    Costa Rica es una democracia constitucional estructurada como un estado unitario con tres poderes - legislativo, ejecutivo y judicial – en principio independientes, donde, al menos en teoría, se respetan los principios del Estado de derecho y la igualdad legal de trato de todos sus habitantes. Pero también es un Estado confesional: su constitución reconoce expresamente al catolicismo como la religión oficial. En las últimas décadas, las congregaciones evangélicas se han expandido en número hasta llegar a ser cerca de 3.800. Hacia 2017, más del 80% de la población se identificaba como católica o evangélica; claramente, Costa Rica es culturalmente un país conservador.

    En el marco de una lucha de décadas del movimiento de la diversidad, el puntapié inicial lo dio el Gobierno de Costa Rica, cuando en mayo de 2016 solicitó a la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Corte IDH) una opinión consultiva respecto de los derechos patrimoniales de las parejas del mismo sexo. Esta consulta abrió una ventana para todas las partes interesadas en presentar argumentos, cosa que hicieron más de 90 actores de naturaleza variada, como Estados, organizaciones internacionales, organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC), universidades y particulares. Las audiencias tuvieron lugar los días 16 y 17 de mayo de 2017 y nosotros participamos en ellas.

    El impulso generado por este evento se reflejó en la organización del Primer Congreso de Matrimonio Igualitario, celebrado en San José en noviembre de 2017, que reunió a más de 54 oradores de la región. En enero de 2018 la Corte IDH publicó su decisión, donde explicaba que los Estados parte deberían regular el estatus de las familias no heterosexuales, abriendo las puertas del matrimonio civil a las parejas del mismo sexo. Un grupo de 60 organizaciones LGBTQI+ de la región celebró la decisión como la más importante en la historia de los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+ hasta la fecha.

    En ese momento se generó una gran discusión sobre si la opinión de la Corte IDH era o no vinculante para Costa Rica, pero la Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica saldó este debate en agosto de 2018, cuando argumentó que las secciones del Código de Familia que limitaban el matrimonio civil (no religioso) a las parejas heterosexuales eran inconstitucionales. El fallo dio a la Asamblea Legislativa 18 meses para enmendar la normativa; caso contrario, la restricción se levantaría automáticamente y a partir del 26 de mayo de 2020 cualquier pareja podría casarse sin obstáculo alguno en Costa Rica. Y así fue, ya que no hubo consenso legislativo para legislar en ese sentido.

    En el trayecto hacia la entrada en vigencia del fallo de la Corte se desarrollaron importantes campañas de la sociedad civil para generar aceptación social que acompañara al cambio normativo.

     

    ¿Debieron enfrentar reacciones de grupos anti-derechos?

    La reacción de los sectores conservadores ha sido brutal. Hay que entender que la comunidad LGBTQI+ ha enmarcado sus luchas en la demanda del reconocimiento de su dignidad humana y su igual valor en tanto que seres humanos y que de igual modo los grupos religiosos se han movilizado como grupos de identidad – solo que su identidad es definida en forma estrecha, no universalista, en oposición a un enemigo. Estos grupos canalizaron los resentimientos provocados por los cambios legales igualadores y dieron esperanzas a quienes se habían sentido desplazados por ellos, dando lugar al surgimiento de partidos políticos religiosos.

    En ese contexto, las elecciones presidenciales de 2018 se convirtieron en una especie de referéndum sobre los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+, y específicamente sobre el matrimonio igualitario. Un pastor evangélico, Fabricio Alvarado, por entonces el único congresista de un partido evangélico, se postuló para la presidencia, explotando los sentimientos de indignación y temor de la ciudadanía conservadora ante el fallo de la Corte Suprema. El candidato se destacó por sus declaraciones incendiarias; declaró, por ejemplo, que la homosexualidad era “causada por el diablo”. Así escaló hasta el primer lugar en las encuestas preelectorales: en solo un mes pasó del 3% al 17% de la intención de voto, y se impuso en la primera vuelta de las elecciones presidenciales, conquistando además 14 de los 54 escaños legislativos, lo cual representó un aumento del 1300% en la presencia legislativa de su partido político.

    La segunda vuelta para la elección presidencial giró en torno de los derechos de la población LGBTQI+. El otro contendiente, Carlos Alvarado, era el candidato del partido gobernante y tenía una postura favorable a los derechos LGBTQI+. Esta postura finalmente se impuso, pero la elección nos obligó a confrontar el enorme poder que han alcanzado las iglesias evangélicas. La victoria de Carlos Alvarado se explica por varios factores; uno de ellos fue la gran movilización de la sociedad civil. Entre las campañas de la sociedad civil que tuvieron impacto cabe mencionar la del grupo Coalición por Costa Rica, que buscó generar un debate informado e inclusivo, divulgando las propuestas de los candidatos para que la ciudadanía pudiera deliberar antes votar; y la de Igualitxs, “Por todas las familias”, lanzada una semana antes de las elecciones para difundir un mensaje inclusivo y pedir un trato igualitario hacia la población LGBTQI+.

    La profunda división generada en torno de las elecciones ha tenido secuelas. Siguen abundando los políticos que usan la religión para polarizar a la sociedad y reclaman porque, según ellos, el gobierno solo atiende los problemas de la población LGBTQI+. Esto se ha intensificado con la entrada en vigor del matrimonio igualitario y la propuesta de leyes para censurar el odio y el discurso discriminatorio.

     

    ¿Piensas que el cambio legal ha ido acompañado de un cambio en las actitudes? ¿Qué está haciendo la sociedad civil para promover la aceptación de las personas LGBTQI+?

    Una cosa es el cambio legal y otra el cambio cultural. El cambio legal ha representado un progreso de los derechos humanos y una forma de concretar la aplicación universal de la ley. Ha sido el resultado de una lucha de varias décadas de la comunidad LGBTQI+. Pero sigue habiendo homofobia, discriminación y violencia contra las personas LGBTQI+. Una vez logrado el cambio legal, la política pública debe continuar enfocándose en la exclusión estructural. Porque el cambio legal por sí mismo no necesariamente produce sensación de pertenencia a una comunidad. Como lo explica el teórico político Bikku Parekh, mientras que la ciudadanía es un tema de estatus y derechos, la pertenencia se alcanza cuando uno es aceptado y se siente bienvenido. Y para esto último todavía falta. Las actitudes de la gente no cambian en forma automática por efecto de la implementación de una ley. La ley es un parámetro objetivo de lo permitido, pero es necesario trabajar mucho más para modificar los parámetros de lo que es considerado normal o moralmente aceptable.

    Por eso, para preparar el terreno para el cambio legal, en los 18 meses entre la publicación de la sentencia de la Corte Suprema y la entrada en vigencia de la decisión, más de 35 OSC locales desarrollaron la campaña “Sí, Acepto”, llamando al reconocimiento de la igual dignidad de todos los seres humanos. Esta campaña también fue acompañada por medios de comunicación, empresas que son parte del gremio de la publicidad, gremiales como el Asocio Empresarial para el Desarrollo, las Naciones Unidas y embajadas como las de Canadá y los Países Bajos.

    La campaña presentó testimonios de personas, parejas y familias LGBTQI+, así como de sus familiares, vecinos y amigos con el objetivo de promover la aceptación y modificar las percepciones de lo que significa ser LBGTQI+ en la sociedad costarricense. Fue una activación a nivel nacional, con videos que fueron transmitidos no solo por las redes sociales sino también por la televisión nacional durante meses. Es la mejor campaña que se ha ideado sobre el tema, y se la debemos a la señora Nisa Sanz, presidenta de la OSC Familias Homoparentales, y a Gia Miranda, vocera oficial de la campaña.

    Los videos mueven emociones y generan empatía. Llevaron a miles de personas que no estaban involucradas políticamente a renunciar a su sagrado derecho a la privacidad y dar la cara, para dejar ser una abstracción y volverse una realidad. Le puso un rostro humano a la idea abstracta de “los gays”, como la presentan los periódicos. Al decirles que no van a ser rechazadas, generó las condiciones para que las personas vayan perdiendo el miedo, pues la mayoría de las personas LGBTQI+ sufren algún tipo de rechazo en su vida cotidiana, independientemente de su estatus social. El resultado fue la participación de una ciudadanía activa, que con o sin pandemia no dio un paso atrás sobre el terreno conquistado. Esto fue determinante para dejarles claro a los diputados que intentaban sabotear el matrimonio civil igualitario que no les sería posible conseguirlo.

    Fue una de las campañas de derechos civiles más importantes de la historia, y quedará en el recuerdo como una luz que brilló en las tinieblas de la pandemia. Un día antes de que el matrimonio civil comenzara a regir para todas las personas adultas en Costa Rica, el obispo de la Iglesia Católica de Alajuela pronunció un mensaje que decía: “nos alegramos de que haya distintos tipos de relación humana, distintos caminos de familia y creo que ahí, donde hay una manifestación de cariño y de familia de alguna forma, ahí se manifiesta Dios, y tenemos que favorecerlo”. Si bien no necesariamente reflejaba la posición de toda la institución, las palabras de este representante religioso fueron el producto del excelente trabajo de los y las activistas para lograr el cambio cultural necesario para lograr la aceptación de las personas LGBTQI+.

    Es notable el modo en que Costa Rica pasó de criminalizar la homosexualidad en los años ’70 y cerrar sus bares, considerados “perversos”, y perseguirla con redadas bajo la excusa de la salud pública en los ’80, a pedir una opinión consultiva a la Corte Interamericana en 2016 y, tras una elección presidencial enfocada en el tema, nombrar en 2018 un comisionado presidencial para asuntos LGBTQI+ y reconocer dos años más tarde el matrimonio igualitario.

    Hemos dejado atrás una ley injusta más. Y mucha gente ha comprendido que el hecho de que la unión de pareja y los planes de vida de dos adultos del mismo sexo reciban protección legal no les afecta en nada – a lo sumo, valida la institución matrimonial de la cual ellos también forman parte – y que ser gay no tiene nada de malo, y que en todo caso nadie se “hace gay” como resultado de esta normalización.

    ¿Qué significación regional tienen los progresos logrados en Costa Rica?

    Centroamérica es una de las regiones más hostiles de América Latina para las personas LGBTQI+. Los asesinatos de personas homosexuales y trans son frecuentes en El Salvador, Guatemala y Honduras. Costa Rica, el primer país centroamericano que aprueba el matrimonio igualitario, debería ser un modelo para toda la región. La opinión consultiva de la Corte IDH tiene validez para la veintena de países de las Américas que reconocen su competencia. Panamá pronto podría seguir el camino de Costa Rica: se ha presentado una advertencia de inconstitucionalidad fundada en el fallo de la Corte IDH, y la Fundación Iguales Panamá está coordinando la participación de la sociedad civil nacional internacional en el proceso que se sigue en la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Panamá.

    La Fundación Igualitxs también lleva mucho tiempo trabajando en el mismo sentido en El Salvador, mi país de origen. La sociedad civil salvadoreña ha logrado avances inmensos. En función de las tendencias regresivas de la Asamblea Legislativa sobre el tema de matrimonio civil igualitario, durante una década y media nuestros esfuerzos se centraron en la presentación de demandas de inconstitucionalidad del Código de Familia. Yo presenté una de estas demandas, titulada Demanda por la Igualdad, el 11 de noviembre de 2016. Poco después, varias OSC, como la Asociación Entre Amigos, Comcavis y Hombres Trans El Salvador, así como numerosos activistas independientes, presentaron una demanda similar.

    Igual que en Costa Rica, los sectores conservadores reaccionaron con fuerza. En la Asamblea Legislativa, se apuraron a dar inicio al proceso de ratificación de una reforma constitucional excluyente que llevaba años estancada, y que daría rango constitucional a la definición restrictiva del matrimonio que nosotros cuestionábamos en el Código de Familia, prohibiendo el matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo. Frente a esto promovimos una solicitud de medida cautelar contra el proceso de reforma constitucional, y logramos que la Corte Suprema lo frenara. Fue a raíz de esta demanda que se creó el movimiento Igualitos, que luego se convertiría en la Fundación Igualitxs.

    Las dos demandas de inconstitucionalidad de 2016 fueron finalmente admitidas en agosto de 2019, y en enero de 2020 un magistrado de la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema anunció que el tribunal fallaría próximamente y admitió que esta es una de sus grandes deudas pendientes. De modo que puede que estemos cerca de lograrlo.

    ¿Qué apoyo necesita la sociedad civil defensora de los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+ de la sociedad civil internacional?

    En el contexto de la pandemia del COVID-19, la situación se está poniendo cada vez más difícil. Los Estados tienen sus recursos comprometidos en la lucha contra la pandemia; las OSC enfrentan dificultades presupuestarias y la crisis está afectando a todo el mundo. Además, mucha gente se vuelca a la fe para sobrellevar la crisis y algunos grupos religiosos están aprovechando para impulsar campañas contra las personas LGBTQI+. Sin embargo, sigue siendo posible tomar medidas y acciones concretas, como por ejemplo, en El Salvador, la aprobación de un proyecto de ley que decenas de organizaciones impulsan para que se reconozca a las personas defensoras de derechos humanos.

    En lo que se refiere específicamente a nuestra organización, que no tiene fondos y funciona enteramente sobre la base del voluntariado, estamos tratando de ir de a un día a la vez, para retomar el control que hemos perdido por la pandemia. Pienso que es el momento para preguntarnos no solo qué queremos y podemos obtener de la vida, sino también qué podemos darle de regreso. De esta manera entramos a una zona de poder, donde conservamos agencia pese a las limitaciones. Salimos así de nuestra zona de confort para ingresar a una zona de crecimiento. A partir de la aceptación de la realidad que nos toca, tenemos que hacer una profunda introspección para reinventarnos. Este es el momento para volver a creer que todas las personas tenemos el potencial de hacer grandes cosas y dejar huella si actuamos no para obtener halagos y ganar popularidad, sino en busca de la satisfacción de hacer lo correcto y lo justo, generando un impacto positivo en el mundo.

    El espacio cívico en Costa Rica es clasificado como ‘abierto’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contáctese con la Fundación Igualitxs a través de susitio web y su perfil deFacebook. 

     

  • DERECHOS DE LAS MUJERES: ‘Los grupos anti-derechos buscan arrebatarnos derechos adquiridos’

    Teresa Fernandez ParedesEn el marco de nuestro informe temático 2019, estamos entrevistando a activistas, líderes y expertos de la sociedad civil acerca de su experiencia frente al avance de los grupos anti-derechos y sus estrategias para fortalecer las narrativas progresistas y la capacidad de respuesta de la sociedad civil. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa conTeresa Fernández Paredes, abogada especializada en Derecho Público Internacional e integrante de la Dirección Legal de Women’s Link. Con oficinas en Colombia, España y Kenia, Women’s Link defiende y promueve los derechos de las mujeres y aspira a generar cambios estructurales a través del litigio estratégico.

    ¿A qué se dedica Women’s Link y cuáles son sus áreas de trabajo?

    Women’s Link es una organización internacional que utiliza el derecho – en su mayoría somos abogadas – para promover cambios sociales estructurales que avancen los derechos de las mujeres y niñas, y sobre todo de las que se encuentran en mayor estado de vulnerabilidad, tales como mujeres migrantes o mujeres que ven limitado el ejercicio de sus derechos en razón de su etnia, edad o condición socioeconómica, entre otros factores.

    Trabajamos desde Madrid, en España; Bogotá, en Colombia y Nairobi, en Kenia. Aplicamos al derecho un análisis de género y un análisis interseccional para ampliar y mejorar los derechos de las mujeres y las niñas. Trabajamos en algunas áreas específicas, como los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, donde combatimos a los grupos anti-derechos. También nos enfocamos en la trata de seres humanos, y sobre todo en la trata de mujeres con funciones de explotación sexual o servidumbre doméstica y en las vulneraciones de derechos que sufren las mujeres en contextos de migración o de justicia transicional. Y finalmente nos concentramos en la discriminación, como un tema transversal a todos los demás. Usamos varias estrategias: además de litigios estratégicos, hacemos capacitaciones judiciales y publicaciones, entre otras cosas.

    ¿Cuáles son actualmente sus principales ejes de trabajo en América Latina?

    Una de nuestras principales líneas de trabajo en América Latina es el acceso a los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en sentido amplio. En este momento, en el contexto de la ola migratoria venezolana, estamos trabajando en el vínculo entre migración y falta de acceso a estos derechos. Concretamente, examinamos cuestiones tales como los efectos que tiene sobre el goce de estos derechos el estatus migratorio irregular, o la situación de las fronteras como espacios de no-derecho.

    El trabajo en Venezuela ha sido un gran desafío, dada la situación que atraviesa el país. Lo que hacemos, en este y en todos los casos, es aplicar los estándares del derecho internacional al contexto local. Pero es importante tener en cuenta que generalmente el derecho – y no solamente el derecho interno de los países, sino también el derecho internacional de los derechos humanos - es muy androcéntrico. La normativa se ha ido desarrollando a lo largo de los años alrededor de la imagen del hombre blanco como sujeto universal.

    Nuestra aproximación al derecho es estirarlo para que dé cabida a las experiencias de las mujeres, porque en el marco de los derechos humanos los temas de las mujeres suelen quedar de lado. En el contexto de Venezuela, trabajamos mucho con el sistema interamericano de derechos humanos. Por ejemplo, recientemente pedimos una medida cautelar para una maternidad en la que morían muchas madres y niños. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos emitió la cautelar, pero en el contexto actual parece es difícil que se cumpla. Sin embargo, sirve para llamar la atención sobre la situación específica que viven mujeres y niñas. Y todo este trabajo sirve también para entender porqué las mujeres se van de Venezuela - qué las impulsa a ellas, en tanto que mujeres, a iniciar los tránsitos migratorios; y qué necesidades tienen cuando llegan a países de tránsito y de destino.

    Además de trabajar en Venezuela, varios de nuestros proyectos se centran en garantizar que las experiencias concretas de las mujeres y sus voces se escuchen en el proceso de paz en Colombia. Lo hacemos sobre todo desde nuestra oficina en Bogotá, y siempre en conjunto con organizaciones comunitarias, para intentar que las voces de las personas que están en las fronteras lleguen a los tomadores de decisiones.

    En los últimos años se ha observado avances de los grupos anti-derechos, en América Latina y más allá. ¿Han enfrentado reacciones o ataques de estos grupos en el curso de su trabajo?

    El contexto en que trabajamos está fuertemente marcado por el auge de grupos anti-derechos que se dicen movilizados contra lo que ellos llaman “ideología de género”. Pero no es un fenómeno nuevo: los grupos anti-derechos se han venido articulando con gran efectividad desde los años ’90. Tienen mucho dinero y una cosa que hacen mejor que los grupos de izquierda es articularse de manera muy efectiva entre ellos; aunque aborden distintos temas encuentran el punto en común. Por ejemplo, se han articulado muy bien para poner sobre la mesa el tema de la ideología de género, presentándolo en todos los espacios y consiguiendo que, algo que ni siquiera era un concepto, se convirtiera en un tema global. Han conseguido posicionarlo en la agenda, cosas que es más difícil de hacer desde la izquierda, donde hay más discusión en torno de los temas y cuesta más articularse y hablar con una sola voz. De ahí que todavía no tengamos una respuesta única y contundente para los embates en nombre de la “ideología de género”.

    Los grupos anti-derechos buscan arrebatarnos derechos adquiridos. Y lo hacen utilizando el mismo discurso que han empleado con éxito los grupos de derechos humanos. Hablan de derechos humanos y se presentan como víctimas. Incluso presentan a las feministas como agentes diabólicos, dándole al feminismo más poder del que se podría creer que tiene en determinados espacios. Por nuestra ubicación en tres regiones, desde Women’s Link vemos claramente que las mismas estrategias se repiten en distintos lugares. Están utilizando estrategias coordinadas, alimentadas con muchísimo dinero y con apoyo global. Como utilizan el lenguaje de los derechos humanos, cada vez tienen más representación legal, y han comenzado a ocupar sitios en lugares estratégicos, donde están los tomadores de decisión, como en las Naciones Unidas y en la Organización de Estados Americanos.

    ¿Cómo puede actuar la sociedad civil progresista para poner freno a estos avances?

    Frente a estos ataques es importante actuar rápido a través del derecho. Hay que seguir trabajando para fortalecer el marco de derechos, blindándolo frente a estos ataques. Debemos pensar no solo estrategias de defensa, sino también estrategias proactivas para ampliar el marco de derechos, o cuanto menos para quitarles a los grupos anti-derechos espacio para moverse.

    Hay discusiones aún no saldadas sobre las que hay mucho que trabajar, como el tema de la libertad de expresión versus los discursos de odio. Paradójicamente, para difundir su mensaje los grupos anti-derechos se están apoyando en uno de los temas-estandarte de la izquierda, la libertad de expresión.

    Con todo, para que se generen cambios sociales duraderos, no podemos quedarnos en el derecho y los tribunales. Lo que necesitamos son casos que movilicen, generen debate público e instalen un verdadero cambio en la sociedad. En ese sentido hay movimientos esperanzadores, como el #MeToo y la Marea Verde en Argentina. Es decir, estamos viendo dos procesos contrapuestos: por un lado, crecen los grupos anti-derechos; por el otro, se genera una fuerte movilización desde las bases y desde la juventud en torno de estos temas. Tal fue el caso de la Marea Verde, que generó una movilización sin precedentes mientras se tramitaba en el congreso argentino un proyecto de legalización del aborto. Sin duda, es muy posible que los procesos estén interconectados y uno sea consecuencia del otro.

    Estos movimientos sociales generan un panorama esperanzador. Ante el intento de retroceder en derechos adquiridos, hay una masa muy activa que dice “mira, esto ya es un derecho adquirido, ya no lo puedes quitar”. Ya no se puede ir para atrás: en adelante puedes ampliar el marco, pero no lo puedes reducir.

    Además de los ataques de los grupos anti-derechos, ¿qué otros desafíos enfrenta la sociedad civil que promueve derechos de las mujeres?

    Para las organizaciones de base, la falta de recursos puede ser una gran limitación. Y a nosotras se nos presenta el desafío de cómo articularnos con estas organizaciones, sobre todo en contextos de gran urgencia como puede ser el de los movimientos masivos de movilidad humana.

    Women’s Link se dedica a identificar situaciones estructurales donde se vulneran derechos de las mujeres y a diseñar estrategias jurídicas para generar un cambio estructural transformador. Mientras tanto, las organizaciones de base – por ejemplo, en la frontera entre Colombia y Venezuela – están asumiendo cada vez más, y en condiciones de urgencia, funciones que deberían ser desempeñadas por el Estado. En estos contextos, la mayor parte de la respuesta a los problemas está proviniendo de organizaciones de la sociedad civil.

    Estas organizaciones de base están respondiendo a una situación muy urgente y las necesidades que tienen las mujeres con que ellas trabajan son muy inmediatas, y sin embargo lo que podemos hacer desde Women’s Link es apoyarlas desde el litigio estratégico, que suele llevar mucho tiempo.

    Pero más allá de las dificultades de trabajar con recursos escasos, es vital articular esas relaciones, porque el aporte que Women’s Link tiene para hacer no serviría de nada sin el trabajo que hacen las organizaciones de base y sin, por supuesto, la voz y el apoyo de las mujeres.

    Contáctese con Women’s Link a través de supágina web y su perfil deFacebook, o siga a@womenslink en 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.

     

  • ESPAÑA: ‘Las reglas de juego de la democracia son usadas para promover una ideología anti-derechos’

    CIVICUS conversa sobre las recientes elecciones españolas con Núria Valls, presidenta de La Liga Iberoamericana de Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil, una plataforma que integra a 29 organizaciones de la sociedad civil de 17 países de Iberoamérica, especializadas en desarrollo humano, social y comunitario. Legalmente constituida en España, la Liga Iberoamericana lleva 20 años trabajando en temas de niñez, juventud, educación y trabajo con una perspectiva de derechos humanos, a través del asesoramiento a gobiernos, el monitoreo y la evaluación de programas y la integración de redes y la incidencia en política pública a nivel local, nacional e internacional. 

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    ¿A qué se debe la inestabilidad política que llevó a España a celebrar dos elecciones en 2019?

    La desafección generalizada respeto del sistema político que se constituyó después de la transición de la dictadura a la democracia en los años ‘70 conllevó un deterioro importante de los dos partidos tradicionales, el Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) y el Partido Popular (PP). Estos partidos políticos estaban muy acostumbrados al bipartidismo y a gobernar con amplias mayorías. Cuando aparecieron otros partidos en el escenario se volvieron necesarios los pactos y coaliciones, que hasta entonces solo se habían dado en el ámbito local. Se hizo necesario incluir a partidos más minoritarios y a los partidos nacionalistas de las periferias del país, lo cual no siempre comporta buenos réditos electorales.

    Además, el conflicto político en Cataluña había radicalizado las posiciones de los partidos de alcance estatal, que entraron en una especie de “carrera” para demostrar quién es más español. Incluso los partidos de izquierdas no se atreven a tener un discurso de reconocimiento de las pluralidades nacionales en España porque los medios de comunicación, especialmente los de la capital, Madrid, los critican de forma agresiva.

    En las primeras elecciones de 2019, celebradas en mayo, el PSOE se sintió incómodo pactando con los partidos de izquierdas e independistas, que habían apoyado la moción de censura para cambiar el gobierno conservador del PP. A esto se sumaron los egos personales de los líderes del PSOE y de Unidas Podemos, la coalición de izquierda conformada en 2016 por el movimiento político Podemos y varias fuerzas políticas más, que hicieron imposible un pacto en ese momento.

    El PSOE hizo una mala lectura de las encuestas y creyó que unas segundas elecciones le darían la mayoría, y por lo tanto la posibilidad de gobernar en solitario. Ante las elecciones de noviembre la gente se enfadó porque interpretó que a causa de los egos personales de sus líderes los partidos no habían hecho su trabajo, y en cambio nos habían hecho perder tiempo y dinero. Todo ello profundizó aún más el desprestigio de la política.

    ¿Piensas que el partido de extrema derecha Vox se benefició de esta situación?

    Vox es uno de los partidos que más se ha beneficiado de estas segundas elecciones. Dobló su cantidad de votos y pasó a ser el tercer partido más representado, con 52 escaños, detrás de los dos partidos mayoritarios.

    Tradicionalmente en España se consideraba que no había extrema derecha porque el PP aglutinaba a toda la derecha. Pero Vox emergió con mucha fuerza, con un discurso franquista, agresivo, anti-derechos humanos y, por supuesto, presentándose como garante de la unidad de España frente a los separatismos. De hecho, la gestión de la situación de Cataluña ha sido un caldo de cultivo para la aceptación de discursos cada vez más de derechas, justificados en la necesidad de preservar la unidad de España.

    Otro resultado electoral para analizar es que el partido “liberal” Ciudadanos, que no hace mucho pensaba que tenía opción a gobernar, prácticamente desapareció dado lo magro de sus resultados. Ciudadanos había centrado su discurso en el conflicto territorial y en la unidad de España. Los votantes que priorizaban este tema prefirieron a Vox, que tiene una postura más radical.

    A pesar de los buenos resultados obtenidos por Vox, las izquierdas ganaron las elecciones y esta vez sí rápidamente, en apenas 24 horas, se forjó el pacto entre el PSOE y Unidas Podemos, que anteriormente había sido imposible. La ciudadanía no entendió por qué lo que hacía unos meses había sido imposible ahora era posible. Pero lo importante es que se priorizó formación de un gobierno frente a la sensación de inestabilidad y parálisis de los últimos años. Ante este pacto amplio de los partidos de izquierdas, la derecha reaccionó con discursos muy agresivos, fuertemente enraizados en el franquismo.

    Finalmente se logró, gracias a la abstención de los independentistas catalanes, formar un gobierno. No le va a ser fácil gobernar, pero promete ser una experiencia muy interesante y con posibilidades de generar cambios. Será un gobierno muy amplio, con 22 carteras ministeriales, en el que resalta la paridad de género.

    ¿Cómo caracterizarías a Vox como fuerza política y como tendencia ideológica?

    Vox es un partido de extrema derecha que no esconde su discurso xenófobo, anti-derechos humanos y con dos objetivos fundamentales: la unidad y centralización de España y la eliminación de las políticas de género.

    Es un fenómeno preocupante que no solamente se está dando en España. Los partidos de ultraderecha surgen en momentos de frustración de la población ante las desigualdades económicas y sociales en un mundo globalizado. Hay un movimiento internacional – que se extiende por Brasil, Estados Unidos, Francia, Italia, Noruega y muchos otros países - que pone el foco en estigmatizar y criminalizar la migración y la llamada “ideología de género”. Y habría que analizar el apoyo a estos discursos por parte de algunas congregaciones religiosas.

    Estos partidos utilizan las reglas de juego de la democracia para promover una ideología anti-derechos humanos. Es paradójico que la democracia, que nace bajo los valores de la participación y del respeto de los derechos, sirva en estos momentos para fortalecer y fomentar una ideología totalmente opuesta a esos valores.

    ¿Cómo ocurrió este giro a la derecha tan solo unos años después de que tanta gente se movilizara con reclamos de justicia económica y social?

    Un elemento de este giro tiene que ver con el enfado de una parte de la población con la política. La corrupción de los partidos ha tenido un gran impacto en la sociedad, que piensa que los políticos solo están en política para enriquecerse. No hay una concepción de la política en sentido amplio bajo el concepto del bien común.

    En particular, hay un sector de jóvenes que ven su futuro muy difícil, con muy pocas expectativas y que piensan que votar a Vox es una opción antisistema. Es el voto de los que piensan que la migración les va a quitar el trabajo y los recursos del estado y que las políticas de género son exageradas. Vox utiliza muy bien las redes sociales con mensajes directos y muchas veces basados en falsedades, pero que van calando en la población.

    El conflicto territorial de España con Cataluña también ha sido un catalizador de este enfado. El mensaje de “A por ellos” con los que se despedía a los policías del resto de España que iban a Cataluña para evitar el referéndum del 1 de octubre de 2017, y que después fue reforzado por el mensaje del Rey, despertó un sentimiento anti-catalán. El bloque de derechas, y especialmente Vox, se ha apropiado la defensa de la monarquía frente a los partidos de izquierdas republicanos.

    Desde la sociedad civil, ¿cómo se está viviendo este proceso? ¿Piensas que el espacio para la sociedad civil se está degradando en España?

    A la sociedad civil organizada nos ha cogido un poco desprevenidos. Por una parte, no creíamos que el apoyo electoral a Vox fuera tan fuerte, y por otra parte hemos tenido un debate sobre si debíamos responderles, y por tanto darles más repercusión mediática, o si lo mejor era ignorarlos. Predominó la segunda opción, también entre los partidos políticos. Y la estrategia de ignorarlos contribuyó al aumento de los votos de Vox. No hubo nadie que respondiera a sus expresiones de forma contundente y con argumentos claros.

    Ahora el debate de la sociedad civil gira en torno de la necesidad de defender de forma clara y contundente los derechos humanos y contestar cualquier expresión que vulnere o estigmatice a cualquier colectivo.

    En los territorios donde está gobernando junto con el PP y Ciudadanos, tales como Andalucía, Madrid y Murcia, una de las primeras acciones de Vox ha sido presionar para que se acaben las ayudas a las organizaciones que trabajan con mujeres o con colectivos vulnerables.

    Estamos en un momento de riesgo de retroceso en las libertades y por tanto es necesario trabajar más unidos que nunca como sociedad civil. Hay que desarrollar una estrategia de comunicación clara para llegar a toda la ciudadanía. Muchas veces desde la sociedad civil estamos muy encerrados en nosotros mismos y nos cuesta llevar nuestro mensaje más allá de nuestro círculo.

    Otra estrategia de la derecha, especialmente de Vox y el PP, es utilizar la justicia para dirimir desacuerdos políticos. Gran parte de la justicia en España todavía está muy ideologizada, ya que sigue habiendo muchos jueces conservadores, herederos del régimen franquista. Como consecuencia ha habido muchas sentencias en contra de la libertad de expresión en las redes, incluida la censura de temas musicales. Y también ha habido muchas personas condenadas por manifestarse públicamente, especialmente en Cataluña.

    ¿Cómo ha evolucionado la situación de Cataluña desde el referéndum de 2017?

    El referéndum del 1 de octubre de 2017 fue un acto de empoderamiento de una parte de la población catalana que participó de forma muy activa, con un importante sentimiento colectivo de desobediencia civil, para conseguir un futuro mejor frente un estado que hizo todo lo posible para que no se celebrara. La violenta represión estatal durante el referéndum y las fechas posteriores incrementaron el sentimiento colectivo de una parte importante de la población a favor de la independencia, y especialmente a favor del derecho a decidir mediante elecciones.

    A partir del referéndum, la represión contra los independentistas catalanes se incrementó, y el estado hizo uso de toda su maquinaria policial y judicial. Además, puso en marcha el artículo 155 de la Constitución, que dota al estado de un mecanismo coactivo para obligar a las comunidades autónomas que incumplan obligaciones constitucionales o legales o atenten gravemente contra el “interés general” de España. Mediante el artículo 155 se suspendió la autonomía de Cataluña desde el 27 de octubre de 2017 hasta el 2 de junio de 2018, cuando se celebraron nuevas elecciones regionales. Esto supuso prácticamente un año de paralización política, financiera y administrativa en Cataluña.

    Anteriormente, el 16 de octubre del 2017, los líderes de las dos entidades civiles independentistas catalanas más representativas, Jordi Cuixart y Jordi Sánchez, habían sido encarcelados por mediar en una manifestación espontánea y pacifica delante de un edificio de la Generalitat, el gobierno catalán, donde la policía estaba haciendo un registro. Se les encarceló preventivamente, sin posibilidad de salir en libertad antes del juicio.

    A partir de estas detenciones aumentó la represión judicial hacia el gobierno de Cataluña, que culminó con la detención del vicepresidente y cinco ministros del gobierno más la presidenta del Parlamento de Cataluña, todos los cuales fueron puestos en prisión preventiva antes del juicio. Por su parte, el presidente de la Generalitat se exilió en Bélgica junto con cuatro ministros más, y dos políticas se exiliaron en Suiza. El gobierno de España hizo declaraciones afirmando que había descabezado al movimiento independentista.

    Todo este proceso judicial y represivo complicó aún más la situación política en Cataluña. La sentencia del 14 de octubre del 2019, que condenó a los líderes independentistas a penas de entre 9 y 13 años de prisión, por un total de 100 años, hizo estallar nuevas protestas callejeras.

    A diferencia de todas las manifestaciones independentistas desde 2012, estas últimas protestas provocaron muchos disturbios y fueron enfrentadas con represión policial. Además, los jóvenes fueron protagonistas y adoptaron una actitud más radical frente a la represión. En ese contexto surgió el movimiento anónimo Tsunami Democrático. Inspirado en las protestas de Hong Kong, este movimiento convoca a través de las redes sociales a grandes movilizaciones pacíficas en diversos sitios, como la frontera o el aeropuerto. La policía ha intentado descubrir quien está detrás, pero es un momento de empoderamiento colectivo de la sociedad civil independentista.

    En la actualidad, tras las últimas elecciones en España donde el PSOE y Unidas Podemos necesitaron la abstención del partido independentista Izquierda Republicana de Cataluña para poder hacer gobierno, el panorama es otro. El gobierno se ha comprometido a hacer una mesa de diálogo con el gobierno de Cataluña y a llevar los acuerdos de esta mesa a la votación de la ciudadanía. No va a ser fácil porque los partidos de derecha, utilizando los recursos judiciales a su alcance, están intentando boicotear este proceso. Hay que hacer un esfuerzo para buscar una solución para los presos independentistas que facilite una solución política y pacífica y permita iniciar un proceso de diálogo real.

    El espacio cívico en España es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contáctese con La Liga Iberoamericana a través de susitio web y su perfil deFacebook, siga a@LigaIberoamOSC en Twitter.

     

     

  • 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.

     

     

  • GRUPOS ANTI-DERECHOS: ‘Su verdadero objetivo es eliminar todas las políticas de género del Estado’

    Diana CariboniEn el marco de nuestroinforme temático 2019, estamos entrevistando a activistas, líderes y expertos de la sociedad civil acerca de sus experiencias y acciones ante el avance de los grupos anti-derechos y sus estrategias para fortalecer las narrativas progresistas y la capacidad de respuesta de la sociedad civil. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa con Diana Cariboni, periodista y escritora argentina radicada en Uruguay, ganadora del Premio Nacional de Prensa Escrita 2018 y autora de varias notas de periodismo de investigación sobre los grupos anti-derechos en América Latina.

     ¿Podrías contarnos acerca de tu experiencia en el Congreso Iberoamericano por la Vida y la Familia?

    En el año 2018 cubrí la conferencia de este grupo regional – en realidad iberoamericano, ya que tiene miembros en toda América Latina y también en España. Es un grupo grande que quiere ser un movimiento. Es uno de los tantos, porque hay muchos otros, que además se entrecruzan, ya que miembros del Congreso Iberoamericano también forman parte de otros movimientos e interactúan dentro de ellos, al tiempo que están en los consejos de distintas organizaciones.

    Yo empecé investigando a este grupo porque se reunió aquí en Punta del Este, Uruguay, a fines de 2018, y venía precedido de algunos incidentes que me llamaron la atención. Los sectores más importantes que yo logré identificar dentro de este movimiento son, en primer lugar, una enorme cantidad de representantes de iglesias evangélicas y, dentro del evangelismo, del neopentecostalismo, aunque también incluye a iglesias bautistas e iglesias evangélicas no pentecostales.

    Además de estas iglesias está representada la plataforma Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas, que surgió en Perú en el año 2016, integrada por una serie de personajes que son cristianos evangélicos. Algunos de ellos son pastores de iglesias y algunos son también actores políticos; por ejemplo, hay una gran cantidad de diputados del Congreso de Perú. Justamente, los legisladores son otro sector importante del Congreso Iberoamericano. En muchos países hay legisladores que son pastores o miembros de iglesias: ocurre en Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Perú y Uruguay. Estos actores están tratando de articular un movimiento legislativo regional. El Congreso Iberoamericano lleva cierto tiempo trabajando en el área legislativa y coordinándose y haciendo declaraciones sobre determinados temas.

    México también es un foco importante porque el fundador del Congreso Iberoamericano es un mexicano, Aaron Lara Sánchez. El movimiento ha articulado espacios de comunicación como Evangélico Digital, que integra un grupo de medios digitales originado en España. También ha creado o quiere crear una especie de grupo de estudios, porque a todo esto le quieren dar un barniz científico, y en sus conferencias participan médicos, abogados, expertos en biología y en genética; todos ellos argumentan la concepción religiosa de que la familia solo puede estar integrada por un hombre y una mujer, que los únicos sexos posibles son el masculino y el femenino y que la persona humana se genera en el momento de la concepción; de ahí su oposición frontal al aborto. Están articulando un discurso pseudo científico para fundamentar estos argumentos a pesar de que la investigación científica indica otras cosas. Su objetivo es construir un discurso que no sea visto tan como de la Edad Media; por eso buscan converger con el sentido común del siglo XXI y hablan de ciencia y de Estado laico, aunque no sea más que un barniz superficial. Por su parte, el discurso de Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas cuaja bien con el sentido común, porque es una apelación muy fuerte a la familia y les dice a las madres y a los padres que tienen derecho a decidir qué educación reciben sus hijos en las escuelas.

    ¿Caracterizarías a estos grupos como anti-derechos?

    Efectivamente, porque su verdadero objetivo es eliminar todas las políticas de género del Estado. De hecho, yo entrevisté al fundador de Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas, Cristian Rosas, quien me decía: ‘Nosotros empezamos por la educación sexual porque era lo que más movilizaba a la gente, porque se refiere a sus hijos, pero lo que en realidad nosotros queremos es eliminar el género, la palabra género, en Perú y en el mundo entero’. El tema es que detrás de esa palabra, género, está el asunto crucial del reconocimiento de las identidades y la búsqueda de equidad: las luchas de las mujeres por terminar con su discriminación y subordinación y las luchas de las comunidades LGBTQI por gozar de los mismos derechos y garantías que tiene el resto de la población. Ellos dicen que estas luchas son innecesarias porque nuestras constituciones ya dicen que todos somos iguales ante la ley, entonces para qué establecer leyes o estatutos especiales para las personas LGBTQI. Lo que pasan por alto es que las personas LGBTQI, y en particular algunas de ellas como las personas trans, no acceden efectivamente a esos derechos ni a las condiciones de una existencia digna. Ellos se empeñan en ignorar esto, y en cambio sostienen que lo que las personas LGBTQI están buscando es que el Estado les financie sus estilos de vida.

    En Uruguay vimos recientemente un ejemplo de política anti-derechos promovida por estos sectores. Un diputado católico suplente del Partido Nacional, un diputado evangélico neopentecostal, también del Partido Nacional, y el líder de la iglesia evangélica más numerosa del Uruguay, que también es neopentecostal – todos ellos miembros del Congreso Iberoamericano por la vida y la Familia - llevaron adelante una campaña para derogar la Ley Integral para Personas Trans. De hecho, la campaña de recolección de firmas se anunció durante aquel congreso de Punta del Este.

    ¿Quiénes eran las personas que participaban en ese congreso? Por tu descripción, parecería un encuentro más de cúpulas que de masas.

    No es la feligresía la que se reúne en este caso, sino que son pastores, dirigentes, políticos, líderes de opinión, influencers que buscan aprovechar el lenguaje y los códigos con que se comunica una buena parte de la población, y sobre todo los jóvenes. Pero aún así, era un encuentro de unas 400 personas.

    Este evento era cerrado, no podía entrar la prensa; yo me inscribí como una participante más, pagué la inscripción de 150 dólares y entré sin que los organizadores supieran que yo estaba cubriendo el evento como periodista. Además de pagar tuve que mudarme a Punta del Este por tres días, quedarme en un hotel y convivir con esta gente de la mañana a la noche. Por momentos se volvía un poco asfixiante porque la forma en que ellos desarrollan sus actividades no es la misma que en un congreso o una conferencia comunes, donde vos escuchás las presentaciones en los paneles, tomás nota y estás sentada en un auditorio junto con otras personas que hacen más o menos lo mismo. En este caso todas las instancias, incluso los paneles, se mezclaban con oraciones religiosas y plegarias en estilo evangélico. Este no es como la misa católica, que está muy coreografiada, con el sacerdote en el rol protagónico, donde ya se sabe más o menos lo que va a decir y la feligresía responde con determinadas frases en momentos pautados, se sienta, se para y nada más. La experiencia evangélica es muy diferente: la gente habla, grita, levanta los brazos, se mueve, se toca. El pastor les da instrucciones, pero aún así todo es mucho más participativo. Se me hizo difícil pasar desapercibida, pero lo conseguí.

    Además logré obtener un buen registro de lo que ocurría, lo cual no estaba permitido. Había muchísima vigilancia, me hubieran echado si se hubieran dado cuenta. Lo supieron cerca del final: a último momento decidieron organizar una conferencia de prensa y prácticamente no había ningún medio que no fuera de ellos. Yo no sabía si ir o no, pero al final decidí hacerlo, porque al fin y al cabo ya había asistido a todas las sesiones. Estuvo también un periodista del semanario Búsqueda. Allí me permitieron hacer entrevistas y me dijeron que solo podía publicar lo de la rueda de prensa, pero no lo que había escuchado dentro del congreso. Por supuesto, no había nada que pudieran hacer para impedirlo y mi artículo ‘El género es el nuevo demonio’ salió publicado en Noticias poco después.

    Estar allí adentro me permitió entender algunas cosas. Ciertamente, hay intereses muy poderosos, religiosos y políticos, detrás de las campañas anti-derechos. Pero también hay expresiones religiosas genuinas, distintas formas de abordar la vida, sectores ultraconservadores que experimentan un auténtico rechazo hacia la vida del siglo XXI. Lo que observé en este congreso es el tremendo extrañamiento que alguna gente siente respecto del mundo actual, una realidad que difícilmente pueda volver atrás, pero que ellos sienten completamente ajena: la realidad del matrimonia igualitario, de las relaciones interpersonales y sexuales diversas, la de la educación sexual, el placer y las drogas, la libertad de elegir y el aborto. Esto hay que reconocerlo: hay sectores de nuestras sociedades que no se sienten parte de este mundo del siglo XXI y así reaccionan ante estos avances, que ellos interpretan como degradación y corrupción.

    Estos grupos tienen un discurso nacionalista que percibe a los Estados nacionales y a los pueblos como sometidos a dictados foráneos que se consideran malignos, incluso como mensajes del diablo o del demonio. El mal se encarna en una serie de instituciones descriptas como imperialistas: las Naciones Unidas, la Organización de Estados Americanos, el sistema interamericano de derechos humanos, los organismos internacionales de crédito, la Organización Mundial de la Salud.

    ¿No es por lo menos curioso que apelen al nacionalismo cuando ellos mismos se organizan en redes transnacionales y están activos en el terreno internacional?

    En el marco de esta batalla cultural que se está librando a nivel internacional, lo que estos grupos no ven es que ellos también son actores en el terreno internacional, aunque más no sea con el objeto de debilitar el alcance del derecho internacional. Apuntan contra los órganos que supervisan los tratados y convenciones, por ejemplo la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos o la Convención sobre la Eliminación de todas formas de Discriminación contra la Mujer; dicen que se trata de comités de expertos cuyas sus recomendaciones no necesitan ser tenidas en cuenta por los Estados cuando contravienen su derecho interno.

    Una discusión reciente en este terreno se generó en torno de la opinión de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos ante una consulta de Costa Rica acerca de la identidad de género y el matrimonio igualitario. Costa Rica le preguntó a la Corte si en virtud de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos estaba obligado a reconocer la identidad de género de las personas y los derechos patrimoniales de las parejas del mismo sexo. En respuesta, la Corte IDH le dijo a Costa Rica, y por lo tanto a todo el continente, que se trata de derechos protegidos por la Convención. A partir de allí se dio una discusión muy fuerte, porque para los sectores anti-derechos se trató de un caso de un órgano internacional que actúa por encima de los Estados, las constituciones y las leyes nacionales.

    Mencionabas que en el Congreso Iberoamericano por la Vida y la Familia había muchos políticos de diferentes países. ¿Te parece que estos grupos quieren gobernar y se están preparando para llegar al poder? De ser así, ¿Cuál es su estrategia para lograrlo?

    Ante todo, sí creo que hay una voluntad de gobernar, que tiene que ver con la evolución del movimiento neopentecostal surgido en los Estados Unidos y luego expandido por todo el continente. El argumento es simple: Si nosotros somos la luz del mundo y la sal de la tierra, estamos llamados a tener un impacto, tenemos que gobernar porque somos los elegidos para ello.

    Ahora bien, las estrategias son diversas. Predomina el pragmatismo, de modo que la estrategia depende mucho del contexto. En algunos casos crean partidos propios - religiosos, evangélicos o ultraconservadores - en los que se sientan representados; en otros casos optan por presentar candidaturas a través de distintos partidos. Actualmente en Argentina, por ejemplo, hay candidaturas de este tipo prácticamente en todos los partidos, excepto la izquierda más radical; están tanto en el oficialismo como en la principal coalición opositora. Además hay un pequeño partido formado recientemente, el Frente NOS, fundado sobre la base del rechazo de la ideología de género en el contexto del debate legislativo sobre la legalización del aborto, pero que en las primarias no sacó casi votos. No creo que logre demasiado en las elecciones; en cambio tendrán éxito muchas candidaturas que están en distintas listas, tanto a nivel federal como las provincias.

    Otra estrategia complementaria es la de insertarse en los gobiernos desde los niveles más bajos, sobre todo en los países con estructura federal, donde pueden acceder a cargos de dirección en las áreas de salud, educación o justicia; de ahí la estrategia de formar expertos - abogados, juristas, expertos en bioética – que puedan integrarse en distintos espacios de la administración pública. Eso lo veo mucho en Argentina.

    En el caso de Uruguay estos sectores están bastante concentrados en un sector del Partido Nacional, que ya tiene algunos diputados evangélicos y neopentecostales y es muy probable que en las próximas elecciones sean algunos más. Creo que es muy probable que de las elecciones de octubre de 2019 en Uruguay emerja una bancada evangélica. También hay algunas figuras similares en los otros partidos, aunque son mucho menos visibles.

    También en Uruguay ha surgido un fenómeno nuevo, bajo la forma del partido Cabildo Abierto, encabezado por un ex jefe del Ejército, el primero en declararse como partido anti-ideología de género. Es un fenómeno nuevo porque los líderes y principales figuras del Partido Nacional, que es el que hasta ahora cobijaba a la mayoría de estos personajes, no apoyan estas posturas. Aunque es un partido nuevo y pequeño, las encuestas le dan a Cabildo Abierto entre 7 y 10% de intención de voto, o sea que posiblemente elegirá a algunos diputados, y tendremos un partido que tiene una posición de bloque.

    ¿Te parecen especialmente preocupantes estos avances en un país como Uruguay, descripto a menudo como el más laico de América Latina?

    Sucede que el voto confesional no es automático. En argentina la feligresía evangélica es un porcentaje importante de la población y está creciendo, pero en este momento hay apenas diputado evangélico en el Congreso Nacional. Más o menos lo mismo podría decirse sobre la mayoría de los países: la población que se declara de determinada religión no necesariamente vota a candidatos de esa religión. En otras palabras, el voto confesional, que es lo que estos sectores pretenden instalar, no está teniendo éxito de manera automática en todos los países. En Brasil el voto confesional ha avanzado sustancialmente, pero este avance llevó décadas, además de que se relaciona con características propias del sistema electoral brasileño de listas abiertas que permitió que este tipo de candidaturas se fuera desparramando por muchos partidos, incluido el Partido de los Trabajadores cuando era gobierno. Este crecimiento cuajó en el importante apoyo que prestaron los sectores evangélicos a la candidatura del presidente Jair Bolsonaro, cuyo triunfo también alimentó a la bancada evangélica.

    En suma, una cantidad de factores inciden en cómo se vota en determinado momento y las personas no necesariamente se guían por el credo religioso del candidato a la hora de votar. Pero esto es algo que se podría poner en cuestión en estas elecciones. En Argentina y en Uruguay hay elecciones en octubre, el mismo día; en Bolivia una semana antes; y también en octubre hay elecciones regionales en Colombia, con muchos candidatos de este tipo en distintas formaciones. Pronto tendremos un panorama de cómo evoluciona el voto confesional en cada país. Es un tema que hay que observar de cerca para saber si se trata de un fenómeno lineal en acenso, de un proceso con avances y retrocesos, o de un fenómeno que está tocando un techo.

    Contáctese con Diana Cariboni a través de su página deFacebook y siga a@diana_cariboni en 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.

     

  • 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.

     

  • HUNGRÍA: ‘A las personas trans nos están arrebatando nuestros derechos’

    Una nueva ley, aprobada en Hungría en medio de la pandemia del COVID-19, impide a las personas trans cambiar el género que figura en sus documentos. CIVICUS conversa con Krisztina Kolos Orbán, vicepresidenta de la Asociación Transgénero Transvanilla, una organización húngara que aboga por los derechos de las personas trans. Fundada como una iniciativa de base en 2011, Transvanilla es la única organización registrada en Hungría con foco exclusivo en los derechos de las personas transgénero y en temas relativos a la no conformidad de género. Impulsa la promoción del reconocimiento el género y la asistencia sanitaria específica para personas trans a nivel nacional. También monitorea la discriminación y la violencia con base en la expresión y la identidad de género y facilita espacios comunitarias y eventos para aumentar la visibilidad de los temas y las personas transgénero en Hungría.

    Krisztina Kolos Orban

    ¿Cuál ha sido la situación de los derechos LGBTQI+ en Hungría en los últimos años?

    En 2012, ILGA Europa clasificó a Hungría en el noveno lugar entre los 49 países europeos en lo que respecta a los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+, pero en 2019 retrocedimos al 19º lugar y en 2020 hemos bajado nuevamente hasta el puesto 27º. El año pasado, la calificación de Hungría fue la que más disminuyó, y esto se debió a varias razones. En 2012, las cosas se veían bastante bien en el papel, pero desde entonces se introdujeron nuevas medidas al compás de los cambios producidos en materia de derechos humanos. Hungría no ha hecho avances ni ha seguido las recomendaciones internacionales. El otro factor ha sido la gran reacción que hemos experimentado en los últimos años. Anteriormente, este gobierno no había quitado derechos a las personas, aunque ciertamente lo había intentado, y sabíamos que no apoyaba los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+. Pero ahora nos están arrebatando nuestros derechos.

    Respecto de los derechos de las personas transgénero, nuestra legislación contra la discriminación y sobre los crímenes de odio, que parece ser bastante buena, menciona específicamente la identidad de género. Pero esto solo existe en el papel, ya que hasta el momento no se han llevado a la justicia crímenes de odio motivados por la identidad de género. Del mismo modo, ha habido muy pocos casos centrados en la discriminación, porque la ley no se está aplicando. No hay un plan de acción nacional para combatir la discriminación basada en la identidad de género.

    Por lo tanto, los derechos de las personas trans nunca estuvieron legalmente garantizados. En lo que se refiere al reconocimiento legal del género y la atención médica específica para las personas trans, no hay leyes ni pautas nacionales. Sin embargo, las prácticas habían mejorado. Desde 2003, las personas trans han podido cambiar sus certificados de nacimiento, marcadores de género y nombres a partir de un diagnóstico de salud mental, sin necesidad de ninguna otra intervención médica. En su momento esto fue increíble. El gobierno prometió legislar en ese sentido, pero no lo hizo. Hasta ahora, ningún gobierno ni siquiera ha abordado el tema. En consecuencia, no hay ninguna legislación que respalde estos procedimientos administrativos, que ni siquiera fueron publicitados en el sitio web del gobierno. Durante cierto tiempo las cosas estuvieron bien porque la práctica era confiable y los procedimientos eran bastante amigables para las personas trans. Quienes proporcionaron la documentación requerida pudieron cambiar sus certificados de nacimiento y el proceso fue relativamente fácil y rápido. Pero el hecho de que la práctica no estuviera protegida por la ley no era un detalle menor. Ahora la práctica se ha tornado ilegal. Ha sido un gran paso atrás.

    En 2020 el parlamento aprobó, por un margen de 133 votos contra 57, nuevas regulaciones que solo reconocen el sexo asignado al nacer y que impiden que las personas transgénero cambien legalmente su género y obtengan nueva documentación. Las disposiciones están contenidas en el artículo 33 de un proyecto de ley ómnibus que se presentó el 31 de marzo y se aprobó el 19 de mayo. El artículo 33 contradice no solo las normas internacionales y europeas de derechos humanos, sino también sentencias previas del Tribunal Constitucional de Hungría, que dejaban claro que cambiar el nombre y el marcador de género es un derecho fundamental de las personas trans. En 2016, y nuevamente en 2018, el Comisionado para los Derechos Fundamentales emitió informes que establecían que las autoridades debían promulgar legislación adecuada para consagrar este derecho fundamental.

    El cambio legal encaja en la lucha anti-género liderada por el Partido Demócrata Cristiano, que integra la coalición gubernamental. Este partido ya ha prohibido los estudios de género y ha argumentado que el género no existe, ya que en el idioma húngaro ni siquiera hay palabras separadas para designar los conceptos de sexo y género. Sin embargo, en el último año ha recurrido al uso de la palabra “género” en inglés para atacar el género como concepto. Así que esto es parte de una ofensiva más amplia contra la llamada “ideología de género”. La protección de lo que la nueva ley llama “sexo al nacer” es parte de esta ofensiva. Durante los últimos seis años hemos trabajado para producir legislación sobre estos temas, e inicialmente pensamos que las autoridades también querían abordarlos, pero después de un tiempo nos resultó evidente que nuestras iniciativas estaban siendo bloqueadas.

    Es difícil trabajar con las autoridades. No nos dan mucha información. No tenemos llegada a funcionarios con autoridad para tomar decisiones, por lo que solo podemos hablar con funcionarios de bajo rango, que obviamente tienen miedo de darnos información. No hay debate público y la sociedad civil no es involucrada. No se nos consultó sobre los cambios en la Ley de Registro. La propuesta vino del gobierno, y específicamente de los miembros cristianos de la coalición gubernamental, y fue apoyada por organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) que promueven los llamados “valores familiares”. El momento escogido también planteó muchos interrogantes. ¿Por qué era tan importante abordar este problema en medio de una pandemia? ¿Por qué justo ahora, y por qué de esta manera?

    ¿Cuáles son las principales restricciones de las libertades para organizarse, expresarse y protestar que experimenta la comunidad LGBTQI+ húngara?

    En Hungría hay una Ley de ONG que requiere que las OSC cuyos ingresos superan cierto monto se registren si reciben fondos extranjeros. El umbral es relativamente bajo, por lo que muchas OSC, incluidos nosotros, deben registrarse. Hay una lista de OSC financiadas con fondos extranjeros que está publicada y cualquiera puede consultar. No es ningún secreto que buscamos fondos extranjeros porque no podemos acceder a fondos en Hungría. El gobierno se refiere a las OSC, y particularmente a las que critican al gobierno, como “enemigas” del pueblo húngaro. Obviamente, esto también ha afectado a las organizaciones LGBTQI+.

    Esto no es solamente retórica. En la práctica, el gobierno no consulta a las OSC que son independientes o que no le gustan, nosotros incluidos. Las instrucciones para marginar a estas organizaciones provienen de la cúspide del gobierno, y aunque puede que algunos funcionarios de nivel inferior traten de vincularse con nosotros, no les está permitido hacerlo. ¿Cómo pueden las OSC llevar a cabo actividades de incidencia o tratar con las autoridades si se prohíbe a los funcionarios públicos mantener cualquier contacto con ellas?

    Además, la mayoría de los medios están controlados por el gobierno, y el resto tiende a tener una perspectiva neoliberal, lo que generalmente dificulta el acceso de las organizaciones que tienen otra agenda, como Transvanilla.

    Nuestra libertad para llevar a cabo nuestras actividades legítimas también está siendo cuestionada. El año pasado, por ejemplo, hubo varios ataques contra eventos organizados en el Mes del Orgullo. Un evento de citas rápidas para personas pansexuales que había sido organizado por Transvanilla fue interrumpido por activistas de extrema derecha. No pudimos continuar el evento y la policía no nos protegió. Los activistas de extrema derecha grabaron en video a los participantes durante más de una hora y no se nos permitió cerrar las puertas. Obviamente estaban actuando ilegalmente, pero la policía no tomó ninguna medida contra ellos. En otros casos, activistas de extrema derecha destruyeron o causaron daños en los lugares de reunión. Fueron situaciones nuevas: en el pasado, cuando pasaban estas cosas nuestros eventos solían recibir protección policial.

    Año tras año también ha habido intentos de prohibir los eventos del Orgullo, pero los tribunales han establecido que no se los puede prohibir. Es una pelea constante. Las autoridades han cercado los recorridos del Desfile del Orgullo con el pretexto de proteger a los manifestantes, pero se trató en realidad de un intento evidente de restringir su movimiento.

    ¿Cómo reaccionó la comunidad LGBTQI+ cuando se aprobó la nueva ley?

    Fue un evento traumático porque fue claramente un ataque contra nosotros. Esta enmienda solo afectó a las personas trans e intersex que quisieran cambiar sus marcadores de género y a las personas trans que, aunque no desean cambiar sus marcadores de género, quisieran de todos modos cambiar su nombre, lo cual ya no es posible en Hungría. Pero todas las personas LGBTQI+ nos sentimos ahora como ciudadanos de segunda, marginados a quienes el gobierno no respeta.

    Personalmente, en tanto que persona no binaria, la ley tuvo un gran efecto sobre mí, porque mi identidad estaba lejos de ser reconocida en mis documentos, y ahora estoy mucho más lejos aún. Muchos de mis amigos que estaban en el proceso de cambiar su marcador legal de género están en un limbo. Al menos un centenar de casos iniciados ya se habían suspendido en los últimos dos años y medio, ya que las solicitudes no estaban siendo evaluadas. Esas personas han perdido todas las esperanzas. Están frustradas y devastadas.

    También hay miedo porque no sabemos qué sigue, qué más nos espera. Aunque la ley puede ser impugnada, esto podría llevar muchos años. E incluso si nos deshacemos de esta ley, puede que la situación no mejore. Algunas personas están teniendo sentimientos suicidas, muchas personas quieren irse del país. Una gran parte de la comunidad está sufriendo en silencio y no tiene voz. Si bien de esta situación han emergido algunos activistas que están ganando visibilidad, la gran mayoría está sufriendo en soledad en sus casas. Ya antes la gente estaba aislada, y esto no mejorará. De ahora en adelante, más personas ocultarán su identidad.

    Desde 2016 ha habido problemas con los procedimientos administrativos, por lo que un número cada vez mayor de personas que comenzaron a hacer la transición pueden tener un aspecto diferente del sexo registrado en sus documentos. Y si alguien es abierta y visiblemente transgénero, se le vuelve difícil encontrar un trabajo; la discriminación es parte de la vida cotidiana. Y ahora se está volviendo más grave. Hemos visto un aumento en los niveles de discriminación, no solo en el empleo sino también en la vida cotidiana. En Hungría la gente debe presentar sus documentos de identidad con mucha frecuencia, por lo cual uno se ve obligado a exhibirse todo el tiempo. La gente no te cree y te interroga. Por ejemplo, recientemente una persona trans estaba tratando de comprar una casa y el abogado que estaba redactando el contrato planteó dudas sobre su documento de identidad porque no coincidía con su descripción de género.

    Dadas las restricciones a la libertad de reunión pacífica impuestas bajo la pandemia del COVID-19, ¿qué acciones de lobby y campaña han podido desarrollar para detener la aprobación del artículo 33?

    En Transvanilla somos muy estratégicos: solo emprendemos actividades que podrían tener un impacto. Por lo tanto, no nos concentramos en el contexto húngaro. En el parlamento, la oposición es impotente porque Fidesz, el partido del primer ministro Viktor Orbán, tiene dos tercios de los escaños y, por lo tanto, puede imponerse en cualquier votación. También sabíamos que no podíamos movilizar a suficientes personas: no se podía salir masivamente a las calles debido a la pandemia, por lo que esto ni siquiera era una opción. Si esto no hubiera sucedido durante la pandemia, algunas organizaciones podrían haber tratado de organizar protestas. Hasta que se propuso la enmienda, Transvanilla no levantaba públicamente el tema del reconocimiento legal del género porque estábamos haciendo incidencia silenciosa. El 1º de abril, cuando nos enteramos de la iniciativa, pedimos a la comunidad internacional que alzara sus voces públicamente y entablara un diálogo multilateral con nuestro gobierno sobre este tema.

    Llamamos la atención internacional, y muchas voces internacionales se manifestaron en contra de la propuesta. En abril de 2020 también recurrimos al Comisionado de Derechos Fundamentales de Hungría y le pedimos que hiciera todo lo posible para detener la enmienda. Por supuesto, interactuamos con los medios internacionales y nacionales. Lanzamos un petitorio y logramos juntar más de 30.000 firmas. Ahora estamos haciendo otro petitorio dirigido a la Unión Europea (UE) y esperamos que tenga efecto.

    En suma, recurrimos al defensor del pueblo, que podría haber intervenido, pero no lo hizo, y presionamos internacionalmente al gobierno, cosa que a veces funciona, pero esta vez no funcionó. La ley fue aprobada, y el día que entró en vigencia presentamos dos demandas ante el Tribunal Constitucional. El tribunal podría rechazarlas por cualquier razón, pero esperamos que no lo haga. Al mismo tiempo, estamos presionando al Comisionado de Derechos Fundamentales porque tiene el poder de solicitar al Tribunal Constitucional que investigue la ley, y si lo hace, entonces el tribunal debe hacerlo. La presión es muy importante y muchos actores internacionales están ayudando, incluida Amnistía Internacional Hungría, que ha lanzado una campaña. Tenemos 23 casos ante el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos (TEDH), todos ellos referidos al reconocimiento del género, cuyos solicitantes están representados por nuestro abogado. El gobierno y las otras partes interesadas recibieron plazo hasta junio de 2020 para resolver estos casos, y si no lo hacían el Tribunal debía tomar una decisión. Debido a la pandemia del COVID-19, la fecha límite para el gobierno se aplazó hasta septiembre de 2020, lo cual no es una buena noticia para nosotros. Pero dados los antecedentes del TEDH, estamos seguros de que respetará los derechos de las personas transgénero. Seguiremos llevando casos a este tribunal y representaremos a las personas que han sido específicamente afectadas por esta ley. Queremos presionar al tribunal para que tome una decisión lo antes posible.

    También seguimos colaborando con los mecanismos de derechos humanos de la UE, el Consejo de Europa y las Naciones Unidas. Conseguimos que numerosas OSC firmen una declaración para presionar a la Comisión Europea (CE), que hasta ahora ha guardado silencio sobre el tema. Queremos asegurarnos de que lo que sucedió en Hungría no suceda en otros países, por lo que hemos creado una alianza de sociedad civil para transmitir el mensaje de que, si otros gobiernos intentan hacer lo mismo, enfrentarán una gran resistencia. Y, por supuesto, seguimos tratando de comunicarnos con los ministerios, aunque les hemos enviado cartas y no hemos recibido respuesta.

    ¿Cómo podría lograrse que un gobierno cada vez más autoritario, como el de Hungría, rinda cuentas de sus actos?

    Hemos tratado de relacionarnos directamente con el gobierno para obligarlo a rendir cuentas, pero esto hasta ahora no ha funcionado. Representamos a un grupo minoritario y no podemos luchar solos contra este gobierno. Pero las instituciones internacionales a veces influyen sobre las acciones del gobierno. Esperamos que una decisión judicial del TEDH o del Tribunal Constitucional tenga efecto.

    Desafortunadamente, lo que hemos visto desde 2010 es que, por la forma en que está diseñada, la UE no puede tomar medidas definitivas contra un país, especialmente si dicho país no está solo. Y esto es lo que ocurre en este caso, ya que Polonia y Hungría siempre se respaldan mutuamente. La gente percibe que la UE carece de voluntad política para tomar medidas. No nos cansamos de repetir que la UE debería cortar el financiamiento, porque Hungría está viviendo del dinero de la UE y si ésta corta el flujo de fondos el gobierno comenzará a comportarse de manera diferente. Pero la UE se niega a hacerlo.

    La UE debería actuar no solo en relación con esta legislación específica, sino también respecto de otras cuestiones más amplias relacionadas con el estado de derecho y los derechos fundamentales en Hungría. Debería hacer algo en relación con sus propios estados miembros, o de lo contrario no debería hacer comentarios sobre ningún país no perteneciente a la UE. El hecho de que la CE no mencione explícitamente a Hungría es indignante. Cuando a fines de marzo se aprobó la Ley de Autorización, que otorgó al Primer Ministro Orbán poderes adicionales para combatir la pandemia, la presidenta de la CE, Ursula von der Leyen, hizo una declaración que claramente se refería a Hungría, pero no mencionaba al país por su nombre, al punto que Hungría también firmó la declaración. Recientemente se pidió a la Comisionada para la Igualdad de la CE que condenara a Hungría por la enmienda anti-trans y ella se negó a hacerlo; en cambio, prefirió hablar de los derechos de las personas transgénero en general. Esto es inaceptable.

    La UE no solamente debe hablar; también debe actuar en relación con Hungría y Polonia. Si la CE sigue negándose a abordar la situación en el terreno, entonces realmente no sabemos adónde más recurrir. Hasta ahora, el gobierno ha seguido las decisiones del TEDH, pero este año ha dejado de obedecer las decisiones judiciales de Hungría, lo cual es muy preocupante. En 2018, hubo una decisión del Tribunal Constitucional en el caso de un refugiado transgénero que exigía que el parlamento promulgara legislación sobre el reconocimiento legal del género para los ciudadanos no húngaros, cosa que aún no ha hecho.

    ¿Qué apoyo necesitan las OSC húngaras de la sociedad civil internacional?

    Es importante intentar unificar los diferentes movimientos y actuar como puente entre ellos, y creo que las OSC internacionales pueden desempeñar un rol en ese sentido. En tanto que organización trans nos ocupamos de las personas trans, pero las personas trans vienen en todas las formas y tamaños: hay personas trans migrantes, personas trans romaníes, personas trans discapacitadas, y todas tenemos que unirnos. Además, aunque actualmente son las personas trans las que están siendo atacadas en Hungría, no sabemos qué grupo vulnerable es el que sigue en la lista, y creo que las OSC internacionales deberían preocuparse por todos. También deben ayudar a crear conciencia en las instituciones internacionales; en Hungría, por ejemplo, la presión internacional es importante porque a Orbán a veces todavía le importa el modo en que el país es percibido en el exterior. Por lo tanto, el involucramiento de la comunidad internacional es útil. La sociedad civil internacional también puede ayudar a aportar buenos ejemplos, porque cuanto mejor sea la situación de las personas trans en otros países, la diferencia traerá más vergüenza al gobierno húngaro. Pero si otros países de la UE comienzan a seguir a Hungría, entonces el gobierno se saldrá con la suya. Organizaciones como CIVICUS pueden ayudar a unir a la sociedad civil.

    El espacio cívico en Hungría es clasificado como “obstruido” por elCIVICUS Monitor. Actualmente, Hungría también figura en nuestra Civic Space Watchlist.
    Contáctese con la Asociación TransgéneroTransvanilla a través de su sitio web o su perfil deFacebook, y siga a@Transvanilla en Twitter y a@transvanilla.official en Instagram.

     

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

     

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

    martin pairet

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Where in Europe is the situation most worrying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How is European Alternatives working to counter hate speech?

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • 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.

     

  • PERÚ: ‘La corriente ultraconservadora está afectando la vida democrática y los derechos fundamentales’

    Eliana CanoEn el marco de nuestro informe temático 2019, que será publicado en octubre, estamos entrevistando a activistas, líderes y expertos de la sociedad civil acerca de su experiencia frente al avance de los grupos anti-derechos y sus estrategias para fortalecer las narrativas progresistas y la capacidad de respuesta de la sociedad civil. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa conEliana Cano, fundadora de Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – Perú (CDD-Perú), un movimiento de personas católicas y feministas, comprometidascon la búsqueda de justicia social y elcambio de los patrones culturales que limitan la autonomía de las mujeres y sus derechos sexuales y reproductivos. Recientemente, CDD-Perú fue demandada civilmente por el Centro Jurídico Tomás Moro, que busca quitarle la personería jurídica con el argumento de que, en el marco del concordato entre el Vaticano y Perú, no debería utilizar la designación de “católicas”.

    CDD-Perú ha sido demandada civilmente para que se le retire la personalidad jurídica y se le impida definirse como ‘católica’. ¿Quiénes las están demandando, por qué se han ensañado con ustedes, y qué pretenden lograr?

    Hace aproximadamente un mes y medio fuimos notificadas de que el Centro Jurídico Santo Tomás Moro, que se autodesigna representante de la Iglesia Católica, nos había iniciado una demanda. Según los abogados que nos están asesorando, este grupo empezó a explorar todo el quehacer de nuestra organización hace aproximadamente un año. Eligieron la vía civil para demandarnos porque quieren hacer de esto un proceso largo, tedioso, cansado, de apelación permanente. Es un proceso que podría llevar en promedio entre tres o cuatro años. La estrategia de fondo es agotarnos en el proceso.

    Quieren que nosotros, como organización, dejemos de existir en la Superintendencia Nacional de los Registros Públicos, es decir, que perdamos nuestra personería jurídica y no podamos seguir operando en el Perú. Para ello aducen que, por llamarnos como nos llamamos, estamos faltando el respeto a la Iglesia Católica y a la feligresía; dicen que, en el marco del concordato entre el Vaticano y el Estado peruano, que reconoce el rol de la Iglesia Católica, estaríamos usando de mala fe el término ‘católicas’, que representa a una institución y a una identidad histórica. No aceptan la interpretación que hacemos de los textos bíblicos desde la teología feminista para cuestionar el dogma, la conciencia impuesta, el control que buscan hacer de la gente en nombre de Dios. Es importante señalar que nuestra organización no está registrada en la Iglesia Católica como grupo de fieles, y por lo tanto no está sujeta al mandato interno de la Iglesia.

    Ustedes existen desde hace unos cuantos años. ¿Es la primera vez que enfrentan una reacción semejante?

    Efectivamente, el proyecto Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir es bastante antiguo en América Latina. Comenzó en Uruguay y luego se extendió a Estados Unidos, y de allí pasó a México y a otros países de América Latina. En Perú la organización tiene existencia jurídica desde el año 2009. Nos organizamos porque nos identificamos como feministas con identidad católica, nos sentimos mujeres católicas de fe, pero tenemos una mirada crítica frente al dogma, al pensamiento estático y cerrado, sobre todo cuando se debaten temas relacionados con los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, donde el cuerpo y la sexualidad son el terreno donde se libran luchas políticas. En Perú siempre ha habido una voz pública muy homogénea alrededor de los Evangelios y el derecho a mandar sobre los cuerpos y las vidas de las mujeres, y nosotras, al ponerla en duda desde nuestra identidad católica, recibimos una respuesta bastante agresiva de la jerarquía de la Iglesia Católica local y grupos vinculados a esta.

    El primer ataque público fue por el debate en torno al protocolo por el aborto terapéutico, es decir, justificado por razones médicas, cuando hay riesgos graves para la salud o la vida de la mujer. Fue un ataque teñido por los mismos recursos que ellos siempre utilizan, fundados en la difamación, el descrédito y la mentira. Pero se trató básicamente de ataques verbales y escritos a través de las redes sociales.

    Estos grupos conservadores se manejan bien en las redes sociales, permanentemente nos atacan públicamente por cada cosa que se sale del sitio del dogma, del discurso homogéneo. Sin embargo, es la primera vez que enfrentamos una demanda legal; no esperábamos un ataque tan directo y de semejante magnitud. Tal vez deberíamos haberlo previsto, ya que en América Latina, y en el Perú específicamente, la corriente ultraconservadora ha penetrado profundamente en la estructura política del país y está afectando la vida democrática.

    Daría la impresión de que estos grupos ultraconservadores son ahora más grandes y están más envalentonados que en el pasado. ¿A qué se debe?

    Considero que una mirada en el tiempo permite ver cómo desde hace varias décadas se decidió desarrollar una respuesta global y regional para desalentar y debilitar el discurso de la Teología de la Liberación, cuyo énfasis estuvo principalmente en la preocupación por la pobreza. Con su discurso cuestionador dentro de la Iglesia que se extendía a otros ámbitos de la vida, la Teología de la Liberación afectó o incomodó mucho a la parte más dura y conservadora de la Iglesia. La reacción contraria ha sido de largo aliento. Ha logrado avances, al punto que hoy se hace visible una red altamente orgánica, con sedes de encuentro en los diferentes países de América Latina, publicaciones, conferencias y recursos económicos considerables. Su presencia comenzó a hacerse sentir con fuerza en el año 2005, con el II Congreso Internacional Pro-Vida organizado por el Centro de Promoción Familiar y de Regulación de la Natalidad (Ceprofarena) en la capital del Perú. Este congreso produjo un documento conocido como la Declaración de Lima, expresión de la concertación entre los grupos conservadores.

    Ceprofarena existe desde comienzos de los años ochenta; está estrechamente vinculado con Human Life international, una poderosa organización internacional conservadora, y cuenta entre sus miembros a reconocidos médicos y altos funcionarios del Estado, incluidos ex ministros de Salud. La organización se mueve dentro de numerosas organizaciones médicas y de salud, públicas y privadas. Estos actores ponen el discurso “científico” conservador al servicio de atropellos tales como la denegación de la anticoncepción oral de emergencia, tema en el cual le ganaron la pulseada al Ministerio de Salud: le hicieron una demanda, llevaron ante los tribunales el derecho a informarse y decidir de miles de mujeres, y lograron la prohibición de su distribución en todos servicios de salud a nivel nacional. Ahora están en campaña para deshabilitar el protocolo de aborto terapéutico que se logró establecer en el quinquenio 2011-2016.

    El entramado de organizaciones conservadoras en Perú se completa con la Oficina para Latinoamérica del Population Research Institute , con sede en Lima; la sede peruana de la Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia, que promueve formatos familiares clásicos y produce y difunde libros escolares; y por supuesto organizaciones más antiguas como el Opus Dei, que hace labores de desarrollo y apoyo local y está muy inserto en espacios educativos, además de dentro de la burocracia de la Iglesia; y el Sodalicio de la Vida Cristiana, una organización de laicos.

    Estos grupos tienen mucho dinero del empresariado conservador y se han apropiado tanto de estrategias como de discursos efectivos. Esta demanda jurídica es una estrategia práctica que denota cambios en su forma de organizarse. Ya no hablan el lenguaje divino y clerical porque saben que cada vez atrae menos; en cambio se han apropiado del discurso de la democracia y los derechos humanos.

    ¿Están ustedes pensando nuevas estrategias para enfrentar este desafío?

    En este escenario nos vemos en la necesidad de fortalecer nuestras estrategias de comunicación. También tenemos que reforzar la parte económica ya que no contamos con financiación para enfrentar una demanda legal de esta magnitud. Los donantes internacionales no necesariamente contemplan en sus apoyos un rubro para planes de defensa institucional. Pero en los tiempos actuales se trata de un aspecto muy necesario para las organizaciones defensoras de los derechos humanos. En esta situación específica, felizmente, el Instituto de Defensa Legal, que ya había asumido casos parecidos en relación con periodistas, se interesó y decidió patrocinar el caso como parte de su apuesta institucional. Ellos consideran que esto es una “pelea ideológica” y que el cuestionamiento del nombre es un “pretexto” para desaparecernos como actores con influencia. El suyo es un gesto que agradecemos infinitamente.

    En lo que se refiere al discurso, sin embargo, no deberíamos movernos de nuestras posiciones, sino más bien poner en evidencia que la apropiación del discurso de los derechos humanos y la democracia por parte de los grupos ultraconservadores es tan superficial como poco respetuosa de los principios democráticos. Tal como acaba de suceder con la campaña “Con mis hijos no te metas”, centrada en la oposición a la educación sobre la igualdad de género y el respeto por las identidades sexuales, su discurso tiende a volverse muy agresivo cada vez que se sienten acorralados. Se les percibe como desesperados, porque en el fondo no hacen sino reaccionar frente a conquistas en materia de derechos.

    La situación de hecho ha progresado, porque no somos solamente nosotras, sino que se encuentran en movimiento nuevas generaciones y mucha gente respetuosa de la libertad, de la diversidad, de la garantía de derechos, que también está ganando espacios. No solamente son las tres o cuatro organizaciones feministas fundadoras que se mueven en la ciudad de Lima; se evidencian voces, rostros y jóvenes organizados desde las universidades, desde las comunidades, desde otras regiones del Perú que con un pensamiento crítico no aceptan los dogmas, incluso reaccionan con tono sarcástico ante ese tipo de discursos y posiciones.

    Desde ya que hay una juventud católica que es convocada por el Papa y ha decidido quedarse en ese perímetro ultraconservador, pero también hay una movilización social juvenil en torno de muchos temas, y con ellos muchas cuestiones de la agenda de derechos sexuales y reproductivos van permeando el debate público. Creo que esto está desesperando a los grupos ultraconservadores, y entonces reaccionan de manera feroz, con cólera, frustración, y hasta me atrevería a decir que odio. Es decir, reaccionan con actitudes que no se parecen nada a la misericordia, la bondad, la humildad, la comprensión y el no juzgamiento.

    ¿Por qué el hecho de que se definan como ‘católicas y feministas’ genera este tipo de rechazos?

    Nosotras somos mujeres de fe y la religión es parte de nuestra identidad. Hemos sido criadas como católicas, y en ese marco el mensaje que se nos inculcó fue de obediencia, prohibición y opresión. Conforme hemos crecido, nos rebelamos ante este y otros aspectos del control de la vida y la dimensión sexual-afectiva. Nos identificamos como católicas desde una interpretación renovada y no renunciamos a nuestra fe. Somos conscientes de que el catolicismo no es solamente una cuestión de fe, sino que también opera o se materializa en una institución, y como tal tiene prácticas tanto positivas como negativas que tienen impacto en la vida de la gente, y específicamente sobre su feligresía.

    Al mismo tiempo, todas nosotras venimos de trayectorias en organizaciones con identidad feminista. Somos feministas, cuestionamos el patriarcado como sistema de relaciones de poder asimétricas, pero no renunciamos a nuestra fe. Siempre nos hacemos estas preguntas: ¿por qué nuestra religión tendría que tener una sola voz, uniforme e incuestionable? ¿Por qué obedecer en silencio y validar el sacrificio y el sufrimiento en nuestras vidas y cuerpos? Encontramos un asidero en la teología feminista, que pasa por una deconstrucción y una reconstrucción del Evangelio. Estas herramientas conceptuales y políticas fortalecen nuestra convicción y nuestra lucha pública por los derechos sexuales y reproductivos.

    Desde la oficialidad se nos dice “ustedes no son católicas, quiénes son ustedes para hablar en nombre del catolicismo”, a lo que nosotras respondemos: “qué te hace a ti católico, qué te permite atropellar derechos en nombre de Dios”. Nosotras hemos hecho una reapropiación del lenguaje del evangelio que se centra en el derecho de las personas a deliberar en conciencia, a discernir y a decidir, y esto les incomoda. Yo soy católica, bautizada y apuesto por una teología feminista. No puedes cuestionar mi fe, así como yo tampoco puedo cuestionar la tuya. Es una lucha muy fuerte, porque puede ser fácil derrumbarse frente a una masa mayoritaria que te dice que tú no eres uno de ellos. Desde el principio supimos que enfrentaríamos la descalificación, la mentira y la difamación; sin embargo, no pensamos que los ataques llegarían a ser tan violentos como los que experimentamos actualmente en las redes sociales y a través de esta demanda.

    Como la experiencia de fe no nos la pueden arrancar, lo que intentan es arrancarnos la personería jurídica, hacernos desaparecer. Representamos un peligro porque no somos pocas, cada vez somos más quienes nos conocen y se sienten identificadas/os. Representamos la posición de muchas personas que no necesariamente tienen la oportunidad de articular públicamente este pensamiento, pero que lo sienten y lo viven. Hay una feligresía amplia y diversa que no piensa como la jerarquía y considera que la respuesta ultraconservadora en materia de políticas públicas es digna de la época de la Inquisición. Según las encuestas, la mayoría de los católicos disiente de la jerarquía en muchas cuestiones importantes, tales como la homosexualidad, que no consideran que sea una enfermedad o un castigo divino, o el matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo. Decidir un aborto en circunstancias específicas de vida es una decisión altamente ética y responsable, no te hace una mala mujer, ni menos católica ni mala madre. Utilizar anticonceptivos para regular la maternidad y la paternidad o disfrutar una relación sexual sin procrear no está prohibido en los evangelios. El mal llamado estado de “virginidad” va perdiendo credibilidad divina y libera a las mujeres de sentimientos de culpa incluso en sociedades como las de América Latina, donde los gobiernos de turno y la Iglesia Católica estuvieron siempre de la mano para regular la vida de la gente. Es más, actualmente siguen utilizándose mutuamente cuando uno de ellos pierde credibilidad.

    ¿De qué maneras están promoviendo la distinción entre la privada y política pública?

    La nuestra es también una lucha por un Estado laico, un Estado que se encuentre separado de las iglesias. Esto es muy difícil de conseguir en la práctica, ya que la Iglesia Católica y el Estado peruano mantienen fuertes vínculos institucionales. Sin embargo, más allá de conseguir legal y constitucionalmente la separación entre la Iglesia y el Estado, hay otra lucha que estamos dando en el terreno de los imaginarios colectivos y de las actitudes. Mucha gente (políticos, funcionarios, servidores públicos) llegan a la esfera pública sin una reflexión sobre la importancia de separar la creencia religiosa de la función pública. En consecuencia, muchos legisladores y funcionarios públicos toman decisiones sobre la base de sus creencias religiosas. Es usual encontrar en los edificios de los Ministerios crucifijos, capillas e imágenes de carácter religioso. En el día a día la religión nos rodea y nos limita, no existen fronteras claras entre la práctica religiosa y la función pública.

    Los grupos ultraconservadores se afirman sobre este terreno y buscan expandir aún más los dictados de una religión que se presenta como homogénea, con la intención de obligar a toda la ciudadanía a vivir según sus propias creencias y mandatos. El problema no es la religión; la dificultad radica en el uso político que se hace de ésta en la esfera político–pública, donde el deber es garantizar los derechos humanos.

    El espacio cívico en Perú es clasificado como ‘obstruido’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contáctese con Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir-Perú a través de supágina web o su perfil deFacebook, o siga a@CDDperu en Twitter

     

     

     

  • POLONIA: ‘Inventamos nuevas formas de protesta porque no nos quedó otra opción’

    CIVICUS conversa con Klementyna Suchanow, activista, autora e investigadora basada en Varsovia, Polonia, acerca del recienteanuncio del gobierno polaco de que comenzará el proceso de retirada del Convenio de Estambul sobre la violencia contra la mujer. Klementyna es una de las fundadoras del Paro de Mujeres de Polonia (Polish Women’s Strike) y del Paro Internacional de mujeres. El Paro de Mujeres de Polonia es un movimiento feminista de base fundado en 2016 para defender los derechos de las mujeres contra la iniciativa del gobierno para prohibir y criminalizar el aborto. Durante la pandemia del COVID-19, el movimiento se ha mantenido unido y activo a través de un grupo de Facebook y continúa movilizándose por los derechos de las mujeres polacas.

    Klementyna Suchanow

    ¿Cuál ha sido en los últimos años la situación de Polonia en materia de género?

    Vivimos bajo un gobierno conservador, y aunque nunca diría que hace cinco años esto era el paraíso, la situación de los derechos de las mujeres y las personas LGBTQI+ recientemente ha empeorado. Cada día presenciamos más ataques verbales y físicos contra grupos marginados. Se han establecido divisiones a lo largo de líneas políticas y los principales blancos de agresiones han sido los inmigrantes y las personas LGBTQI+. Las campañas para las elecciones al Parlamento Europeo de 2019 y las elecciones presidenciales de este año han estado enfocadas sobre todo en el odio contra las personas LGBTQI+. La ola de odio es muy intensa y lidiar con ella es un gran desafío.

    La situación de las mujeres y los movimientos por los derechos de las mujeres es ligeramente diferente. Nuestra nueva corriente de feminismo popular es muy inclusiva y pragmática. Es por eso que tantas jóvenes se han unido a nosotras en los últimos meses. Vemos que las generaciones más jóvenes están más politizadas y conscientes. De modo que el movimiento de mujeres está en una posición muy fuerte. Es el único movimiento que ha podido obligar al gobierno a dar un paso atrás en su intento de prohibir el aborto en 2016, y posteriormente en otros temas. Parece que nuestra ira los asusta, pero siguen haciendo cosas para empeorar nuestra situación.

    En resumen, las mujeres estamos experimentando reveses en nuestra situación legal pero nuestro poder sigue creciendo. No estoy segura de si este es el caso de la comunidad LGBTQI+, porque se trata de un grupo minoritario y está más expuesta. La situación de las personas LGBTQI+ definitivamente está empeorando en todo sentido.

    ¿Se han producido más retrocesos en materia de género durante la pandemia del COVID-19?

    Aprovechando la pandemia, el gobierno y otros actores han hecho varios intentos para hacer retroceder los derechos sexuales y reproductivos de las mujeres. En mayo de 2020, el parlamento polaco propuso un proyecto de ley que eliminaría la obligación legal de los centros médicos de derivar pacientes a otras instituciones en caso de negarse a proporcionar servicios de aborto en función de las creencias personales de su personal. Según la ley polaca actual, el aborto solo es legal cuando la vida de la madre está en peligro, el embarazo es el resultado de una violación o el feto tiene alguna deformidad grave. Aproximadamente el 98% de los abortos que se realizan caen en esta última categoría, pero en mayo se propuso un proyecto de ley para eliminar esta cláusula. En junio, nuevas disposiciones del Código Penal impusieron duras penas de prisión para quienes apoyen a las mujeres mediante servicios relacionados con el aborto.

    Las modificaciones de las leyes sobre el aborto introducidas durante la pandemia surgieron de un proyecto cívico presentado por una organización fundamentalista. Nosotras organizamos protestas, lo cual fue una locura, porque ¿cómo se hace para protestar durante una pandemia, cuando la gente no tiene permitido reunirse? Por eso nos volvimos creativas: inventamos nuevas formas de protesta porque no nos quedó otra opción. Organizamos “colas de protestas”, paradas en fila con dos metros de distancia fuera de una tienda cercana al edificio del Parlamento, de modo de cumplir con las regulaciones de la cuarentena, mientras sosteníamos carteles y paraguas. Esto sucedió en varias ciudades, no solamente en la capital, Varsovia. Como no se nos permitía caminar libremente, también organizamos “protestas en automóvil”. Así interrumpimos el tráfico y bloqueamos la plaza principal de Varsovia durante aproximadamente una hora.

    Estas protestas fueron bastante efectivas. Las enmiendas no avanzaron y ahora están “congeladas”. Fueron enviadas a una comisión parlamentaria, pero la comisión no las está estudiando. No han sido rechazadas ni aprobadas. Pero esto también significa que en el futuro podrían ser resucitadas repentinamente y tendremos que volver a lidiar con ellas.

    Este gobierno ha dejado claro desde el principio que no apoya los derechos de las mujeres y no le importa la violencia contra las mujeres. Desde que llegó al poder, recortó el financiamiento de los centros de apoyo a las mujeres, los cuales han tenido que recurrir al crowdfunding o están sobreviviendo con donaciones privadas, porque ya no tienen acceso a la financiación estatal. Sin embargo, también se han logrado algunos avances, como ocurrió con una ley que se aprobó recientemente, a propuesta de un partido de izquierda, y que faculta a los agentes de policía a emitir órdenes de restricción que prohíben a los perpetradores de violencia ingresar al hogar de la víctima durante 14 días. Esto ha contribuido a separar inmediatamente a las víctimas de los perpetradores.

    Por otra parte, en los últimos meses las autoridades han anunciado repetidamente que están pensando en sacar a Polonia del Convenio del Consejo de Europa para prevenir y combatir la violencia contra las mujeres y la violencia doméstica, también conocido como Convenio de Estambul. Al principio no nos lo tomamos demasiado en serio. Pero siempre es así: primero prueban las aguas para ver qué tan lejos pueden llegar, y si no encuentran demasiada resistencia comienzan a avanzar. El tema no se planteó ni durante la campaña ni durante la elección presidencial, pero apenas una semana más tarde quedó puesto en la agenda. Muchos hechos graves, tales como arrestos de activistas, tuvieron lugar inmediatamente después de las elecciones.

    Ahora la situación se está poniendo grave. Varios ministros han hecho anuncios y el presidente ha aprobado la idea de retirarnos del Convenio de Estambul. También están haciendo mucha propaganda en los medios estatales para convencer a la gente de que el Convenio trata sobre la llamada “ideología de género”. Sin embargo, las encuestas muestran que más del 60% de la población está en contra de abandonar el Convenio, en comparación con apenas 15% que apoya la idea. La mitad de quienes se oponen votaron por el partido gobernante. Es extraño que el gobierno esté llevando esta iniciativa tan lejos, dado que va en contra de las opiniones de sus propios votantes.

     

    Habiendo estado al frente de la huelga de mujeres polacas de 2016, ¿qué opina de la situación actual?

    Estamos tan acostumbradas a escuchar malas noticias que este último anuncio no nos sorprendió. La situación en Polonia es tal, y cada día suceden tantas cosas malas, que una se vuelve inmune a las malas noticias.

    Durante la pandemia, todo se ha vuelto muy político. En lugar de poner el foco en cuidar la salud de las personas, todo se politizó. Se suponía las elecciones presidenciales iban a ser en mayo y hubo mucha discusión sobre si debían realizarse; finalmente se las postergó para finales de junio. El partido gobernante sabía que estaba perdiendo popularidad porque el sistema de salud no es lo suficientemente eficiente y su propio Ministro de Salud estaba ganando mucho dinero mediante la provisión de máscaras y equipos médicos. Por eso el partido gobernante presionó para que las elecciones fueran lo antes posible, antes de que perdiera demasiados votos. Y en lugar de cuidar nuestra seguridad y nuestras vidas, se enfocó en hacer avanzar su propia agenda política. Los intentos de prohibir el aborto fueron indignantes y decepcionantes porque en un momento tan crítico uno espera más responsabilidad de su gobierno.

    Yo sabía que la gente estaba cansada de movilizarse, así que me sorprendió ver que tanta gente salió a defender el Convenio de Estambul, que se convirtió en un tema de discusión nacional en los medios de comunicación y en todas partes. Se ha creado mucha energía positiva en torno de este tema, y esto nos está dando la fuerza que necesitamos para detener la iniciativa.

    Llevamos cinco años protestando. La protesta tiene su propia dinámica: hay que percibir cuál el momento para decidir cómo reaccionar; a veces intentas una cosa y no funciona. Todo es un experimento. Pero en este momento, sentimos que hay una energía real y un impulso que debemos aprovechar. Hay mucho interés por parte de los medios extranjeros y mucha receptividad en relación con este tema. Esto es un poco extraño, porque en el pasado cada vez que intentamos hacer algo en relación con la violencia contra las mujeres fue muy difícil hacer que la gente se movilizara en las calles. Hay algo en el tema de la violencia que hace difícil traducir los sentimientos en acciones callejeras. Si bien muchas personas lo experimentan o conocen a alguien que ha sido víctima de violencia, prefieren no reaccionar. Muchas veces en el pasado fracasamos cuando intentamos organizar algo sobre el tema de la violencia, pero esta vez la gente se enganchó. Puede que ahora tengamos la oportunidad de defender el derecho a una vida libre de violencia, convirtiéndolo en un problema para el gobierno.

    ¿Enfrentan los y las activistas polacas que trabajan temas de género alguna restricción de su derecho a organizarse, expresarse y movilizarse?

    Soy escritora y artista, y como resultado de mi activismo me han cortado las subvenciones estatales. Ninguna institución estatal quiere trabajar conmigo en este momento, porque si mi nombre aparece en alguna lista, se convierte en un problema para ellos. También podría ser arrestada o llevada a los tribunales por una fundación legal de derecha como Ordo Iuris. Por supuesto, también está el discurso de odio: el gobierno usa tu nombre y tu imagen para hacer propaganda en los medios estatales, y también puedes ser atacada por troles en las redes sociales. La policía te puede hacer daño, como me pasó a mí durante una protesta en 2018. Esta situación se fue dando de forma paulatina, pero en este momento hay una amplia gama de formas de represión disponibles. Por el momento, sin embargo, no he oído hablar de activistas feministas que hayan experimentado ataques físicos procedentes de civiles.

    Soy una de las activistas que comenzaron a emprender acciones directas contra el gobierno, de modo que me acusan de muchas cosas. A Ordo Iuris no le agrado porque escribí un libro revelando detalles acerca de la red fundamentalista internacional de la cual forma parte. Estoy en su lista de enemigos, pero hasta ahora no me han demandado. Dicen que están trabajando en su lista de acusaciones en mi contra, porque son muchas. Durante nuestra última protesta, miembros de Ordo Iuris se acercaron a un oficial de policía y trataron de convencerlo de que me pidiera identificación. Pero la policía de Varsovia nos conoce, conoce nuestras caras, sabía que yo no había hecho nada ilegal durante la protesta y rechazó su exigencia.

    ¿De qué manera puede la sociedad civil llamar a rendir cuentas a un gobierno cada vez más autoritario como el de Polonia, y qué apoyo de la sociedad civil internacional necesita para hacerlo?

    Con respecto al Convenio de Estambul, estamos tratando de convencer a la comunidad internacional de que los fondos europeos deben asignarse teniendo en cuenta la situación real del respeto de los derechos humanos por parte de cada miembro de la Unión Europea (UE). La UE cuenta con un nuevo instrumento que establece que la financiación debe estar vinculada a la adhesión a los principios y prácticas democráticos. Estamos tratando de convencer al Consejo de Europa, la fuente del Convenio de Estambul, de que introduzca medidas similares contra los gobiernos que atacan los derechos de sus ciudadanos. Se trata de vincular el financiamiento con el respeto y la promoción de los derechos humanos. El dinero es el único idioma que los gobiernos entienden. Actualmente hay seis ciudades polacas que no reciben fondos europeos por haberse declarado “zonas libres de LGBTI”, lo cual es considerado un acto contrario a los derechos humanos. Quisiéramos plantear este tema junto con las mujeres turcas, que enfrentan una batalla similar contra la iniciativa de su gobierno de retirar al país del Convenio de Estambul. No puedes atacar los derechos humanos como lo están haciendo Hungría y Rusia, y aun así seguir siendo tratado por el Consejo de Europa igual que todos los demás, como interlocutor válido en la conversación. Este es un nuevo enfoque que estamos tratando de que la gente entienda.

    Queremos que las organizaciones internacionales de la sociedad civil presionen a los políticos locales para que tomen conciencia de que los temas de derechos humanos y fondos deben considerarse en forma inseparable. El Consejo de Europa también debe entender esto para que podamos sentar un precedente y, en el futuro, tanto aquí como en otros países las mujeres estén protegidas. Si tenemos un gobierno autoritario que hace lo que quiere, aun cuando la ciudadanía no está de acuerdo, necesitamos contar con algunas protecciones externas. Todo lo que tenemos en Polonia es represión, de modo que necesitamos que alguien de fuera esté de nuestro lado y no nos deje solos.

    El espacio cívico en Polonia es calificado de “estrecho” por elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contáctese con el Paro de Mujeres de Polonia a través de su página deFacebook y siga a@strajkkobiet y a@KSuchanow en Twitter.