protests

 

  • ‘Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised’

     

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Mundaca, Agronomist and National Spokesperson of the Defence Movement for Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA), an organisation established in 2010 in the Chilean province of Petorca, in the Valparaíso region, to defend the rights of farmers, workers and local people. Since the 1990s, the region has been affected by the massive appropriation of water by agribusiness in collusion with the political establishment.

    Rodrigo Mundaca

    What is the main environmental issue in your context?

    The main problem is water. We live in a territory characterised mainly by the monoculture of avocado, the production of which requires huge amounts of water. Water is in the hands of large producers who have dried out our territory and compromised the lives of our communities. Ours is an extreme case: Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised. Chile has clearly prioritised extractive industries over the rights of communities to water.

    The privatisation of water sources in Chile dates back to the Pinochet dictatorship of 1973 to 1990. The 1980 Constitution enshrined the private ownership of water. This was maintained, and even deepened, following the democratic transition, since sanitation was also privatised. The privatisation process of sanitation began in 1998, under the administration led by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a Christian Democrat. Nowadays, people in Chile pay the highest rates in Latin America for drinking water, which is owned by large transnational corporations. Overall, the Suez group, Aguas de Barcelona, Marubeni and the Ontario teachers’ pension fund administrator from Canada control 90 per cent of the drinking water supply.

    Right now, President Sebastián Piñera's government is auctioning off rivers. Piñera came into government with a mission to underpin the legal certainty of water rights ownership, and his cabinet includes several ministers who own rights to water use, the most prominent of which is the Minister of Agriculture, Antonio Walker Prieto. This minister and his family own more than 29,000 litres per second, which is equivalent to the continuous water supply used by approximately 17 million people.

    Is it as simple as someone owning the rivers and being able to prevent others from using the water?

    Yes, the 1980 Chilean Constitution literally states that the rights of individuals over water, recognised or constituted in accordance with the law, grant their bearers ownership over it. In 1981, the Water Code established that water is a national good for public use but also an economic good. Water ownership was separated from land ownership, so that there are water owners who have no land and landowners who have no water. It is the state's prerogative to grant rights for water use. These rights fall into two categories: water rights for consumption use and water rights for non-consumptive use, for example for generating electricity. In the first category, 77 per cent of the rights are held by the agricultural and forestry sector, 13 per cent by the mining sector, seven per cent by the industrial sector and approximately three per cent by the health sector. As for the rights for the use of water that is not consumed, 81 per cent are in the hands of an Italian public-private company. The owners of exploitation rights can sell or lease water use in the marketplace.

    In 2018, the Piñera administration proposed a bill aimed at providing legal certainty to perpetuity to private owners of water and introducing water auctions. Currently, 38 rivers in Chile are being auctioned off; basically, what the state does is auction off the litres per second that run through a river. While this occurs in some territories where there is still water, areas accounting for 67 per cent of the Chilean population – some 12 million people – have become water emergency areas. Our region, Valparaíso, is a zone of water catastrophe due to drought. This is unheard of: while such a large population has serious difficulties in accessing drinking water, the state is auctioning off rivers.

    What kind of work do you do to promote the recognition of access to water as a right?

    For more than 15 years we have made visible the conflict over water in our territory. Although we originated in the Valparaíso region, from 2016 onwards our organisation has worked nationwide. We fight at the national level for water to be regulated as a common good. The right to water is a fundamental human right.

    Our original strategy was to kickstart the struggle for water, render the conflict visible and bring debate to parliament about the need to repeal private ownership of water, despite our lack of confidence in the political class that has the responsibility to make the law and watch over its implementation.

    In 2016 we took an important step by putting forward an international strategy that made it known throughout the world that in our province the human right to water was being violated in order to grow avocados. We were featured in a German TV report, ‘Avocado: Superfood and Environmental Killer’, in several articles in The Guardian describing how Chileans are running out of water and in an RT report in Spanish, ‘Chile’s Dry Tears’, among others. Last year Netflix dedicated an episode of its Rotten show to the avocado business and the violation of the human right to water in Chile. We have had a positive reception. In 2019 alone, we received two international awards: the International Human Rights Prize awarded by the city of Nuremberg, Germany, in September, and the Danielle Mitterrand Prize, awarded by the France Libertés Foundation, in November.

    Another thing we do is develop activists and leaders. We have long-term training programmes and do ongoing work to develop theoretical and political thinking. We also mobilise. In the context of the widespread protests that started in Chile on 18 October 2019, we have made our demands heard. Clearly, although at the national level the main demands concern the restitution of workers’ pension funds and improvements in education and health, in some regions further north and further south of the capital, the most important demand concerns the recovery of water as a common good and a human right.

    In addition to mobilising, our work on the ground involves more radical actions such as roadblocks and occupations. Among direct actions carried out on the ground are the seizure of wells and the destruction of drains. Some local grassroots organisations seize wells owned by mining companies, resist as long as they can – sometimes for 60 or 70 days – and divert the water to their communities. In places where rivers no longer carry water, groundwater has been captured through drains, works of engineering that capture, channel and carry all groundwater away. Some communities destroy the drains that transport water for use by agribusiness such as forestry companies. Such actions of resistance have increased since the start of the social protests in October 2019.

    The struggle for water is a radical one because it erodes the foundations of inequality. The origin of the major Chilean fortunes is the appropriation of common goods, basically water and land. President Piñera's fortune is no exception.

    Have you faced reprisals because of your activism?

    Yes, because of our strategy to give visibility to the conflict over water, several of our activists have been threatened with death. That is why in 2017 Amnesty International conducted a worldwide campaign that collected more than 50,000 signatures to demand protection for us.

    Between 2012 and 2014, I was summoned 24 times by four different courts because I denounced a public official who had been Minister of the Interior under the first administration of President Michelle Bachelet (2006 to 2010). As well as being a leading Christian Democratic Party official, this person was a business owner who diverted water toward his properties to grow avocado and citrus. I reported this in 2012, during an interview with CNN, and that cost me 24 court appearances over two years. I was finally sentenced, first to five years in jail, which were then reduced to 540 days and then to 61, and finally our lawyers managed to put me on probation. I had to show up and sign on the first five days of each month. We also had to pay a fine.

    We have been attacked and threatened with death many times. In November 2019, an investigation published on a news site revealed that we were being targeted by police intelligence surveillance. However, in response to an amparo appeal – a petition for basic rights – against the police, in February 2020 the Supreme Court issued a ruling that the surveillance to which we are subjected does not violate our constitutional rights. This is Chile in all of its filthy injustice.

    Government behaviour has always been the same, regardless of the political colour of the incumbent government. All governments have reached agreements to keep the private water model because it is business, and one that is highly profitable for the political class. When they leave their positions in government, former public officials go on to occupy positions in the boards of the companies that appropriate the water.

    Did you join the global climate mobilisations of 2019?

    In Chile we have been mobilising since long before. In 2013 we had our first national march for the recovery of water and land, and from then on we have mobilised every year on 22 April, Earth Day. We also demonstrate to commemorate World Water Day on 22 March. We have been on the move for a long time. Chile is going through a social, environmental and humanity crisis. We face the need to safeguard human rights that are essential for the fulfilment of other rights. The human right to water is a basic precondition for people to be able to access all other rights.

    We have also been mobilised for a long time to denounce that Chile's development model is extremely polluting and deeply predatory. We have privatised marine resources: seven families own all of Chile’s marine resources. Our country has five areas of sacrifice, that is, areas that concentrate a large number of polluting industries. These are in Colonel, Huasco, Mussels, Quintero and Tocopilla. The areas of sacrifice are not only an environmental problem but also a social problem; they discriminate against the poorest and most vulnerable communities. They are overflowing with coal-fired thermoelectric plants and, in some cases, with copper smelters. The are 28 thermoelectric plants: 15 of these are US companies, eight are French, three are Italian and two are owned by domestic capital. The population in these areas has endured the emission of toxic gases and heavy metals for decades. We have been mobilising in these areas for years in defence of common natural assets.

    Have you engaged in international forums on the environment and climate change?

    Yes, I have been involved several times. In 2014, before I was convicted, I went to Paris, France by invitation of several European civil society organisations to attend a forum on human rights defenders, where I spoke about the private water and land model. In 2018 I was invited to a global meeting of human rights defenders at risk, held in Dublin, Ireland. That same year I was also invited to a regional meeting of human rights defenders that took place in Lima, Peru.

    We have also been involved in intergovernmental forums such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2019, Chile was going to host the COP 25, and the global mobilisation for climate throughout the year had a tremendous echo in Chile. Obviously neither the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, planned for November, nor COP 25, scheduled for early December, could be held in Chile, because the government was completely overwhelmed by the popular mobilisation that began in late October, and because it responded to this with systematic human rights violations.

    Several of our members were at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, and were able to speak with the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón and with some officials of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Shortly after this meeting we had a meeting in Chile with Baltasar Garzón, the judge who prosecuted former dictator Pinochet and had him arrested in the UK. Garzón was very impressed with the water model and the stories our activists told him. Also recently we met with the delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during their visit to Chile. We met with Soledad García Muñoz, the IACHR Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, and presented an overview of the Chilean situation and what it means to live deprived of water.

    Do you think that forums such as the COP offer space for civil society to speak up and exercise influence?

    I have a critical opinion of the COP. I think that in general it is a fair of vanities attended by many presidents, and many ministers of environment and agriculture, to promise the world what they cannot fulfil in their own countries. The main greenhouse gas emitting countries have leaders who either deny climate change, or are talking the talk about climate change but don’t seem to have the intention to make any change in their country’s predatory economic behaviour. The countries that are most responsible for climate change and global warming are currently the main detractors of the COP.

    However, the summits do offer a space for civil society, from where it is possible to challenge the powerful, speak up about the climate injustice that affects the entire planet and promote the construction of a new development model that is viable and economically competitive while also socially fairer and ecologically healthier. But for that we need new paradigms: we cannot continue to think that there are unlimited development prospects on a planet that has finite natural resources.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with MODATIMA through theirwebsite andFacebook page, or follow@Modatima_cl on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Democracy is much more than street protest and institutional politics, and Hong Kong people are now resisting in all possible and impossible ways’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Reporton the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we areinterviewing civil society activists and leadersabout their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so.CIVICUS speaks with student leader Yiu Wa Chung about his involvement in the pro-democracy movement and the prospects for democracy in Hong Kong.

    1. Three years after the 2014 protests, what has happened to the pro-democracy movement?

    Two separate processes have unfolded over the past few years: street protests and an institutional process that took place around the Legislative Council elections. What we demanded through street demonstrations in 2014 was true universal suffrage. We wanted China to change its electoral guidelines and the pro-China Chief Executive to resign.

    Since Britain returned it to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under the “one country, two systems” principle, which means the Hong Kong government has jurisdiction over internal affairs and trade relations, while the government of China is in charge of Hong Kong’s defence and foreign policy. We therefore enjoy limited self-determination and political rights, although we do have an independent judiciary and a free press.

    Hong Kong has the status of a Special Administrative Region, and our government is led by a Chief Executive who is chosen by a “nominating committee” of 1,200 people, most of them from pro-China elites. The Legislative Council is the legislative branch of government.

    The thing is, when Hong Kong was returned to China, we were promised that we would be able to elect our Chief Executive by universal suffrage by 2017; however, in 2014 it became clear that free elections were not going to happen, as a reform framework was passed in August that established that only a few committee-vetted (pro-China) candidates would be allowed to compete in these elections. And that was the trigger for the massive 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – in Hong Kong’s history.

    The main reason that mobilisation decreased in the years after 2014 is that people were discouraged by the lack of results. After such a big movement and 79 days of occupation that paralysed major roads in the financial centre, we got no reply from the government, and there was no institutional change. People devoted a lot of energy, time and effort and they sacrificed so much. Almost every single young protestor who appeared on camera or was interviewed by the media in 2014 is being prosecuted or is in jail. And it was all for nothing. In other words, the costs of protest increased and the expected gains decreased, so the momentum passed and street protest declined.

    However, in the years since 2014 there were two elections, for the local District Councils in 2015 and for the Legislative Council in 2016. Because of the atmosphere and because voting in elections has much lower cost than going out to the streets, the results of those two elections were quite good for the pro-democracy camp.

    But it is important to note that half the legislative seats are filled through small circle elections within functional interests, which works almost like an appointment, so regardless of how well we fare in the elections we still face considerable obstacles when looking at the overall composition of the Legislative Council. Moreover, what happened in 2016 is that after the elections that the pro-democracy camp won, the government found an excuse to disqualify six of the elected legislative councillors. For instance, they argued that one of the councillors had not taken his oath properly because he had changed the tone of his words, so his promise to obey the laws of the People’s Republic of China sounded more as a question than a statement. He hadn’t changed a single word, but according to the government he pronounced them in a questioning rather than a neutral tone. Another elected councillor took the oath properly, in a neutral tone and all, but after he had been sworn in, he chanted a pro-democracy slogan, “Rights to the people.” Another one paused excessively in between words and mispronounced the word “China,” and so on.

    The judicial process following a demand for disqualification takes about a year, during which time these elected councillors were banned from taking part in the Council’s deliberations. And when they were eventually disqualified, they were required to pay back the salaries they had received. This is something that not just anybody can afford. In other words, the government is using every means at their disposal to bend people’s opinion, including by forcing us to go bankrupt. The message that Beijing is sending to people in Hong Kong is that resisting is pointless.

    In sum, both in the streets and at the institutional level, the pro-democracy movement is currently in decline.

    1. Do you think a “culture of protest” emerged out of the Umbrella Movement, and that the public is now more prone to mobilising than in the past?

    It did look like it around 2015, but the enthusiasm has long since dissipated. By 2015 the government was not as authoritarian as it is today, and community organising flourished. There were lots of new organisations that put their efforts into all kinds of issues, including labour rights, universal suffrage and institutional change. But by 2016, with the government on the offensive, trying to disqualify elected lawmakers, passing restrictive bills and jailing people, protest and mobilisation had declined.

    I believe that the current authoritarian trend is no accident; it fits the long-term plans of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since the handover, the CCP has devoted a lot of human and financial resources to setting up satellite organisations in Hong Kong. They have consistently worked to infiltrate each and every sector and change the democratic culture, step by step. Hong Kong people resented this; resentment built up and resulted in the 2014 protests. The Umbrella Movement took the CCP and the Hong Kong government by surprise; nobody expected so many people to take to the streets. But they chose to ignore it and let it wear out by providing no response whatsoever to its demands. The occupation lasted 79 days, during which the CCP clearly sized the movement up. They got to know its weaknesses and limits perfectly well. They were aware that people were getting tired. They saw us as a wave coming from the ocean, gathering strength and gradually wearing out, and they waited it out. As the movement weakened, the CCP asserted its power. Increasingly authoritarian methods are hard to resist once you have used up all our energy. All that has been done has yielded no results, so people have retreated further and increasingly refrain from voicing their opinion.

    It should be noted that unlike in China, control in Hong Kong can be subtle. Different methods are being used, the prosecution and jailing of protestors being just the most blunt of them. But the government has also been deliberately increasing the cost of living in Hong Kong, and most notably rent, which is already the highest in the world. The effects of this are appalling: for many people, it means they have to work longer hours, with little time or energy left for leisure or politics, and that they have no leftover money for anything else, and organising obviously costs money. Additionally, the Hong Kong economy is very dependent on China, and if you have business with China you will lose everything for not playing by their rules, which include political alignment.

    Control is also cultural and educational. There is an increasing control of the school curriculum, and changes are being introduced in the content of schoolbooks, so young children learn from an early stage that they have to love and obey China and its leaders. Children are being told to love the CCP, the “most democratic” party there is. There is also an ongoing attack on our language, as they are trying to impose Mandarin instead of Cantonese in schools. In short, combined control tactics are being applied from all sides – they are truly a tight network of control - so there is no room to even think of resisting.

    The democratic camp has kept trying to mobilise support, but people are tired and less ready to respond. Public reactions against authoritarianism and rights violations have become exceptions rather than the rule in the present context.

    1. A number of pro-democracy activists were jailed in 2017. What was the background to this, and what was the civil society response?

    In August 2017, three student leaders of the pro-democracy movement were sentenced to between six and eight months in jail. They had originally been sentenced to community service for storming a fenced-off section of the government headquarters. They were charged with unlawful assembly, and inciting people to take part in illegal rallies. However, the local government appealed against the case arguing that community service was too light a punishment, and they were eventually sentenced to jail. Additionally, they were barred from running for public office for five years, which meant that one of them, who was considering running for a legislative position, would no longer be able to do so.

    In reaction to the sentencing tens of thousands of people took to the streets and marched to the Court of Final Appeal. This was the biggest demonstration since 2014. Sadly, it was only an isolated reaction, which probably was due to the fact that these students were some of the most visible leaders of the Umbrella Movement and their cases drew lots of attention.

    In contrast, in December 2017 the government approved changes in the Legislative Council’s Rules of Procedure that would break the balance between pro-democracy and pro-China camps, and there was no visible reaction. The democratic camp called for a protest, but only a couple of hundred people showed up and were easily removed. These procedure changes were accomplished because, with six of its democratically elected legislators disqualified, the pro-democracy camp did not have enough votes to block them. Over several weeks, numerous pro-democracy legislators were kicked out of the chamber for disrupting the debate with filibustering tactics, and the amendments eventually passed. As a result, the president will now have the power to reconvene meetings, to ban and combine amendments, and to stop legislators from raising adjournment motions.

    1. Looking ahead, what are the main challenges to the sustainability of the pro-democracy movement, and how are they being addressed?

    All the major tools that we had are gone. For protesting in the streets you get arrested and thrown into jail, and if you try the institutional path, you get disqualified or stripped of decision-making power. The cost of involvement in both arenas is going up.

    Democracy is much more than street protest and institutional politics, and it is much more than what you can see on camera. People in Hong Kong are now resisting in all possible and impossible ways, such as setting up a tiny bookstore to counter state-sponsored indoctrination, using public space for cultural activities or creating semi-public spaces for reading groups.

    But of course we are not going to defeat the network of control that oppresses us by ourselves, with a music concert or a reading group. We need help. This could take the form of the international media focusing more on Hong Kong, the United Nations setting up a special commission, or foreign governments putting economic pressure on China to change its Hong Kong policy. However, we all know that this will hardly happen. Not even Britain, our former colonial power, reacted strongly as China recently stated that their Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which laid the blueprint for Hong Kong to organise after its handover to China, no longer had any practical significance. China is not fulfilling its promises and Britain is not doing anything about it. There’s a lot the international community could do, but there’s not much they are willing to do, given the facts of China’s economic and military rise. They all want to do business with China and do not dare bring up the Hong Kong issue. The cause of Hong Kong is unfortunately not nearly as popular as that of Tibet.

     

  • ‘Due to the communications blockade in Kashmir, news of protests went largely underreported’

    On 5 August 2019, the government of India revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which guaranteed the autonomous status and rights of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government also imposed a severe communications blockade that impacted on the daily lives of Kashmiri people, including by affecting access to medical care, basic necessities and emergency services. Hundreds of detentions of political activists, human rights defenders and community leaders have been reported. CIVICUS speaks about this situation with Natasha Rather, Regional Campaign Officer for the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, linked to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation that focuses on enforced disappearances in the region, monitors the human rights situation and documents abuses.

    Natasha Rather interview

    What was the situation of civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the revocation of its special status under Indian administration?

    During the first half of 2019, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (JK) witnessed continued and increased violence and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, following a militant attack on the Central Reserve Police Force convoy on the Jammu–Srinagar highway that resulted in the killing of 48 Indian soldiers in February 2019. Following this attack, Kashmiri people living in various cities and towns of India became targets of hate crimes. Thousands of Kashmiri students were forced to flee from their colleges and universities and return back to Kashmir. People living in JK feared the attack would have dreadful consequences – which turned out to be true.

    The frequency of cordon and search operations (CASOs) and crackdowns increased in the aftermath of the attack. CASOs are a form of harassment that breach people’s right to privacy. According to a report by the APDP and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, at least 177 CASOs were conducted by the Indian armed forced in JK, which resulted in the killing of at least 118 militants and four civilians and the destruction of at least 20 civilian properties.
    In February 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Kashmir Chapter of Jamaat-i-Islami were banned and hundreds of their leaders and workers were arrested.
    Ahead of the elections to the Indian Parliament, held in JK in April and May 2019, 100 additional companies of soldiers were deployed in Kashmir and mass arrests of political and religious leaders were carried out. During polling days there were complete shutdowns, violence and killings.

    The use of administrative detention under the provisions of repressive Public Safety Act (PSA) led to many arrests and detentions. Between January and June this year, at least 25 people were booked under the PSA.

    Internet shutdowns have also been a common practice in JK. Internet services were curtailed 51 times in the first half of the year.

    How did people in Jammu and Kashmir respond to the revocation of the state’s special status?

    Before revocation was formally announced by the Indian government, many rumours made the rounds and people guessed that something sinister was underway. Official orders by the state administration added to the apprehension. People prepared themselves for a complete lockdown, drawing from their previous experience when the Indian government imposed curfews and shut down phones and the internet.
    When revocation of the special status was announced amidst a complete blockade of communication and full restrictions on movement, people were not greatly shocked. The autonomy guaranteed to JK under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws – but it had been greatly eroded before revocation of the special status, which downgraded JK from a state to a union territory, and there was nothing much left in it for the benefit of the people.

    There have been concerns attached to the revocation of Article 35a, which permits the local legislature in Indian-administered Kashmir to define who are permanent residents of the region. People have speculated that demographic changes might be underway, designed and strategised along the same lines as the occupation of Palestine, including the demographic changes introduced by Israel in Palestine. While there are fears of demographic changes, the majority’s response has been not to fight against revocation of the state’s special status, as this would have meant legitimising the occupation of the region. The larger struggle is for the right to self-determination.

    We have read reports of civic space restrictions, including a ban on meetings, restrictions on freedom of movement and arrests of leaders. Can you provide more information about this?

    The announcement of the revocation of JK’s special status was accompanied by widespread restrictions. There was an increased deployment of Indian armed forces at all roads and intersections across the valley, and the unyielding troops have strictly restricted the movement of people. For the first few weeks, people were not even able to reach hospitals and doctors. Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, which bans public gatherings of more than four people, was imposed despite a curfew being in place since the night of 4-5 August. This prevented people from organising protest gatherings and meetings.

    According to a government report dated 6 September, more than 3,800 people had been detained since 5 August and only about 2,600 of them were subsequently released. Those detained include political leaders from both pro-India and pro-independence parties, civil society members, lawyers and protesters. Three former Chief Ministers of JK – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – have been detained since 5 August. On 16 September, Farooq Abdullah was detained under the PSA. Leaders and politicians like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Farooq Abdullah, Taj Mohiuddin and M Y Tarigami have been under house arrest. Hotels and government guesthouses have been turned into detention centres. Many leaders and civil society members have been lodged in jails in India.
    There has been an extensive use of the PSA to detain people, especially young people. Many young people were detained without being formally charged and were released only after the signing of community bonds. Many young people and most political leaders continue to be detained.

    Have people protested? How have the security forces responded to protests?

    Despite the severe restrictions imposed on the movement and assembly of the people, there have been many protests across the valley of Kashmir, with people taking to the streets and shouting slogans demanding freedom from the Indian state. The Indian media has claimed that there were negligible protests against the abrogation of Article 370, making it seem like there is normality and acceptance of the Indian state’s decisions. Since the local media has not been able to report on these protests, stories from them have not come to the fore. There were many protests in Kashmir valley, but due to the communication blockade and restrictions on the movement of journalists and media, news of protests from other districts went largely underreported.

    Protesters have been met with excessive force by the Indian armed forces. For instance, on 9 August, several people were injured during protests in the Soura area of Srinagar. A doctor confirmed that at least 53 young people were treated for injuries at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura. Reports also emerged that five people have been killed in separate incidents as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in the policing of protests since the start of the clampdown.

    How has the internet shutdown affected the work of activists and journalists?

    The communication clampdown has greatly affected the work of journalists and activists. Owing to the shutdown of internet services and curbs on the movement of journalists, it has been a huge challenge for journalists to collect and file stories. The administration set up a Media Facilitation Centre in Srinagar where journalists are allowed to access the internet and email their stories. No such facilities are available in other districts of Kashmir. Newspapers in Kashmir have been publishing with a reduced number of pages. Journalists have been forced to rely just on state-issued press briefs once or twice a week, without any means to verify the stories. There has been news of journalists facing reprisals for filing stories on Kashmir’s ongoing situation.

    Also, since 5 August, civil society in JK has been under threat and dealing with a very precarious situation, as many civil society members have been detained and jailed under the PSA. In this way the Indian state has put pressure on Kashmiri civil society to remain silent about the current situation, and therefore their space is completely choked. There is a lot of resistance and criticism of the communications clampdown that is preventing civil society from carrying out its work.

    In this context, the support required from the international community is that they should increase their understanding of the Kashmir conflict and talking about it so as to prevent this human rights crisis from worsening.


    Civic space in India is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow @natasha_rather on Twitter.

     

  • ‘If citizens are not able to recognise what is going on and mobilise, Romania will very likely join the club of ‘illiberal democracies’ of the region’

    The special theme of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report will be ‘reimagining democracy’. The report will explore how citizens and civil society organisations are working to build more participatory forms of democracy, and how civil society is responding to the citizen anger and sense of disconnection that is driving more extremist and polarised politics in many countries. Ahead of publication, we’ll be interviewing civil society activists and leaders in countries experiencing these trends. Here, CIVICUS speaks to Stefan Cibian, president of the Federation of Non-Governmental Development Organisations of Romania (FOND) and Board member of the Romanian Association for International Cooperation and Development (ARCADIA). Founded in 2006, FOND includes some of the most important civil society organisations in the country, and currently has 33 member organisations. Since its inception, it has organised capacity-building training for its members to become more active in the field of international development cooperation, volunteering and humanitarian assistance as well as landmark events for the Romanian development community, such as the Romanian Development School and for the broader region, including the Black Sea NGO Forum.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in Romania? Has the practice of democracy changed over the past few years?

    I would describe the current state of democracy in Romania as worrying. In essence, there used to be a positive trend at the grassroots level, where individuals and communities came to life after the treacherous totalitarian regime that lasted until 1989. More recently, however, the political mood has reverted back towards the totalitarian practices of before 1989. This is unfortunately part of a broader trend, with several countries in the region being led by democratically elected leaders who are, in essence, destroying or undermining the democratic systems that brought them to power. Country after country in Central and Eastern Europe - and not only in that region - are following the same approach: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Turkey and now Romania.

    In Romania’s case the practice of democracy had improved over the past decades. The positive side includes, or rather included, a strengthened judiciary with an increasingly efficient anti-corruption agency, that until now managed to increase respect for public assets; a media landscape with some weaknesses in terms of ownership structure and politicisation, but nevertheless is free and diversified; an increasingly stronger civil society with grassroots movements that give life to broadly disempowered communities; and an increasingly empowered citizenry that expresses itself through mass protests and online, as well as through community engagement, increased donations and participating in sporting activities. This trend is made possible by a new generation shaped by access to information and technology – a generation that has partially different aims and behaves fundamentally differently from its predecessors.

    Romanian democracy faces, however, challenges that are similar to those faced by many countries experiencing an externally-assisted democratisation process. Its most important weakness relates to its citizens’ capacity to fulfil their constitutional mandate. While democratic systems place power in the hands of citizens, democratisation processes to date have largely ignored the capacity of citizens to make good use of the power they possess (including the way a citizen votes, decides to be involved and holds political leaders and state institutions to account). The key problem is a lack of critical thinking and abilities to put into practice the rights offered by democratic constitutions. Understandably, if they are not able to live and practise the freedoms brought about by democracy, citizens are not going to defend their democratic system, whenever needed.

    A set of other challenges relate to inherent weaknesses in the sustainability of organised civil society. Democratisation driven by donors’ assistance has not generated any sustainable organised civil society in terms of resources, nor in terms of connection to the governmental sphere, or indeed, often to local communities.

    A last set of challenges relate to the party system. Rather than holding to democratic principles, the parties that emerged after the Communist period in Romania function as mechanisms to capture the state for various private or even illegal interests.

    2. Is Romanian civil society currently able to fully contribute to democratic governance?

    I would say it is partially able to do so. While protests have made a positive contribution over the past few years, the democratic system has been significantly altered when it comes to the relations between civil society and political parties or state institutions. With the exception of some new parties born out of civil society initiatives, relations between political parties and society are not yet embodying democratic principles. Parties attempt to control society, not to represent it, and civil society is weak in terms of organisation and its ability to articulate common interests, while keeping a distance from the main political parties. Therefore, in the way the current system works, it is unlikely that civil society will be able to contribute fully to democratic governance.

    3. What triggered the anti-corruption demonstrations that took place earlier in 2017? What fuelled them, and why did they continue after the government rolled back the decree that motivated them in the first place?

    There are two key aspects here: first, the dynamics were not only about corruption, but also about the type of power that is deployed along with it. Second, the word we live in is being fundamentally transformed by technology, which is creating societal needs that cannot be catered for by current organisational models. This poses fundamental challenges to the way in which our societies are organised. Whether we talk about civil society, political or business organisations, those changes are taking us towards a new world that exposes new ways of being and living.

    In Romania’s case, protests have been about corruption, but they have also been about much more – a fundamental lack of trust in political parties and core institutions, which are de jure but not de factodemocratic. Protests have continued for a good reason, as recent laws passed by the Romanian parliament, including new regulations on civil society organisations (CSOs), and emergency decrees issued by the Romanian government, have indicated that public institutions are being used to dismantle democracy and limit the space for civil society. Therefore, the aim is not corruption; corruption is just the means. The true aim is to hold control over society, and gaining discretionary power over resources is necessary in that regard. That is also the reason why, although the government’s reactions to citizens exercising their right to protest was soft at the beginning, there has been a growing tendency for the government to intervene to limit protests, spark violence, and then use that violence as an excuse for repression.

    4. Would you say a full-fledged anti-corruption movement has emerged from the protests?

    No. What this year’s mobilisations have produced is, on one hand, an increasing number of angry people, and on the other a growing number of disempowered people. Established CSOs have played a role in the protests, but up to now it has been a marginal one. Their ability to mobilise citizens, or even to coordinate amongst themselves, has remained alarmingly low.

    While some connections have been established with like-minded mobilisations in other parts of the world, these have taken place mostly at an inspirational level, and for very few of those involved.

    For the time being, the 2017 mobilisations have only succeeded in postponing the ruling party’s plans, which are now being rolled out through parliament. Citizen reactions, on the other hand, are now far from the strength that they had at the beginning of 2017.

    This is a crucial moment for Romanian democracy. If citizens are able to recognise what is going on and they mobilise, they will be able to protect their rights and re-establish a democratic system. If they do not, Romania will very likely join the club of ‘illiberal democracies’ of the region.

    • Civic space in Romania is rated as ‘narrowed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating the existence of some restrictions on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression
    • Get in touch with FOND through their website or Facebook page, and contact ARCADIA through their webpage, or follow @stefancibian and @FONDRomania on Twitterdemocracy 

     

  • 5 Ways New Movement Leaders Are Effecting Change

    By Michael Silberman, Global Director of Mobilisation Lab, a network that equips social change-makers and their organisations to deliver more effective, people-powered campaigns in order to win in the digital age.

    The publication of this piece was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations. 

    The Parkland students and others are reinventing models for people-powered activism that adapts to today’s rapid pace of change.

    Read on: Yes Magazine 

     

  • Algeria: Assertive public position from international community crucial to protecting Algerians on Hirak anniversary

     

    Read the statement in Arabic

    On 18 February 2021, with the potential resumption of protests on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the “Hirak” pro-democracy protest movement, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a presidential pardon for at least thirty Hirak detainees. As of 21 February, thirty-eight prisoners of conscience were released according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), although it remains unclear how many were pardoned. At least nineteen of them were only released conditionally while awaiting judgment, such as journalist Khaled Drareni, union activist Dalila Touat and political activist Rachid Nekkaz.

    Throughout the past year, President Tebboune issued several presidential pardons in February, April and July 2020 for a total of 19,502 detainees, out of which thirteen were Hirak detainees. These releases, while a welcome development for the detainees and their families, have not yet indicated any willingness from authorities to reverse an unrelenting crackdown on civic space.

    On the anniversary of the Hirak, the undersigned organisations reiterate their call for the international community to urge the Algerian government to put an end to policies aimed at silencing those who seek peaceful outlets and means of expression, in line with the Algerian Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

    We appeal to the international community to take a more assertive public position clearly condemning human rights violations, with the aim of protecting Algerian citizens striving to safeguard their fundamental freedoms. The international community should call on the authorities to release all arbitrarily-held detainees and cease all judicial harassment and intimidation against them and the judiciary. Increased scrutiny on Algeria is direly needed, and international actors are urged to closely monitor the human rights situation and trials of activists, journalists and human rights defenders.

    International actors should further ensure the prompt investigation of allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse in detention, such as those raised by student Walid Nekkiche on 1st February 2021, after fourteen months of arbitrary pre-trial detention, and suspected perpetrators should be held accountable.

    As the Hirak became a largely online movement after protests were voluntarily halted in March 2020, authorities have accelerated the arbitrary prosecution and harassment of individuals, including activists and journalists, in most cases merely for expressing their opinion online.

    The number of prisoners of conscience has doubled in the second half of 2020 according to the documentation of the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), overshadowing the presidential pardons, and illustrating the increased criminalisation of public freedoms. About one thousand prosecutions stemmed from individuals exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly in 2020, as reported by the Collective of Lawyers for Prisoners of Conscience. Sixty-three individuals have been prosecuted on charges of offence to the President, a charge not used more than four times in twenty years under the Bouteflika presidency.

    Among those targeted, Algerian women’s rights organisations recently jointly denounced the arbitrary detention and sentencing of activists Dalila Touat and Naïma Abdelkader. Other prisoners of conscience include activist Oussama Taifour, sentenced in October 2020 to one year in prison after he denounced online a work suspension related to his activism; activist Zoheir Kaddam, sentenced in June 2020 to one year in prison, although he had neither access to his legal file nor his lawyers present; or activist Khaldi Ali[1], sentenced in November 2020 to three years in prison based on critical social media publications. Furthermore, in September 2020, two men were sentenced to three years of prison and forty-two others to suspended terms after police raided what they alleged was a “gay wedding”.

    In January 2021, Judge Saad Eddine Merzouk was sanctioned by the Superior Judicial Council with a six months’ suspension after making critical public declarations. Prior to this, in February 2020, prosecutor Mohamed Belhadi was transferred, seemingly arbitrarily, after he requested the acquittal of sixteen protesters.

    Amendments to the Penal Code passed in April 2020 now allow for the criminalisation of free expression, assembly and association. Executive decree 20-332 in November 2020 tightened controls over digital media, including a regime of prior authorization, which added to an already restrictive legal framework under the Law 12-06 on Associations or the 2012 Information Law.

    At least thirteen media outlets have been made unavailable on Algerian networks in 2020[2], adding to five others in 2019[3]. Journalists Khaled Drareni, Abdelkrim Zeghileche, Mustafa Bendjama – who says he was arrested at least fifteen times - and Said Boudour are among those sentenced and/or repeatedly prosecuted.

    A top-down constitutional revision, adopted in December 2020 following a referendum with a historically low official turnout rate, was largely criticised for its lack of transparency and inclusivity. The revision does not bring about tangible progress on the rule of law, but instead constitutionalizes the army’s political role, includes weak guarantees on rights and freedoms – deleting the right to freedom of conscience – and perpetuates the executive authorities’ domination over all institutions.

    In addition to the erosion of fundamental freedoms witnessed in the past year, the weaponizing of the pandemic against civil society and journalists has defied calls by the United Nations to decongest detention facilities, and only serves to foster conditions for violence and instability.

    Signatories

    • Article 19
    • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • National Centre for Development Cooperation (CNCD-11.11.11)

    [1] Also identified as Khaldi Yacine.

    [2] Casbah Tribune, Tariq News, Twala.info, Maghreb Emergent, Radio M, Interlignes, Dzvid, Le Matin d’Algérie, L’Avant-Garde, Ultra Sawt, Yabiladi.com, Essaha.com and Shihab presse.

    [3] Tout sur l’Algérie (TSA), Observ’Algérie, Algérie Part, Algérie Patriotique and Ma Revue de Presse DZ.

     

  • Algeria: Free Amazigh and Hirak activist in prison for exercising his freedom of opinion

    بالعربية

    On 11 November, the court of Khenchela (eastern Algeria) is expected to hear activist Yacine Mebarki's appeal, following his sentencing on 8 October to 10 years in prison and a heavy fine of 10 million dinars (about 77,611.55 USD) – the most severe sentence ever handed to an activist for his online speech. 

    Algerian authorities should release Yacine Mebarki and drop unfounded charges related to his online publications and other charges that stem from the legitimate exercise of his freedom of speech and conscience, said the undersigned organisations. Authorities should put an end to criminal investigations and prosecutions against individuals for peacefully expressing their views, including views which may be critical of religious teachings and state officials. 

    Yacine Mebarki is a farmer from the town of Khenchela, known for his participation in the Hirak popular protest movement demanding radical political change in Algeria, and his engagement in the defense of Amazigh rights. 

    Police in Khenchela arrested Yacine Mebarki on 30 September, after a search of his home during which they discovered an old Quran belonging to Mebarki’s grand-father, which had a torn page, as well as two empty bullets. According to the activist’s lawyer, the bullets are the remains of old traditional celebrations involving gun-firing, prevalent in the Khenchela region and which are now used for decorative purposes. 

    The prosecutor of the Khenchela First Instance Court prosecuted Mebarki on the basis of social media publications, including a Facebook post from 17 February in which he appears to criticize Egyptian Salafi scholar Abu Ishaq al-Heweny for calling for “jihad” against countries to take their “money, their children and their women”, as well as for the torn Quran and the bullets found in his house. During the trial, the judge also mentioned a Facebook post from 12 September in which Mebarki appeared to mock Algerian Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati.

    Mebarki was sentenced on 8 October to ten years in prison for "offense against the precepts of Islam" (Article 144bis 2 of the Penal Code); “profanation of the Sacred Book” (Article 160 of the Penal Code); “inciting to discrimination” (Article 295bis); “inciting a Muslim to convert to another religion” and “distribution of documents intended to undermine the faith of a Muslim” (Article 11 par. 1 and 2 of ordinance 06-03 setting the conditions and rules for the exercise of religions other than Islam). In addition, he was sentenced for “possession of war material without authorization” (Article 31 of ordinance 97-06 relating to war material, arms and ammunition), based on the discovery of the two bullets. 

    The above charges related to the activist’s freedom of speech and conscience are in violation of Algeria’s Constitution (article 42) and international human rights law, notably Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Algeria. In an authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR from 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee noted that “the prohibition of displays of disrespect for a religion or any other belief system, including anti-blasphemy laws, is not compatible with the Covenant”. In October 2017, UN Experts also urged States “that still have blasphemy laws to repeal them because of their stifling impact on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and on the ability to engage in a healthy dialogue about religion”. 

    This development is especially worrying as in recent months, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have accelerated the arbitrary prosecution of peaceful activists for expressing their opinion and journalists. As of 9 November and according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), a local group monitoring Hirak trials, there are 87 prisoners of conscience in Algeria. 

    Signatories

    • Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights
    • Amnesty International
    • Article 19
    • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    • CGATA (General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria)
    • CIVICUS
    • SNAPAP (Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel)

     

  • ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS: ‘Protesting once is not enough; we need to fight back every single day’

    Asia LeofreddiFollowing our 2019special report on anti-rights groups and civil society responses, 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 about civil society protests against the World Congress of Families held in Verona, Italy, with Asia Leofreddi, a PhD Candidate at the Antonio Papisca Human Rights Centre of the University of Padua and a journalist with Confronti, a think tank and magazine dedicated to the study of the relationships between religion, politics and society.Based on the values of memory, hospitality, solidarity and pluralism, Confronti promotes dialogue among Christians of different denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and lay people interested in the world of faiths, with the aim of breaking down misunderstandings and fundamentalism and helping to build an intercultural democratic society.

    How would you characterise the World Congress of Families?

    The World Congress of Families (WCF) is the biggest ‘pro-family’ gathering in the world. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQI+ advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the USA, has defined it as “the largest and most influential organization involved in anti-LGBT policies worldwide.” It was established by an American and a Russian in Moscow in 1997, and today it gathers together many associations, religious groups, scholars and political activists based in various countries, primarily belonging to Christian denominations. Among them, the Russian branch is particularly strong and acts with the open support of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

    The WCF’s pro-family agenda translates into support for the traditional family model and reflects a highly conservative view of gender roles. Accordingly, the WCF opposes abortion, surrogate motherhood, same-sex marriage and any progress towards equality in sexual and reproductive rights. Their gathering is organised by the International Organization for the Family (IOF) which is active at many other levels. At the international level, beyond organising international conferences, it tries to influence international institutions, such as the UN, in order to promote a conservative and restrictive interpretation of human rights, in particular of Article 16 of the Universal Declaration. In domestic politics, its member organisations link with or operate as interest groups infiltrating parties and academic institutions, lobbying officials and using democratic means such as referendums and mobilisations to advance their claims in national public spheres.

    Not coincidentally, over the past decade Brazil, Russia, the USA and several European countries have witnessed the rise of anti-gender and pro-family discourse, promoted by far-right parties, as well as the introduction, and sometimes also the approval and implementation, of morally conservative policies put forward by representatives of their national governments. In 2013, for instance, the Russian Duma unanimously approved a Law for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values (popularly known as the ‘anti-gay law’). In Croatia a referendum was held that same year, promoted by an organisation called U ime obitelji (‘In the name of the family’) and aiming to establish a constitutional prohibition against same sex-marriage. It won with 67 per cent of the vote. In 2018 the right-wing governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia decided not to ratify the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which they viewed as a threat to the traditional family structure. And in 2019 the Council of Verona approved Motion 434, described as ‘an initiative to prevent abortion and promote motherhood’, put forward by a representative of the far-right League Party, and declared Verona a ‘pro-life city’. All the organisations and political representatives involved in all these processes are somehow connected to the WCF, which shows that over the past decades the ‘family’ label has started to play a key role in the creation of new geopolitical alliances that were not even thought to be possible a short while ago.

    Who were the main groups involved in protesting against the WCF in Verona?

    The main protests held in Verona during the meeting of the WCF in March 2019 were led by the local branch of the transnational feminist movement Non Una di Meno (‘Not one woman less’). They organised a three-day mobilisation called Verona Città Transfemminista (Transfeminist City Verona) that encompassed a variety of events spread throughout the city. These events looked like a real counter-congress, complete with panels, shows and speakers coming from every part of the world.

    Additionally, another forum took place at the Academy of Agriculture, Letters and Sciences, a historic building in the city centre, on 30 March. This encounter was organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation – European Network and the Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti) in collaboration with Rebel Network and other national and international organisations. This event gathered more than 30 speakers representing the transnational struggle of civil society for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights.

    Some Italian politicians also decided to show their opposition to the WCF, and several female representatives of the opposition Democratic Party organised a public meeting in the K2 Theatre of Verona on the same day.

    As all these events show, during those days Verona became a political laboratory in which two opposed views of society were on display. The small city became the battlefield of a global struggle. On the one hand, there was the reactionary and illiberal activism of the WCF, and on the other, the open and inclusive activism of national and international progressive movements and people who autonomously decided to participate in the protests.

    However, what was most surprising was the great participation of Italian civil society. The demonstration held on 30 March was the biggest Verona had ever seen: more than 100,000 people took to the streets of the city to side with women’s right to choose.

    What motivated all these groups and citizens to protest?

    For civil society groups, the main binding factor was the WCF. Mobilised groups focused their activism on defending sexual and reproductive rights, strongly jeopardised by the narratives promoted and political strategies used by Congress participants.

    Meanwhile Italian citizens took to the streets mostly in reaction against the strong support that the WCF received from an important sector of the Italian government at the time. Indeed, three then-ministers took part in the Congress – Matteo Salvini, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Lorenzo Fontana, Minister of the Family and Marco Bussetti, Minister of Education – and both the governor of the Veneto region and the mayor of Verona gave official sponsorship to the gathering. A majority of Italians viewed the institutional promotion of a gathering detrimental to civil rights as a political action against our Constitution.

    What was the impact of the protests?

    This was the first time the WCF had to face such a huge protest. As soon it was announced that the 13th edition of the WCF would take place in Italy – a founding member of the European Union with a strong civil society and a deep attachment to a set of rights gained through many years of struggle – analysts started watching the events with great interest. However, I don’t think anyone expected such a big reaction – not even our politicians attending the Congress.

    At the national level, the protests achieved good results. For instance, they forced Matteo Salvini to publicly proclaim that Law 194 – the Italian law recognising abortion rights – would not be not touched and forced League Senator Simone Pillon to postpone a draft bill that had been widely criticised as not defending women from domestic violence. They also provided the opportunity for representative Laura Boldrini to pass a law against revenge porn, which until then had been strongly opposed by the parliamentary majority. Additionally, the days of the Congress were a great opportunity to unmask the strong connections that a section of our government, and particularly the League Party, which was in coalition government at that time, has with the global far right, despite their rhetoric on national sovereignty, and with some domestic far-right forces such as Forza Nuova, an extreme-right nationalist party, members of which were accredited to the Congress.

    At the international level, the WCF in Verona offered an opportunity for participating opposition movements to forge new transnational alliances and reflect on the construction of common narratives and strategies. It was then that groups that until then had focused on their own national, and sometimes provincial, contexts realised how important it was to act globally. The presence of foreign experts and activists helped Italian movements to understand better the strategies of ultra-conservative groups and their ability to function simultaneously at different levels.

    While we in Italy have always been confronted with the conservative positions of the Vatican and its influence on politics and civil society regarding sexual and reproductive rights, the WCF in Verona made it clear that we are facing a process of modernisation and professionalisation of ultra-conservative activism. As Kristina Stoeckl, an Austrian scholar, has widely demonstrated in her project on postsecular conflicts, these actors now enter public debate with their religious claims and turn them mainstream. They present them in a non-religious language, translating them into the language of human rights or natural law. They disseminate them with by using tactics and strategies typical of progressive mobilisations and campaigns. During the WCF held in Verona, Italian progressive movements became aware of the dimension of the phenomenon that they face as well as the fact that far from being limited to a national context, the politicisation of religion and pro-family rhetoric are actually part of a much broader political project.

    These successes, however, by no means turned the Verona edition of the WCF into a failure. They clearly showed they were not be ready to deal with countries with a strong civil society capable of mobilising discourses and resources at their same level. Still, about 10,000 people took part in their ‘family march’ on 31 March. They were far fewer than those who took to the streets to participate in the feminist and progressive mobilisation off the previous day, but they were still many. Moreover, I think the success of the WCF is measured more by what happens inside the Congress than what happens outside. In the WCF in Verona there were many representatives of governments from all over the world – far more than in previous years – which offered them a great opportunity to strengthen their networks.

    I don’t mean to diminish the results achieved by progressive movements in Verona, but to emphasise that protesting once is not enough. We need to remember to fight back every single day. We need to be aware that our opponents remain active even when they disappear from the scene. Ours is a battle of public opinion, which must be informed on a daily basis.

    What more could civil society be doing to push back against anti-rights groups such as the WCF, and what support does it need to be able to respond?

    First, the days in Verona demonstrated the importance of a vigilant and united civil society. On the way forward, it is important for progressive actors to develop better knowledge of these transnational networks and gain the ability not only to react but also to move proactively against ultra-conservative political projects on a daily basis. It is worth noting that the WCF has existed since 1997, and around the mid-2000s it started to become a political actor, capable of influencing national discourse and policies in several countries, from Russia to Central and Eastern Europe up to the USA. Moreover, for quite a long time some of its members have been involved in UN negotiations, playing a wider role in the international human rights debate. However, most Italian groups working on women’s and LGBTQI+ rights only became aware of its existence when it was announced that the Congress would take place in Verona.

    Second, it is important to move beyond a reductionist interpretation of these movements as simply anti-gender and of this phenomenon as a mere ‘conservative backlash’ against progressive and emancipatory movements. Defining ultra-conservative claims in culturally binary terms (past vs future, intolerance vs tolerance, religion vs secularism, traditional family vs sexual freedom) does not help grasp the complexity of their project and their strong contextual adaptability, nor prevent them from taking further actions.

    Indeed, their anti-gender claims often intersect with other issues including the right to homeschooling, concerns such as human ecology, demography, Christianophobia, political stances such as nationalism, the defence of national sovereignty and a more general critique of the Western liberal political and economic order and its supranational institutions. All these concepts help them build a more comprehensive and systematic ideology, mobilising forces in various countries and strengthening their political alliances.

    But binary oppositions overlook these groups’ capacity to function in a variety of contexts. For instance, although they support a conservative view of gender roles, several ultra-conservative political parties have female leaders – just think of Alice Weidel (Alternative für Deutschland, Germany), Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national, France), Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d'Italia) and Pauline Hanson (One Nation, Australia). Others have women among their leadership, as seen with Barbara Pas (Vlaams Belang, Belgium) and Magdalena Martullo-Blocher (Swiss People's Party). On top of that, once in power, many of them promote social policies that advance women’s interests, such as a monthly income for every child born or more general welfare measures. Of course, these policies only favour heterosexual families, but still, they allow many families – and many women – to get the support they need.

    Even regarding LGBTQI+ rights, they are able to contextualise their stances. While Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro says that he would prefer a dead son than a gay one, Alice Weidel is an out lesbian who lives with her partner and her two children. Similarly, prioritising the fight against radical Islam and foreign powers, during her latest electoral campaign the ultra-conservative Marine Le Pen recognised the acceptance of homosexuality as part of French values.

    Third, the media have a key role in opposing these movements. It is very important to do research and disseminate information, explaining for example that many of the populist forces we see emerging in our countries are part of larger networks. It is no coincidence that Italy’s Salvini publicly kisses the crucifix, Brazil’s Bolsonaro made the legalisation of homeschooling one of his key priorities for his first 100 days in office, and Donald Trump is the first US president to attend his country’s most important national anti-abortion march. They are all part of a specific structure of power and the media have the responsibility to unmask their political and economic links.

    Finally, I believe that the rise of these ultra-fundamentalist movements is the consequence of a broader crisis, which has also led to the success of several illiberal leaders in various parts of the world. Progressive movements need to be aware of this so as to rethink some key concepts of their strategy, assess whether they are still connected with the broader society and, if they are not, start addressing this issue. As masterfully expressed by Eszter Kováts, “We need to recognise the problematic nature of emancipatory discourse as it stands today: just because a particular criticism is coming from the Right of the political spectrum does not necessarily render our positions beyond critique. And then we need to ask the painful question: ‘how did we get here’, and what does the current popularity of the Right have to do with the unfulfilled promises and problematic developments of emancipatory movements. Of the very same movements that seem to have failed to address the real nature of inequalities and everyday material struggles of people.”

    Get in touch with Confronti through its website and Facebook page, or follow @Confronti_CNT on Twitter.

     

  • As reprisals continue in Zimbabwe, CIVICUS calls on international bodies to intervene

    (Johannesburg 7 August 2020) CIVICUS calls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to denounce ongoing human rights violations in Zimbabwe and act decisively against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Increasing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, together with the silence of the international community, have prompted an online campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. There have been more than 700,000 tweets in the last few days as people from across the world express their solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

     

  • Attacks on Media in the Balkans Sound Alarm Bells for Democracy

    By Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva, CIVICUS 

    This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)
     
    Anti-government protesters invading Serbia’s state-owned television station, demanding that their voices be heard. Journalism bodies writing to the Albanian prime minister over plans to censor online media outlets. A Belgrade corruption-busting reporter forced to flee his house that had been torched; a Montenegrin investigative journalist shot in the leg outside her home.
     
     

     

  • BANGLADESH: “To address rape we need a thorough reform of the legal system”

    CIVICUS speaks to Aparajita Sangita, a Bangladeshi human rights activist and an international award-winning independent filmmaker. Aparajita has worked on several films on discrimination against women and women’s rights and has been involved in various social activities including street children’s education and food banking. In response to her activism, she has been harassed by the police. She was also sued for harassment under the draconian Digital Security Act for her online activism. The case was withdrawn in the wake of widespread protests on the streets and online.

    Aparajita Sangita

    What triggered the recent anti-rape protests in Bangladesh?

    On the evening of 5 January 2020, a student at Dhaka University (DU) was raped after getting off a university bus in the Kurmitola area of the capital, Dhaka. DU students were disturbed by this incident, which led to protests and the organisation of several other events.

    Despite widespread protests against the rape, sexual violence against women persisted and even increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On 25 September, a woman who was visiting MC College in Sylhet with her husband was raped in a hostel on campus by political activists linked to the ruling party. As protests erupted over this, a video of a woman being abused in Begumganj, Noakhali on 4 October went viral on social media. The video clip showed a group of men entering the woman’s house, stripping her naked and physically assaulting her, while capturing it all on video.

    These incidents are just a few of the numerous cases of rape and sexual violence against women that have been circulating on social media in Bangladesh. The perpetrators of this violence include fathers, close relatives, law enforcement officials, public representatives, political leaders and religious actors.

    All of this led to the mass anti-rape protests of October 2020, when people from all over the country came together to protest against violence against women. The anti-rape protest movement started in Shahbag, known as the ‘Movement Square of Bangladesh’, but soon spread to every city, even villages, across Bangladesh. This includes Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainababganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira and Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    People from different walks of life, including members of political parties, writers, cultural activists, online activists, national cricket team players, women’s rights activists and journalists, converged in the anti-rape protest movement. For the first time in Bangladesh, women marched against rape in the middle of the night. In Dhaka, they marched from Shahbag to Parliament House, carrying torches and shouting slogans.

    What were protesters’ main demands?

    The anti-rape protest movement raised nine demands to stop rape and sexual violence. They included the introduction of exemplary punishment for those involved in rape and violence against women across Bangladesh and the immediate removal of the home minister who had failed to deliver justice.

    Protesters also demanded an end to all sexual and social abuse of tribal women; the establishment of a committee to prevent sexual harassment of women in all government and private organisations as well as in educational institutions, following High Court orders; and the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). They also urged the abolition of laws and practices that create inequality towards women.

    Other calls included putting a stop to the mental harassment of victims during investigations and ensuring their legal and social security, the inclusion of crime and gender experts in Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals, and the establishment of more tribunals to ensure the quick processing of cases.

    Finally, they urged the amendment of Section 155(4) and other relevant sections of the Evidence Act to end the admissibility of character evidence of complainants in rape trials and the elimination from textbooks of all materials deemed defamatory of women or depicting them as inferior.

    How did the authorities respond to the protests?

    On 6 October, protesters marched from Shahbag to the Prime Minister’s Office with black flags but were stopped by the police at the Hotel Intercontinental Junction. Several leaders and activists of a left-wing student body were injured by the police.

    In addition, a section of a statement issued by the police headquarters on 10 October attempted to vilify the protesters. It stated that “vested quarters” were trying to use the protest “to serve their interests” by undermining law and order and “creating social chaos.” The police warned protesters to avoid any “anti-state activities” and announced that the police were committed to ensuring internal peace and order at all costs. This statement caused panic among protesters, who feared a crackdown.

    Besides facing police repression, several women activists, including the leader of the Left Students’ Association, who participated in the anti-rape movement, were threatened with rape over the phone and on Facebook Messenger. Some of the activists were also threatened with criminal cases.

    What has happened to the movement since? Has the campaign stopped?

    After the protests against rape and sexual assault spread across the country, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Law was amended. The death sentence was imposed as the most severe punishment for rape. Previously, the maximum punishment for rape in Bangladesh was life imprisonment. The death penalty was only applied in cases of gang rape, or rape that resulted in the victim’s death.

    Following this the protests halted, as many thought that the death penalty would see a reduction in rape crimes. However, many women’s rights campaigners insist the death penalty is not the answer and demand a thorough reform of the legal system and more education to address what they say is an epidemic of violence against women in Bangladesh.

    What can the international community support the movement?

    In the wake of the various cases of sexual violence and rape committed against women, we have seen an important protest movement emerge within the country. However, some protesters and activists have faced threats when they have raised their voices. The solidarity of the international community is essential for those protesting against human rights violations and making fair claims.

    Bangladesh is an extremely patriarchal society, and there have been numerous attempts to restrict women’s lives and voices for years. Rape is an expression of this environment. It is a fundamental right for a woman to live in safety and it is the responsibility of all citizens, as well as the international community, to ensure this right.

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

     

  • Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    To the President of Bangladesh,
    H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

    Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    Dear President Hamid,

    We are writing to express our concerns about serious violations of civic freedoms perpetrated during recent protests in Bangladesh. We urge your government to take immediate steps to address these issues in accordance with your international human rights obligations.

    Our organisations are concerned about reports that police used excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas on 4th August 2018 to disperse demonstrations in Dhaka which were triggered by the killing of two teenagers by a speeding bus on 29th July 2018. We are also concerned that the government may be covering up the actual death toll and have received information that at least three others students may have also been killed and one critically injured.

    Some of the student protesters were also allegedly attacked by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and Jubo League, the student and youth wing of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) party.

    More than 20 journalists were attacked, some of whom were later detained briefly by the police. At least four journalists from The Daily Star newspaper were reportedly beaten while at least seven photojournalists were injured in attacks in Jhigatala and Science Lab areas of the city on 5 August 2018. While some attackers wore helmets, the journalists identified some of their attackers as BCL members.

    We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest of scores of individuals around the protest, in particularly Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam who was taken from his home, just hours after he made comments on Al-Jazeera about protests in the city. He was subsequently charged under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act a provision that has been frequently used to bring charges against critics, activists and other dissenting voices in Bangladesh. He has also alleged that he was tortured while in custody. A lawyer in Sirajganj, Sakhawat Hossain Shakil, was also arrested and remanded under Section 57 of the ICT Act on 7th August for allegedly sharing anti-government posts and expressing solidarity with safe road protesters on Facebook.

    At least 22 protesters were remanded in police custody for two days and five are facing charges under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act. Some were allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody. They are now detained in prison as the courts have rejected the applications for bail.

    In the last few months, our organisations have also documented attacks by the BCL against students protesting the civil service quota system, which reserves 30 percent of government jobs for children of freedom fighters from Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Academics and journalists supporting them have also been targeted. Some student activists were subsequently detained and charged. At least six are languishing in jail and according to their lawyers were allegedly tortured in police custody. 

    The arrest and charging of peaceful protesters and allegations of torture and ill-treatment, clearly contravene Bangladesh obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Our organisations also believe that the violent actions of the police at these protests are inconsistent with international human rights standards on the use of force such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, and that the failure to take appropriate measures to prevent and punish harm caused by private actors, such as the BCL, also contravenes Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations.

    Many of the issues above were also raised at the Human Rights Council during Bangladesh’s recent Universal Periodic Review in May 2018, and received support from your government. Protecting civic freedoms is also part of Bangladesh’s commitments under Agenda 2030 and these violations highlight that the country is failing abysmally to meet targets set under Sustainable Development Goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and particularly target 16:10 to “protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

    Therefore, we urge your government to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all protesters who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights, in particular photographer Shahidul Alam, and drop all charges against them;
    • Carry out prompt, impartial, independent and efficient investigations into all complaints and reports of excessive use of force by the police, as well as attacks by non-state actors, against protesters and journalists, bring those responsible to justice and provide reparations to the victims;
    • Review and amend all laws that restrict freedom of expression, such as section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act;
    • Send a clear message to members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and other non-state actors that violence by them will not be tolerated;
    • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, civil society and citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution.

    We express our sincere hope that you will consider and implement these recommendations. 

    Sincerely, 

    David E. Kode
, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead
, CIVICUS
    Ichal Supriadi
, Secretary General, 
Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    Basil Fernando, Director, Policy and Programme, 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    Henri Tiphagne
, Executive Director, 
People’s Watch
    Mathew Jacob
, National Coordinator, 
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA)
    John Samuel, 
Executive Director, 
Forum Asia (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)

     

  • Bangladesh: Two years on, impunity for attacks against student protesters

    Two years since student protest movements mobilised in Bangladesh, there is still no accountability for human rights violations against protesters.

    Crushing Student Protests,’ a new report launched today by civil society groups Front Line Defenders, CIVICUS and South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), highlights the use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests and allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Bangladesh security forces during the protests, as well as attacks by non-state actors perpetrated with impunity against the students.

    In April 2018, senior students from universities mobilised to call for reform in the quota system for government jobs. Three months later, in July and August, junior students from schools and colleges led protests demanding public transport safety reform after students were killed in traffic accidents.

    Law enforcement agencies responded to both movements with excessive force. Protesters reported that the police attacked them with teargas, rubber bullets and high pressure hot water cannons. Unidentified armed individuals believed to be members of the student wing of the ruling party, known as the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), operated as an auxiliary force to Bangladeshi security forces to attack protesters with wooden logs, sticks, iron rods, and sharp weapons. They used social media to intimidate, harass and threaten protest leaders and organizers.

    An activist from Jagannath University in Sadarghat, Dhaka said that on 20 April 2018, he was attacked by BCL members: “They accosted me and dragged me to a corner. There were 12 people, and they beat me up, and cut my lip…They beat me until I was senseless and left me there.”

    Police also arbitrarily arrested protesters and filed multiple cases against them without specifying names, detaining students at will. Some reported torture and ill-treatment in detention.

    One activist arrested on 1 July 2018 in the Bhasantek area of Dhaka related his experience of being beaten up for a full day by security forces. “They made me lie down on the floor, with my arms handcuffed, and several policemen beat me with rods,” he said. “I bled on the floor, and they made the others detained clean the floor.”

    Bangladeshi journalists also were assaulted and detained as part of government efforts to control the narrative and silence critical voices.

    One of those arrested was 63 year old Shahidul Alam, a well-known photojournalist and activist. He was detained by plainclothes policemen on 5 August 2018, hours after giving an interview to Al Jazeera English on the student protests and charged a day later under the Information and Communication Technology Act for making "false" and "provocative" statements. Alam told reporters that he had been beaten in police custody.

    “The failure to hold anyone accountable for the violence against protesters points to deeply ingrained impunity in Bangladesh. We demand a prompt and independent investigation into all reports of violence by the police and nonstate actors against human rights defenders, journalists and protesters, and for those responsible to be brought to justice,” said Sultana Kamal, noted Bangladeshi Human Rights Defender and Chairperson of SAHR.

    “The police must drop all charges against the student human rights defenders and protesters and review the convictions of protesters and other individuals prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Roshmi Goswami, SAHR bureau member from India who took part in the joint international mission.

    The crackdown occurred just prior to elections held later in 2018, indicating the kind of actions the ruling party was, and remains willing, to take to hold its grip on power.

    Long after the protests stopped, many student activists, their friends and family members continue to face surveillance, intimidation and harassment, effectively silencing future dissent. Social media has been deployed to intimidate and smear human rights defenders and civil society groups that supported the protests. 

    A prominent activist was attacked eight times after the protest movement ended. Another protest organizer has been routinely stalked by members of the National Security Intelligence (NSI).

    “The authorities must end all forms of harassment, intimidation and surveillance against those involved in organising, participating or supporting the protests and ensure a safe and enabling environment for protest leaders to carry out their activism without fear of reprisals,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

    The crackdown on the protests is indicative of a broader pattern of aggression and attacks by the government against critics to silence dissent. The now defunct Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act, and its successor, the Digital Security Act, have been used to restrict freedom of expression while human rights activists, journalists and government critics have been charged or convicted for speaking up and, in some cases, forcibly disappeared.

    “The Digital Security Act criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression and imposes heavy fines and prison sentences for legitimate forms of dissent. It is incompatible with international law and standards and should be amended immediately,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.

    The human rights violations documented in this report around the protests are inconsistent with Bangladesh’s Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and other international laws and standards. Despite the fact that many of these issues have been raised by states, the Bangladesh authorities have failed to address them.


    Front Line Defenders is the Ireland-based international human rights organization that works for the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk (HRDs) around the world.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa and dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. 

    South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) is a democratic regional network with a large membership base of people committed to addressing human rights issues at both national and regional levels. SAHR seeks to contribute to the realisation of South Asian peoples’ right to participatory democracy, good governance and justice by strengthening regional response, including regional instruments, monitoring human rights violations, reviewing laws, policies and practices that have an adverse impact on human rights and conducting campaigns and programmes on issues of major concern in the region.


    Civic space in Bangladesh is currently rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

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

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

     

  • Brasil: ‘Na esquerda, as estruturas tradicionais se enfraqueceram ao mesmo tempo que novas formas de organização locais e autônomas surgiram em todo o país’

    English

    Após os muitos protestos vistos no Brasil em 2017, CIVICUS fala com José Henrique Bortoluci, professor do Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC) na Fundação Getúlio Vargas, em São Paulo, Brasil. José Henrique é PhD em Sociologia na Universidade de Michigan, nos Estados Unidos, e é especialista em movimentos sociais, estudos urbanos e teoria social, com foco no Brasil.

     

    1. 2017 foi um ano de grande mobilização no Brasil? Quais foram os principais grupos mobilizados e quais foram as principais causas para seu descontentamento?

    2017 foi um ano bastante contraditório e desigual em termos da atuação da sociedade civil no Brasil. De um lado, movimentos sociais não foram capazes de sustentar um movimento nacional de oposição ao governo de Michel Temer, por muitos considerado ilegítimo. O presidente continua governando, a despeito de ter assumido o poder a partir de um processo de impeachment altamente contestável (um golpe parlamentar, de acordo com parte da opinião pública) e de avançar reformas em quase tudo contrastantes com o programa de governo escolhido pelas urnas em 2014.

    Apesar disso, em 2017 continuou avançando um processo de dinamização da sociedade civil no Brasil, com o surgimento de movimentos sociais pela renovação da política, sobretudo entre parcelas mais jovens da população – que se sentem em geral bastante barrados do sistema político como ele se organiza hoje. Trata-se de uma dinâmica que começou a ficar mais clara e se aprofundou a partir dos grandes protestos de 2013 e se dinamizou com os movimentos de ocupação de escolas em 2015, com a mobilização contra a Copa do Mundo e as Olimpíadas, que se realizaram no Brasil em junho-julho de 2014 e agosto de 2016, respectivamente, com a atuação de movimentos de ativismo urbano e com o substancial crescimento em tamanho e importância do movimento feminista e LGBTI nos últimos três anos.

    Em suma, eu diria que o cenário é ao mesmo tempo de profunda politização entre vários setores da sociedade, mas de falta de articulação (seja por falta de força, seja por discordância política ou estratégica) entre esses movimentos em nível nacional.

    1. Como o governo reagiu aos protestos? Como a sociedade civil respondeu às restrições ao espaço de atuação cívica?

    O governo tem reagido de forma bastante violenta, nos casos em que houve enfrentamento com manifestantes (como na greve de abril de 2017), como é de costume no país, sobretudo desde 2013. O que muitos ativistas apontam é que as forças policiais, sobretudo nas cidades onde houve um grande número de movimentações de impacto nacional nos últimos anos (principalmente Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo) se tornaram mais “eficientes” desde 2013 – e também como “legado” da Copa do Mundo e das Olimpíadas – em dissuadir protestos e em usar força máxima em muitos casos, dificultando estrategicamente que grandes protestos se concretizem.

    Além disso, a outra forma de reação do governo tem sido, com frequência, desprezar deliberadamente a opinião pública, fechando-se ainda mais em suas alianças com o congresso e alguns setores da economia e da imprensa. Temer teve ao longo do 2017 a menor aprovação de qualquer presidente da história brasileira, e certamente uma das menores do mundo, o que não o impediu de manter-se, mesmo que sem legitimidade, no poder.

    Por seu lado, a sociedade civil ainda busca novas formas de atuação frente a esse cenário de fechamento dos canais institucionais. As novas redes sociais têm desempenhado um papel crucial para a disseminação de novas gramáticas políticas entre a população - tanto à esquerda como à direita, como atestam exemplarmente o movimento feminista e as redes de apoio a um candidato de extrema-direita como Jair Bolsonaro.

    Na esquerda, o enfraquecimento do Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), da Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), a principal central sindical do país, do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) e da União Nacional dos Estudantes (UNE), que exerceram papel quase hegemônico nas últimas décadas, se deu em paralelo à emergência de novas formas de organização mais locais e autônomas em todo o país, como movimentos de bairro, coletivos de jovens de periferia e movimentos de estudantes não-alinhados a partidos políticos.

    1. Em abril de 2017, o Brasil teve uma das greves gerais mais massivas de sua história. O que levou a esse protesto? Por que ele teve uma dimensão tão massiva? E o que mudou como resultado?

    A grande greve de abril 2017, com uma quase paralisação geral de um dia, deveu-se à conjunção de dois fatores: a crise do governo Temer, com a divulgação de evidências de seu envolvimento – e do envolvimento de ministros e outros políticos muito próximos a ele – em escândalos de corrupção de grandes proporções, e às tentativas do governo em avançar duas reformas que impactarão profundamente os trabalhadores: a nova lei trabalhista (sancionada pelo presidente em julho) e a reforma da previdência (ainda em tramitação no Congresso). Outros movimentos sociais de oposição ao governo, assim como movimentos de esquerda (estudantes, feministas, LGBTI, ativismo urbano) se juntaram aos protestos. De qualquer forma, apesar de sua enorme importância, essa grande movimentação não ganhou momento ao longo do ano – ao menos não como um movimento nacional unificado antigoverno e antirreformas neoliberais.

    1. O que podemos esperar para 2018 com a aproximação das eleições e a liderança do ex-presidente Lula da Silva nas pesquisas?

    O cenário ainda é bastante aberto, e qualquer previsão é marcada por muita incerteza. A primeira questão importante é se Lula poderá concorrer às eleições de outubro – caso ele não seja condenado em segunda instância. Em julho de 2017, Lula foi condenado a quase 10 anos de prisão depois de ter sido declarado culpado por acusações de corrupção e lavagem de dinheiro, mas seu recurso ainda está pendente. Mesmo que seu recurso fosse resolvido contra ele, alguns juristas ainda defendem que ele poderia ser candidato, até que o Supremo Tribunal Federal, a suprema corte constitucional do país, confirmasse o julgamento.

    Outras iniciativas à esquerda ainda são bastante tímidas, como um início de movimentação em torno do nome de Guilherme Boulos (líder do mais significativo movimento de moradia do país, o MTST) e Ciro Gomes, um político com posições nacionalistas mas associado a práticas políticas bastante tradicionais.

    A mesma incerteza também marca a direita e o centro – é bastante provável que o governador de São Paulo, o pouco carismático Geraldo Alckmin, concorrerá, provavelmente com uma plataforma liberal na economia e conservadora em termos de costumes e segurança pública. Jair Bolsonaro deverá ser o primeiro candidato abertamente de extrema direita com alguma chance de ir ao segundo turno.

    De qualquer forma, a disputa tende a ser ferrenha e não há candidato com chances claras de vitória em primeiro turno. Além disso, a despeito do surgimento de novos movimentos que pregam uma renovação na política, a legislação eleitoral brasileira dificulta imensamente uma renovação no legislativo, um dos maiores responsáveis pela atual crise política e pelo avanço de uma agenda conservadora.

    • O espaço cívico no Brasil é classificado como ‘obstruído’ noCIVICUS Monitor, indicando restrições graves nos direitos da sociedade civil.

    Entre em contato com Jose Henrique através de seus perfisFacebook ouAcademia, ou pelo email

     

  • Carta desde la prisión: líder campesino nicaragüense, Medardo Mairena

    El líder campesino Medardo Mairena escribe una carta a los medios de comunicación desde la prisión 

    SOSNicaragua6

    Medardo Mairena Sequeira, es Coordinador del Consejo Nacional de Defensa de la Tierra, el Lago y la Soberanía y miembro de la Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia. Medardo es uno de los líderes del movimiento contra la construcción del Canal en Nicaragua, fue detenido el 13 de julio junto con el líder campesino Pedro Joaquín Mena Amador cuando planeaban abordar un avión a los Estados Unidos para participar en un evento de solidaridad con Nicaragua. Medardo y otros dos líderes campesinos, se enfrentan a cargos falsos que van desde terrorismo, asesinato, secuestros, robo agravado y obstrucción a los servicios públicos.


    Agradezco a Dios y a mi familia, al pueblo de Nicaragua, a los medios de comunicación independiente, a las comisiones de derechos humanos nacional e internacionales, a la Organización de Estados Americanos, al Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas por no dejarnos solo al pueblo de Nicaragua.

    A todos mis amigos, amigas, a todo el pueblo en general, les pido que nos mantengamos unidos en oración en estos momentos difíciles para todos, por los presos políticos, que nos tienen detenidos injustamente solo por pensar diferente. El régimen de Ortega no es más que un cobarde, por eso nos detiene, por alzar nuestras voces por los que no pueden y por los que ya no están con nosotros.

    En el sistema penitenciario, en las cárceles estamos en máxima seguridad, las celdas están en malas condiciones, no hay luz, los servicios higiénicos están dañados, las ventanas que son para que entre aire las han cerrado. Nos tienen como si nos estuviéramos horneando en un horno y aislados de los demás presos. En esta modelo estamos los campesinos, en la 300, conocida como el “infiernillo”. Estamos 20 presos en las mismas condiciones. He estado enfermo igual que otros y no nos permiten que nos revise un médico. Gracias a Dios estoy mejorando, por el poder de Dios. Nada más aquí hay zancudos, cucarachas, alacranes, etc. No nos sacan de las celdas ni a tomar el sol. A mi amigo Pedro Mena le quitaron su tratamiento, ya que él padece de azúcar, de la presión. Él trae su tratamiento en su mochila y se tiene que tomar una pastilla diaria. Nos tratan inhumanamente.

    Insto al pueblo a seguir manifestándose pacíficamente, como siempre lo hemos hecho. Aunque no me vean, mi corazón está con ustedes, en las calles. Porque tenemos que exigir nuestra liberación, porque somos inocentes de lo que nos acusan. El día que sucedieron los hechos en Morito, nosotros estábamos en la marcha en Managua exigiendo que se reanudara el diálogo, ya que es la mejor salida pacífica a la crisis, porque pensamos como personas civilizadas, porque queremos justicia y democratización. No podemos olvidar a los que les arrebató la vida el régimen. Al menos mi familia todavía tiene la esperanza de verme pronto, pero las madres que perdieron a sus hijos no, y no las dejaremos solas.

    Atentamente,

    Medardo.

    Transcripción de la carta original


    CIVICUS ha pedido a las autoridades de Nicaragua que retiren todos los cargos contra Medardo Mairena, Pedro Joaquín Mena y Víctor Manuel Díaz y los liberen en condiciones de seguridad. CIVICUS también pide la liberación de todos los líderes rurales, estudiantes y activistas actualmente detenidos por ejercer su derecho a la protesta.

    Nicaragua ha sido añadida al listado de países del "watchlist" que están sufriendo una alarmante escalada de amenazas contra las libertades fundamentales. Este listado es recopilado por el CIVICUS Monitor, una plataforma online que evalúa las amenazas a las que se enfrenta la sociedad civil por todo el mundo. 

     

     

  • CHILE: ‘There has been a citizen awakening of historical proportions’

    soledad munozProtests broke out in Chile in October 2019, initially led by students rejecting an increase in the price of transport and quickly escalating into mass demonstrations urging structural change. Protests were repressed with savagery by security forces. CIVICUS speaks about the protests with Soledad Fátima Muñoz, a Chilean activist and the founder of a mentoring programme and feminist festival,Current Symposium. (Photo by Kati Jenson)

    How did something that started with a small increase in the price of the metro ticket become a mobilisation of unprecedented dimensions?

    The first thing to clarify is that this was not caused just by an increase in the price of the metro ticket, nor is it an isolated protest. Mobilisations against the abuses derived from the neoliberal system have been a constant occurrence in Chile over the years. Among these were mass protests against the privatised pension system, against the Trans-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement and against the Fisheries Law, feminist protests and protests by the movement promoted under the slogan ‘Ni Una Menos’ (not one less), mobilisations about the historic debt owed to teachers, the student protests held in 2006 and 2011, and the more recent mobilisations by students against the so-called Safe Classroom Law. On top of this, there’s the outrage caused by systematic state repression of the Indigenous peoples in Wallmapu, the deaths of Camilo Catrillanca and Macarena Valdés, and the imprisonment of Machi Francisca Linconao and Lonko Alberto Curamil, among other political prisoners. Combined with a generation-long dissatisfaction with the impunity granted to those responsible for the tortures, disappearances and killings of thousands of people under the dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, this produced an environment conducive to a citizen awakening of historical proportions. After years of abuse, the Chilean people woke up and want a new constitution, since the current one was drafted under the dictatorship and was designed to promote social inequality.

    The big difference between the current protests and all the previous ones is the response they triggered from the government of President Sebastián Piñera, who declared a state of emergency and a curfew, unleashing a police and military repression against the Chilean people that is only paralleled by the crimes perpetrated during the dictatorship.

    The protests are not being centrally organised and are not guided by a single political motto; there are many independent initiatives calling for people to gather and demonstrate, through social media or through various independent information channels. Some of the most widespread demands call for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Frequently demanded are the nationalisation of basic services and natural resources, including copper, lithium and water. There are also demands for direct democracy and binding referendums, the prosecution of political and economic corruption, respect for Indigenous peoples and plurinational sovereignty, and for health, education and decent pensions. On top of these there are also more specific demands, such as raising the minimum monthly wage to 500,000 Chilean pesos (approx. US$650), reducing legislators’ salaries and raising taxes on the richest.

    These were the reasons why the movement began, but in the face of excessive state repression, citizens are now also demanding the resignation and prosecution of President Piñera and all the people involved in the systematic violations of human rights that have taken place over the past month.

    Twenty deaths have been reported during the repression of the protests, in addition to large numbers of people injured and under arrest. Could you describe the human rights violations committed against protesters?

    It is difficult to estimate right now the human rights violations that are being committed by the Piñera administration, since – as was also the case under the dictatorship – thousands of detainees are being kept incommunicado. That is why, when people are taken away in the streets, they shout out their name, surname and identity card number. The latest official figures from the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) account for 335 legal actions initiated, 489 victims represented, 6,199 people under arrest – 726 of them minors – and 2,365 injured people registered in hospitals. But it is difficult to confirm the veracity of these figures since the institutions that disseminate them may have been pressured by the government.

    The INDH in particular partly lost its credibility when its director denied the existence of systematic human rights violations in our country on an open-air TV programme. That was simply a lie, since the institution itself had submitted complaints in the face of arbitrary actions by the police and the military. More than 200 cases of eye mutilations have happened as a result of the excessive use of pellets by the police, and there have been numerous cases of mistreatment, sexual violence and torture in detention centres. Additionally, there was an instance of repression at a school, Liceo 7 in Santiago, where a carabinero, a member of the military police, fired against students who were inside the building. There have also been raids on private homes and arrests made out of cars without police identification.

    On top of repression by the security forces, there is a group of citizens who call themselves ‘yellow vests’ and say their mission is to maintain civic order and protect the work of the police, but in reality they are a violent far-right group. Among its members is John Cobin, who fired a firearm at a protester in broad daylight on the busy streets of the Reñaca resort. He belongs to the League of the South, a white supremacist organisation from California.

    What immediate actions should the Chilean government take to safeguard civil rights and democratic freedoms?

    A month into the protests, the government has not yet listened to its citizens, and instead has responded with increasing violence. In the early hours of 15 November, lawmakers reached a political agreement behind closed doors, named the ‘Peace Agreement’ which would lead to a new constitution. The agreement guarantees a ‘blank slate’ for free discussion to take place and establishes that the call for a constitutional convention is going to be done through a public referendum. But part of the mobilised citizenry is not satisfied with either the deadlines or the required quorum of two thirds established for decision-making by the constituent body, since they think it will redirect the current democratic process towards a system designed to protect the political class and prevent minority voices from gaining power.

    I think what’s most important at this moment is the security of the citizenry and, above all, of the communities at greatest social risk, which are not only the most affected by the neoliberal system, but are also at the epicentre of the undiscerning violence applied by carabineros and the armed forces. An example of this happened in the community of Lo Hermida, in Peñalolén. After the authorities announced that they would not build the decent homes they had promised, inhabitants occupied the Cousiño-Macul vineyard. `Police repression was not long in coming, and in just one night 200 people were injured, two of them with severe eye trauma. In addition, carabineros broke in and threw pepper gas into homes with older people and minors inside.

    It is time for the Piñera government to stop the repression, release the more than 6,000 protesters who are currently being held in detention centres, take responsibility for the consequences of its actions, and – for the first time in Chilean history since Pinochet – end impunity for the systematic human rights violations that have been committed. The Piñera government must respond before the law for the more than 20 people who have been killed and the 200 that experienced eye mutilations, plus the torture of minors and sexual abuses against women, men and non-binary people, since all of these were consequences of the lousy decisions made by the government, and would have been at least partly avoided if they had maintained a direct dialogue with the public since the beginning. In this regard, the slogan chanted on the streets is: "There is no peace without justice."

    Do you think that the mobilisations in Chile are part of broader regional trends?

    What is happening in Chile is structurally international, since it derives from the austerity measures perpetrated by neoliberalism. Chile’s current socio-economic system is rooted in European colonialism and was enshrined by Pinochet’s coup d'état in 1973. Specifically, it came from a group of students belonging to Chilean elites who studied in the USA in the mid-1950s, where they absorbed the ideology of extreme monetarism and neoliberalism, under the tutelage of Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger. These students – nicknamed the ‘Chicago Boys’ – served as finance and economics ministers under the dictatorship and introduced extreme privatisation measures. These measures were accepted and naturalised by a citizenry that was in a state of shock and repression.

    The consequences of this privatisation translate into abuses perpetrated by multinational corporations that are enabled by governments around the world. In Chile, a good example of this is the case uncovered by journalist Meera Karunananthan in an article published by The Guardian in 2017. The author explains that the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is the largest investor in Aguas del Valle, Essbio and Esval, which control 41 per cent of the water and sanitation system in Chile. This is possible because the constitution allows for the private ownership of water, which has left entire communities in a drought situation and unprotected by the law. However, in 2010 the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution recognising access to water and sanitation as a human right. This means that in Chile human rights are violated not only through police repression but also through the maintenance of an unfair and abusive economic system.

    The example cited above is just one within the great chain of international abuses perpetrated by corporations, including by the Canadian company Barrick Gold and the Norwegian state company Statkraft, which continue to abuse the policies of the Chilean subsidiary state and threaten our planet. That is why we must raise awareness at an international level so that the decisions of the Chilean people are respected and protection is provided to Indigenous peoples, without blockages or political interventions protecting foreign capital and perpetuating the destruction of our environment.

    What support does Chilean civil society need from international civil society in this process?

    At this time, it is important to recognise and create international awareness about the abuses committed against the working class, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities and sexual minorities. I personally have learned a lot in the course of these mobilisations. One of the most subversive things that citizens are doing is rejecting the right/left binarism that has so severely affected Latin American societies and that has been used by neoliberal governments as an excuse to repress working people. The prevalence of citizen politics that do not identify with any dogmatic position on the right/left spectrum meant that the government could not identify an ideological enemy and ended up declaring war on its own people.

    Mainstream national and international media are misrepresenting the facts and building a narrative against the mobilised population. But unlike what happened in the past, we are now equipped with phone cameras and can report directly. I invite people around the world to get informed through independent media and civil society channels to really know what is happening.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Soledad Muñoz through herwebsite or followmúsica_del_telar on Instagram.

     

  • CHILE: ‘There's radical discontent with how the country's been ruled for decades’

    Nicole Romo

    Protests broke out in Chile in October 2019, initially led by students rejecting an increase in the price of transport and quickly escalating into mass demonstrations urging structural change. Protests were repressed with savagery by security forces. CIVICUS speaks about the protests with Nicole Romo, director of the public policy area of ​​the Community of Solidarity Organisations (Comunidad de Organizaciones Solidarias), a network of more than 200 Chilean civil society organisations that work to combat poverty and exclusion. Together, its member organisations work with more than 900,000 people, mobilising around 11,000 staff members and over 17,000 volunteers.

     

    Why did protests break out in Chile, and what made them escalate as they did?

    The social outbreak in Chile came after decades of the promotion of a development model that focused on creating wealth, which for years was distributed with no fairness or justice. Individualistic, short-term and assistance-based social policies that deeply damaged social cohesion and the community and collective sense of wellbeing were implemented. Alongside this there were housing policies that segregated Chileans into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ territories where access to goods and services was distributed in the same way, a pension system that impoverishes senior citizens, lack of access to healthcare in a timely manner and with adequate quality standards, and an education system that also segregates and grants diametrically opposed opportunities to the rich and the poor.

    In this context, the motto ‘it is not about 30 pesos, it is about 30 years’, which was heard a lot during the protests, expresses quite well the feeling that prevailed among the citizenry. Although this social movement began with students massively evading payment of public transportation fares, after a rise of 30 Chilean pesos in the cost of a metro ticket, deep-seated malaise has been accumulating for over 30 years. There have been several protests to advance various social demands over the years, but this profound discontent had never been heard or even made visible. The social eruption of 18 October 2019 was the result of the accumulation of radical discontent with the government and the way the country has been ruled for several decades.

    How have people and civil society organisations reacted to the protests?

    The national state of mobilisation that we are experiencing has clearly shown that two Chiles coexist within the same territory – two Chiles that do not know each other and do not intersect. This division is the brutal expression of the difference in the quality of life between those who have privileges and those who don’t. Our country spent the past few decades convincing itself that achievements are based on individual merit, that each person’s efforts are the only guarantee of social mobility, which in fact, as shown by a variety of studies, is absolutely untrue.

    In the face of this, data from various surveys show a high rate of approval of social demands among citizens. On the other hand, people are more divided when it comes to violence, and especially the forms of violence that have resulted in damage to public and private infrastructure, such as looting, the destruction of stores and the burning of commercial premises and other types of services, as well as regarding violence by state agents, who have been responsible for numerous human rights violations.

    How has the government reacted to the protests?

    The government has handled this conflict in a quite regrettable way, by mainly emphasising its security agenda, criminalising protests and furthering a legislative agenda focused on punishing protesters, which reveals their lack of understanding of the nature of the protests, their demands and their urgency.

    The social agenda proposed by the government is quite weak. It does not seek to make radical changes to existing structures that deepen inequality and does not guarantee the rights of all people. The changes and the contents of the social agenda led by the government are not up to the protesters’ demands and their urgency. Its numerous initiatives and measures involve limited improvements, which are necessary but will not affect the structures that reproduce unfairness in our country; therefore, they only duplicate the same old short-term public policies that are not based on a rights approach and focus on the individual rather than on the needs of the thousands of families in vulnerable conditions.

    The latest reports speak of dozens of people dead and hundreds injured. Could you describe the extent of the repression and human rights violations committed during the protests?

    Since the protests broke out in Chile, numerous human rights violations have been committed by state security agents. These violations have been denounced by national and international organisations, but the state has tended to downplay them.

    It is essential for us to reiterate that at all times unrestricted respect for human rights must prevail, and that each case of violation must be investigated, resulting in punishment for the perpetrators and reparation for the victims. Civil society is key in monitoring and watching over these processes, to ensure that they remain transparent and foster accountability of the state.

    Data from the National Institute of Human Rights indicate that in 48 per cent of the observed cases of detention, detainees were protesting peacefully, regardless of whether or not they were occupying roads. Likewise, gases were used indiscriminately in 56 per cent of recorded cases, and in 60 per cent of the cases observed, force was not used in a graduated way, and was instead applied without prior notice and in the absence of any kind of dialogue. There were 2,727 documented cases of injured adults who were treated in hospitals, as well as 211 children and adolescents, and 241 people with eye injuries. There was also a series of human rights violations against people detained and held in police stations. The most frequent of these was the excessive use of force during detention, with 751 cases. Overall, 190 cases of sexual harassment or sexual violence were recorded, 171 of them being cases in which detainees were stripped naked.

    How have people and civil society organisations responded to the state repression and rights violations that occurred during the protests?

    We have responded without fear. Entire cities have shouted fearlessly in protest at the human rights violations that occurred during the past months. Many people have compiled testimonial material to make visible the level of exposure and violence they experienced during the protests.

    From civil society organisations the responses have been diverse, but generally speaking all organisations have called for non-violence and the establishment of new spaces for dialogue leading to the strengthening of a society based on social justice and fairness. Without a doubt, civil society organisations have played a prominent role, promoting the establishment of meeting spaces and helping present the demands of the citizenry. This was done through the creation of a large network of networks called the New Social Pact, which brings together more than 600 civil society organisations that have worked tirelessly to search for real solutions to substantial demands.

    The Community of Solidarity Organisations supports the principle of nonviolence and since day one of the protests we voiced the need for unrestricted respect for human rights. Even if it is not our field of work, we believe that this outbreak revealed how urgent it is to restructure the police forces. We faithfully believe in the data published by the National Institute of Human Rights, and we know that their work is conscious and rigorous, as is the report delivered by Amnesty International, so as civil society we will support from our field of work all actions aimed at bringing reparation for the rights violated during the protests.

    What immediate measures should the Chilean government take to overcome this crisis? What are the chances of this happening and a lasting solution being reached?

    A lasting solution would require a long process of construction and change including short-term, medium-term and long-term measures.

    The short-term and medium-term measures are related to the social agenda, which has three dimensions. The first consists in improving the quality of life through measures on issues such as health, education and pensions. The second dimension includes measures to end abuses by economic and political elites and close the gaps in justice administration between cases involving members of the economic elite and ordinary citizens, who face completely different sanctions for committing crimes: ‘ethics classes’ for the former and effective jail terms for the latter. The third dimension involves raising the resources that the state needs to implement a deep and powerful social agenda. Chile requires a tax reform to increase revenue and needs a much more efficient tax management system.

    The long-term axis refers to a constituent process whose main milestones have already been established: an initial referendum, the election of representatives and a ratification referendum. However, conditions guaranteeing participation by a cross section of people, equitable representation, gender parity, minority quotas and independent candidacies have not yet been achieved. Without these conditions in place, the legitimacy of the constitutional process will severely weaken.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Comunidad de Organizaciones Solidarias through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@ComunidadOrgSol and@nromo_flores on Twitter.

     

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

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

    Marcela Guillibrand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

  • CHINA: ‘Crackdown on Jasic labour struggle seeks to eliminate unrest during economic downturn’

    China JasicIn July 2018, police in Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, Chinadetained and used physical violence against several workers at Jasic Technology, a welding equipment manufacturer, after they attempted to form an autonomous union under the auspices of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the sole legal vehicle for workers’ rights in China. The workers had long complained about low wages, poor working conditions and management abuses.

     

Página 1 de 3