civic space

 

  • Civic space is shrinking, yet civil society is not the enemy

    By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN member states in 2015, represent an ambitious, but achievable, agenda to make the world better. Importantly, they are a reminder that world leaders have agreed on common goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. In a remarkable shift in international public policy, they have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ in this effort, thereby committing themselves not just to work together, but also to work for the benefit of all people irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

    The values that underpin our ability to generate an internationally co-ordinated response to the sustainable development challenge are, however, increasingly being questioned, undermined and even overruled by leaders who promote narrow, self-serving interpretations of national interest. Report after report from civil society organisations across the globe highlight what we have called in our State of Civil Society report this year a trend towards “presidential sovereignty” that aims to undermine or override the mandate of constitutions, national rights preserving institutions and international agreements.

    Read on: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

     

  • CIVICUS at the 2019 High Level Political Forum 

    Without civil society, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would not be possible. Civil society not only actively contributes to achieving each of the goals, they are also actively monitoring and reviewing governments commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That’s why every July thousands of civil society representatives from around the world attend the High Level Political Forum in New York. 

    When: Tuesday 9 July to Thursday 18 July 2019 
    Where: New York 
    What: The theme of the 2019 High Level Political Forum is "Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality" 
     
    Six of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will be under review in 2019. 
    They are:  
    • Goal 4: Inclusive and equitable education 
    • Goal 8: Decent work for all 
    • Goal 10: Reduce inequality 
    • Goal 13: Urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
    • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies
    • Goal 17: Global Partnerships

    47 countries will present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) in 2019. CIVICUS members and other civil society will also contribute to review the Sustainable Development Goals by sharing their own findings, and by monitoring and reviewing governments commitments. CIVICUS also continues to actively advocate for increased formal recognition of the vital role of civil society in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, including through compelling civil society reports. 

    Read the joint civil society statement endorsed by over 250 organisations from 27 countries calling for governments to make civil society equitable partners in the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

    CIVICUS EVENTS 

    CIVICUS is co-organising the following events during HLPF 2019: 

    When: Thursday 11 July, 10 AM to 1 PM EST 
    Where: UNHQ Conference room 5 
    Co-sponsors: Amnesty International, Action for Sustainable Development, CBM International, CIVICUS, Gallaudet University, International Civil Society Centre, Institute for Development Studies, International Movement ATD Fourth World, Oxford University, Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities 
    What: A practical workshop featuring national examples of creating a more inclusive approach to reviewing the Sustainable Development Goals.
    A UN pass is required to attend this event. 
     
    When: Friday 12 July, 1:00 to 3:00 PM EST 
    Where: Ford Foundation 
    Co-sponsors: CIVICUS, Article 19, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD), Oxfam, Action Aid, Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), Government of Finland, UN OHCHR. 
    What:Who are the people who are making our world more sustainable, just and inclusive and how can we ensure that they are protected and empowered by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? 
    This event will be livestreamed on the CIVICUS Facebook page
    Please RSVP here by 11 July: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NNBX2SB. No UN pass necessary.
     
    When: Monday 15 July, 1:15 to 2:30 PM EST 
    Where: Conference Room B, UNHQ 
    Co-sponsors: World Resources Institute, UN ECLAC, Government of Costa Rica, The Access Initiative, Namati, DAR, CIVICUS 
    What? Escazu Agreement Side Event 
    This event will be livestreamed on the CIVICUS Facebook page
    A UN pass is required to attend this event. For more information please contact: Natalia Gomez Pena
     

    ACTION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

    CIVICUS also supports civil society participation in the Sustainable Development Goals through our membership of the global network, Action for Sustainable Development. Overview of these additional events:

    When: Thursday11 July, 1:15 to 2:45 PM EST 
    Where: UN Conference Room 1 --- requires UN ground pass
    Co-sponsors: Action for Sustainable Development, TAP Network, Forus 
    A UN pass is required to attend this event. 
     
    When: Saturday 13 July, 9:00 to 3:00 PM EST 
    Where: UN Church Center
    Co-sponsors: Action for Sustainable Development
     
    When: Wednesday 17 July, 2:00 to 4:00 PM EST 
    Where: Ford Foundation
    Co-sponsors: Action for Sustainable Development, Forus, TAP Network, the Asia CSO Partnership for Sustainable Development and others
     

    SOCIAL MEDIA

    You can follow the developments at the HLPF by following #SDGs #HLPF #HLPF2019 and @Action4SD on Twitter. 

    SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 16 AND 17

    CIVICUS members and civil society contribute to all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals but we carefully follow Goals 16 and 17 in particular because these specifically relate to civil society’s important role in sustainable development. 

    The below infographic provides a helpful snapshot of how the 47 countries under review at this year’s High Level Political Forum are doing on SDG 16.10 according to data from the CIVICUS Monitor. 

    CIVICUS is also closely monitoring: 

    SDG Target 16.7. Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels 

    SDG Target 16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms 

    SDG Target 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships 

    CIVICUS is also a signatory to the May 2019 Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG16+

    READ MORE

    Why civic action and participation is vital for achieving the sustainable development goals, by Lysa John. https://oecd-development-matters.org/2019/06/18/civic-space-is-shrinking-yet-civil-society-is-not-the-enemy/ 

    Report: The linkages between the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UN Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx  

    How Civil Society’s Contributions to Sustainable Development are Undermined at the HLPF, by Lyndal Rowlands https://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/unanswered-questions-how-civil-societys-contributions-to-sustainable-development-are-undermined-at-the-hlpf/ 

     

  • CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will be dominated by the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
     
    To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
     
    On the agenda this session of Interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

    Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and
    Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

    Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
    • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
    • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

    Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders,Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

    The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
    • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
    • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

    Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

    The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
    • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
    • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
    • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

     

  • CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will commence with the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
     
    To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
     
    Of interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

    Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

    Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
    • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
    • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

    Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders,Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

    The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
    • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
    • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

    Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

    The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS: 

    • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
    • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
    • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
    • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

    Thursday, 15 March 15:00-16:00 (Room XXII) | The Link Between the Deterioration of Human Rights in Egypt and the Massive Violations in the Gulf States | Gulf Center for Human Rights | International Federation for Human Rights | OMCT | International Service for Human Rights | CPJ | ALQST | CIVICUS | CPJ

    A look at the middle east governments' coordinated efforts to target human rights defenders and journalists across the region. See full invitation.

    PANELISTS:

    • Yahya Al-Assiri, Director of ALQST for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
    • Justin Shilad, Committee to Protect Journalists
    • Nardine Al-Nemr, Academic & Activists from Egypt
    • Sara Brandt, Advocacy & Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS

     

  • CIVICUS concerned about repressive wave in Cuba

    Spanish

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is deeply worried about rising repression in Cuba. Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the expectations generated by the possibility of an imminent lifting of sanctions, Cuban journalists and civil society activists and their organisations are facing a serious clampdown for exercising their rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly.

    “As activists attempt to reclaim public space following recent political developments, short-term detentions have been on the rise as a way to discourage acts of democratic dissent,” said Inés Pousadela, policy and research officer with CIVICUS. “In addition to high-profile activists and protest-oriented organisations who have been traditionally targeted, groups engaged in research, monitoring and providing information to citizens have also faced increased government repression.”
     
    In October, several journalists were victims of raids on their homes and subjected to verbal threats, physical violence and the confiscation of equipment in clear acts of intimidation intended to stop them from doing their work. The Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) denounced a wave of repression directed against nine independent journalists for cooperating with the organisation. A group of journalists of the new independent media project Periodismo de Barriowere detained for reporting on the effects of Hurricane Matthew without a permit.
     
    In September, the offices of the Center of Legal Information (Cubalex), which provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and reports on human rights issues, were raided. Police sought to justify breaking into Cubalex’s offices, intimidating its staff and confiscating paperwork and equipment on the grounds that its lawyers were carrying out “illicit economic activity” even though Cubalex does not charge for its services. The organisation’s application for legal status has been rejected by the Cuban Justice Ministry and its Director, Laritza Diversent has repeatedly faced harassment for engaging with regional and international human rights bodies.
     
    CIVICUS calls on the Cuban government to enable the exercise of civic freedoms to speak up, organise and petition the authorities. Accordingly, we urge Cuban authorities to (i) cease the harassment of activists and journalists carrying out their regular legitimate activities, (ii) begin a process of dialogue to create a more enabling environment for civil society and the independent media, and (iii) initiate reforms to give legal recognition to a wider plurality of civil society endeavours.
     
    Cuba is listed in the ‘closed’ category of the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • CIVICUS Joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    Submissions on civil society space– Afghanistan, Chile, Eritrea, Macedonia, Vietnam & Yemen

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on six countries in advance of the 32nd UPR session in January 2019. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

    Afghanistan: CIVICUS, Afghanistan Human Rights Organization (AHRO), Civil Society and Human Rights Network and People’s Action for Change Organization explore the continued insecurity in Afghanistan, which has resulted in the closure of space for civil society, including through targeted attacks on humanitarian workers, protesters and journalists. We further discuss violence against women and the desperate situation faced by women HRDs in Afghanistan who are subjected to a heightened level of persecution because of their gender and their human rights activism.

    Chile: CIVICUS and Pro Acceso Foundation (Fundación Pro Acceso) highlight serious concerns regarding the persistent misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law to silence members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land rights. We are also concerned by the lack of government commitment to amend legislation regulating the right to peaceful assembly and by the violent suppression of social protests, especially those led by the student movement and indigenous communities. 

    Eritrea: CIVICUS, EMDHR and Eritrea Focus highlight the complete closure of the space for civil society in Eritrea to assemble, associate and express themselves. We note that there are no independent civil society organisations and private media in the country. We further discuss how the government selectively engages with international human rights mechanisms including UN Special Procedures. 

    Macedonia: CIVICUS, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network and the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation outline serious concerns over the institutional harassment of NGOs in receipt of foreign funding since 2016. Despite a recent improvement in respect for civic freedoms, the submission discusses several restrictions on investigative journalists and media outlets. We also remain alarmed over smear campaigns against human rights defenders and critics of the government orchestrated by nationalist groups. 

    Vietnam: CIVICUS, Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), VOICE and VOICE Vietnam examine systematic attempts in Vietnam to silence HRDs and bloggers, including through vague national security laws, physical attacks, restrictions on their freedom of movement and torture and ill-treatment in detention. The submission also explores strict controls on the media in law and in practice, online censorship and the brutal suppression of peaceful protests by the authorities.

    Yemen: CIVICUS, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Front Line Defenders discuss the ongoing extreme violence against and HRDs and journalists including regular abductions, kidnappings and detention in undisclosed location. We further examine restrictions on freedom of association including raids on CSOs causing many to reduce their activities drastically and even closed entirely. 

    See full library of previous UPR country submissions from CIVICUS and partners. For the latest news on civic space in all UN Member States, see country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • CIVICUS Monitor

    CIVICUS Monitor: Tracking Civic Space

    The CIVICUS Monitor is a research tool that provides close to real-time data on the state of civil society and civic freedoms in 196 countries. The data is generated through a collaboration with more than 20 civil society research partners, and input from a number of independent human rights evaluations. 

    The data inform a country’s civic space rating as CLOSED, REPRESSED, OBSTRUCTED, NARROWED or OPEN. The data streams also feed into individual country pages and updates, which provide verified and up-to-date information on the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The CIVICUS Monitor also includes a regularly updated Watch List – countries where, based on research and local analysis of the situation, there is a serious, immediate or emerging threat to civic space.

    What's the state of civic space in your country? See the latest civic space updates with the interactive map:

     

  • CIVICUS Monitor (FR)

    Monitor CIVICUS : Surveiller l'Espace Civique

    The Monitor CIVICUS est un outil de recherche fournissant des données presque en temps réel sur l'état de la société civile et des libertés civiques dans 196 pays. Les données sont générées grâce à une collaboration avec plus d'une vingtaine partenaires de recherche de la société civile et à la contribution d'un certain nombre d'évaluations indépendantes sur les droits humains.

    En fonction des données, l'espace civique d'un pays est classé comme étant FERME, REPRIME, OBSTRUE, RETRECI ou OUVERT. Les flux de données sont également intégrés dans des pages par pays et dans des mises à jour fournissant ainsi des informations vérifiées et à jour sur l'état de la liberté d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression. Le Monitor CIVICUS comprend également une Watch List mise à jour régulièrement. Il s'agit d'une liste des pays où, sur la base de recherches et d'analyses locales de la situation, il existe une menace grave, immédiate ou naissante pour l'espace civique.

    Quel est l'état de l'espace civique dans votre pays ? Vous trouverez les dernières mises à jour sur l'espace civique sur cette carte interactive :

     

  • CIVICUS Monitor: a new effort to study civic space

    After two years of deep thinking and hard work, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS has launched the beta version of the CIVICUS Monitor – the first ever online tool specifically designed to track and rate respect for civic space, in as close to real-time as possible.

     

  • CIVICUS urges Iran to stop persecuting human rights defenders and implement Universal Periodic Review recommendations

    Johannesburg. 22 June 2010. Earlier this month, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and a number of civil society groups censured Iran at the UN Human Rights Council for outright refusal to accept key recommendations made during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

    Iran rejected 45 of the 188 recommendations made to it by diplomatic delegations of different states and took back 20 recommendations to Tehran for further review. Notably, the rejected recommendations included "end to severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association and assembly" (United States) and the "end to the detention and trials of writers solely for the practice of their right to freedom of expression" (Slovenia).

     

  • Civil and political rights are backsliding in West Africa ahead of elections

    There has been a rapid decline in civic freedoms and democratic norms in Francophone West Africa with ruling presidents evading term limits and muzzling their opposition and pro-democracy groups, CIVICUS said ahead of presidential elections in Guinea (18 October) and Côte d’Ivoire (31 October).

    Over the next six months a series of elections will take place across Francophone West Africa. Voting kicks off in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire later this month, followed by elections in Burkina Faso (November), Niger (December-January) and Benin (April). Togo already had a contested presidential election in February 2020.

    In Togo, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, violence and political tensions are being fuelled by presidents refusing to step down. In Benin, recent changes in eligibility requirements mean that members of the opposition may not be able to run for presidency, while Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Burkina Faso are confronting or emerging from violent armed conflicts which are being used to justify repressive laws and policies. In addition, the restrictions introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and armed groups spilling over from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea are making the political situations more volatile.

    In this tense political environment, the new report “Civic space backsliding ahead of elections in Francophone West Africa” examines the tools of repression being used to undermine opposition groups, human rights defenders, activists and journalists. with a focus on Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo.

    It documents recent Internet disruptions, the arrest of hundreds of pro-democracy activists and journalists and the killing of dozens of peaceful protesters in demonstrations organised over the last three years. Governments are using restrictive laws, over-complicated registration processes, judicial harassment and excessive use of force to clampdown on civil society, particularly when dissent is expressed online or during protests.

    “Instead of working with civil society groups to create an enabling environment for free and fair elections, authorities across Francophone West Africa have resorted to muzzling human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists. In the hope of stamping out all opposition, they have created a climate of fear which fuels political violence, erodes the rule of law and undermines regional stability,” said François Patuel, senior researcher on West Africa and author of the report.

    In Guinea, where President Alpha Condé will run for a third term on 18 October 2020, over fifty people were killed since October 2019 in protests organised by the political opposition and pro-democracy group Front National de Défense de la Constitution (National Front for the Defence of the Constitution, FNDC). In March 2020, the constitutional referendum which opened the way to Alpha Condé running for a third term was marred with a social media shutdown and intercommunal clashes in the Guinea Forest region which left over 30 people dead. Dozens of FNDC supporters and journalists have been detained since the creation of the movement in April 2019.

    In Côte d’Ivoire, at least 12 people were killed in protests and clashes between political supporters following President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term for the presidential election scheduled on 31 October 2020. Public protests have been banned since August 2020. The authorities have adopted laws criminalising false news and used them to target journalists, bloggers and politicians expressing dissent, including members of parliament such as Alain Lobognon who remains in detention since December 2019. In gross contempt to regional institutions, Côte d’Ivoire has been ignoring orders from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to release pro-Soro supporters and allow Guillaume Soro and Laurent Gbagbo to stand for elections.

    “Local human rights groups do not take up sensitive political cases for fear of reprisals. Even lawyers are scared.” --Woman human rights defender, Abidjan, 15 May 2020.

    “On paper, the right to freedom of expression is supposed to be protected. But in practice, journalists are intimidated when they write on sensitive topics such as land rights, police brutality and corruption.” -- Interview with a human rights defender, Lomé, 14 May 2020.

    With civic freedoms backsliding across West Africa Francophone, civil society organisations need support from regional and international partners to remain safe, to ensure their voice is heard in international and regional fora and to increase the pressure on national authorities for positive human rights change. ECOWAS and the African Union, in particular, must step-up their response to the authorities’ disregard for regional standards and instruments, including their efforts to undermine the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights.


    Interviews

    To arrange interviews, please contact: 
    François Patuel, Consultant & Senior Researcher on West Africa for CIVICUS, , +221 77 693 78 46

     

  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

     

  • Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean under threat

    Restrictions on civic space rising despite prevalence of democracy

    Click hereto read a Spanish language version of this release

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

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

     

  • Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe

    A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

     

  • Civil society resourcing: “Revolutions do not occur because of good project proposals”

    By  Ine Van Severen

    It’s undeniable: the space for civil society organisations (CSOs) and philanthropy is shrinking. According to new research by CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks trends in the conditions for civil society in countries around the world, 3.2 billion people live in countries where citizens’ freedoms of association, assembly or expression are restricted.

    Read on: Alliance Magazine 

     

  • Civil society tackling global challenges with ‘resolute resistance,’ says new report

    As 2017 gave way to 2018, many in civil society found renewed purpose in striving to make democracy real, and demanding human dignity and justice.

    Even as attacks on civil society have become more brazen, the story of the past year was one of resolute resistance against the rising tide of restrictions on fundamental freedoms and democratic values, according to CIVICUS’ 2018 State of Civil Society Report, released 6 March 2018. Sobering data from the CIVICUS Monitor reveals serious systemic problems with civic space in 109 out of 195 countries covered. However, there are also numerous examples of civil society successfully advocating for progressive new laws on women’s rights, access to information and protection of human rights defenders.

     

  • Closed and repressed: No space for democracy to take root in Eritrea

    CIVICUS interviews a human rights defender from Eritrea, who speaks about the nature of the government and its complete disregard for fundamental human rights. The human rights defender asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    1. What is the overall state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea?

    Unlike in the neighbouring countries, the regime in Eritrea is unique and arguably has no match in the world. It is the most repressive regime in the world, ruling the country with no Constitution and national assembly. There is no political pluralism and no elections have been organised since independence. The ruling party exists only in name with most of its leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are either languishing in unknown detention centres or have abandoned the party. Since 1994 the party has never held any congress or elected new leadership. Hence power has been concentrated in the hands of a single man, President Issias Afwerki, who rules the country alone and as he wishes.

    The absolute power he enjoys combined with his sadistic, cruel and arrogant character has driven him to the extreme. His regime violates every aspect of human rights and inflicts unbearable suffering on the Eritrean people. The regime has no regard for human rights and international law. Almost the entire population of Eritrea has been subjected to indefinite national service, forced labour and slavery. Families have disintegrated and societies destroyed by migration as citizens seek to escape the repression. Those who escape the country are exposed to human trafficking, hostage taking for ransom, torture and other inhumane treatment.
    The regime has made Eritrea a closed and an isolated country with no independent and foreign media outlets; civil society activities are banned in Eritrea thus there are no local CSOs or international NGOs of any kind in the country. In addition, the report of the UN Commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in June 2016 revealed that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea by the Eritrean regime.

    2. What is the state of the media?

    Between 1997 to 2001 private press in the form of print media operated in Eritrea but this was under a restrictive legal domestic framework. There were eight private newspapers until September 2001. In 2001 senior government officials known as “G-15” demanded democratic reforms and the enforcement of the 1997 ratified Constitution. In September 2001, the government clamped down on 11 members of the “G-15” accusing them of treason and said they were a threat to national security. The government proceeded to close private newspapers and imprisoned 18 journalists for providing platforms to the “G-15” to express their views. Since then both the political prisoners and journalists have been held incommunicado in secret prison facilities without charges. Many of the journalists and writers are believed to have died in detention. In effect, since September 2001 no private media has existed in Eritrea. Only state-owned and state-operated media exists in the country. These include TV, radio, and print outlets.
    Freedom of expression, exchange of information and communication in public places such as tea shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, bus terminals, offices, schools and colleges, public, social and religious events are closely monitored by spys working for the regime. Even people who are out of the country are afraid to express themselves publicly for fear of reprisals against their relatives at home in Eritrea. Journalists who work for public media outlets and manage escape still fear that their families back home will be targeted as the Eritrean government punishes family members because of association.

    3. How does the compulsory national military service exacerbate human rights violations in Eritrea?

    According to the National Service Proclamation of 1995, Eritreans are required to serve 18 months of national service which includes six months of military training and 12 months of service in the army and civil service. The proclamation notes that military service is compulsory for males and females who are between 18 to 40 years old. However, contrary to the national proclamation, in reality the national service is indefinite. Those who were recruited in the first round, for example in 1994 have not been released up to now. The whole productive section of the society has been locked up in the national service without any pay, proper feeding or clothing. Even children are recruited into national service. All students have to go to the military training camp of Sawa to do their final year of education in the secondary level and complete military training. Conditions there are very miserable. The national service recruits are treated worse than slaves. They are deprived of opportunities to start families and from undertaking economic activities. They are deprived of moving freely, expressing themselves and from practicing the religion of their choice. In addition, those who desert and evade national service are detained, tortured or fined. Also women are used as sex objects by the military officers and work as house maids or slaves to provide forced services to the officers.

    4. Tell us about the failure of the government to implement the 1997 Constitution

    The government does not have any desire to implement the 1997 Constitution. In May 1998, one year after the ratification of the Constitution, the Eritrean government ignited a border war with Ethiopia. It developed into a full-fledged conflict that came to end in 2000 after the loss of about 100 000 lives on both sides and huge damages to properties and a huge humanitarian crisis and displacement. The Algeris agreement ended the war and a border commission was formed to delineate and demarcate the border but the border has not yet been demarcated. A “no war and peace state” prevails now. Although there are no links between the border and the Constitution, the Eritrean government claims that it is not implementing the Constitution because the border has to be demarcated first.

    5. What are three things that need to change for democracy to take root in Eritrea?

    For democracy to take root in Eritrea: there needs to be

    • Change of the existing government;
    • Crimes committed so far have to be addressed and perpetrators brought to justice;
    • The international community needs to support Eritreans both in the diaspora and those in Eritrea in leading a transition to democratic rule.

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘Citizens are outraged and tired of the policies that have plunged them into poverty’

    CIVICUS speaks with Alexandra González Zapata, coordinator for democracy and social protest at the Solidarity Committee with Political Prisoners Foundation, and a member of the Campaign to Defend Freedom. The Solidarity Committee Foundation is a Colombian civil society organisation that works to defend the rights to life, freedom, physical and moral integrity, decent, fair and impartial treatment and other rights of people deprived of liberty, prosecuted for political crimes and criminalised for participating in social protest. The Solidarity Committee Foundation is a member of the Campaign to Defend Freedom, which focuses on denouncing arbitrary detentions, judicial persecution and the criminalisation of social protest in Colombia. A network made up of social, student, cultural, community and human rights organisations, Defend Freedom works in a coordinated manner to challenge the illegal use of force as a mechanism of persecution against those who, individually or collectively, demand and promote human rights through social mobilisation in Colombia.

    alexandra gonzalez zapata

    What triggered the 2019 protests in Colombia, and why did they escalate?

    Outrage has been building up little by little in Colombia. Even as it was inaugurated in August 2018, President Iván Duque's government did not enjoy wide margins of legitimacy and support. The electoral results showed that a broad segment of the citizenry rejected traditional power and all that it represented: policies in favour of war, privatisation and indebtedness. This discontent increased as the government announced a series of policy measures, including among those who had voted for Duque.

    The government's proposals were aimed at eliminating the state pension fund Colpensiones, raising the retirement age and lowering the salary for young people to 75 per cent of the minimum wage, among other measures. A widespread atmosphere of indignation emerged as a result, yielding a unified call for mobilisation on 21 November 2019.

    What few expected by then was that the mobilisation would continue over the days that followed 21 November. On that day some acts of vandalism were committed, which the national government tried to use as an excuse to criminalise social protest and adopt measures to restrict freedoms, including a curfew. In response to this, citizens went out to demonstrate freely. We really do not know which was the first neighbourhood or the first block to start banging pots and pans on 22 November, but what we do know is that this dynamic expanded throughout the capital city, Bogotá, as well as other cities around Colombia, shifting the narrative that had prevailed on the media, which was all about vandalism, towards a public discourse that highlighted citizen outrage and social demands.

    How have these mobilisations managed to be sustained over time? How are they different from others in Colombia in the past?

    From 2013 onwards, social mobilisation in Colombia has been on the rise. In 2013 there was an agricultural strike that lasted for more than 20 days and managed to keep several major national roads closed. Then came the agricultural strikes of 2015 and 2016, and the so-called ‘mingas for life’, marches and protests of tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples, and the student strikes of 2018 and 2019.

    In other words, we’ve seen numerous massive and sustained mobilisations over the past few years. What is different about the ongoing national protests in comparison to past mobilisations is that they have been characterised by a majority participation of urban citizens and mainly middle-class people. This caused them to be viewed not as the actions of a particular group of people – Indigenous peoples, peasants, or students – but instead as the work of outraged citizens who are tired of the policies that have increasingly plunged them into poverty, even though the country keeps flaunting positive economic growth indicators. Hence its massive and sustained character.

    What do the protesters demand, and what response do they expect from the government?

    The National Strike Committee has submitted a list of petitions around 13 major issues: guarantees for the exercise of the right to social protest; social rights; economic rights; anti-corruption; peace; human rights; the rights of Mother Earth; political rights and guarantees; agricultural and fishery issues; compliance with agreements between government and social organisations; withdrawal of legislation; the repeal of specific laws; and reform of the law-making process.

    On the first item, guarantees for the right to social protest, protesters urge the government to dismantle the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) and refrain from establishing any other similar force. They demand that those responsible for the death of Dylan Cruz, an 18-year-old who was shot dead in the head while running unarmed to escape ESMAD in the early days of the protest in Bogotá, be brought to justice and held accountable.

    On the second item, social rights, protesters demand an end to labour subcontracting, the establishment of an interest rate for mortgage loans that is fair and correlated to people’s real incomes and the repeal of the tax that is currently used to finance the electricity company Electricaribe.

    So far the government has shown no willingness to enter into any real dialogue and negotiation; instead, it insists on beginning ‘exploratory dialogues.’ Protesters expect the government to convene a negotiating table as soon as possible to address the substantial issues that have been raised.

    How did the government react to the protests? What human rights violations were committed by the security forces?

    On 15 November 2019, six days before the first protest was scheduled to take place, the national government made the decision to involve the army in control and security operations in Bogotá. Nine Brigade XIII contingents were deployed and more than 350 soldiers took part in monitoring, patrolling and security controls in Bogotá. This militarisation still persists in the city. The presence of a ‘riot squad’ of the national army, according to information released by the authorities, is particularly concerning. It should be noted that, except in exceptional circumstances, military forces should not intervene in operations to control, contain or even guarantee the celebration of social mobilisations.

    In addition, as confirmed by the authorities, starting at 6am on 19 November, 37 raids were carried out in the residences and workplaces of media professionals throughout Colombia. To date, 21 of those raids have been declared illegal after undergoing judicial scrutiny, because they did not comply with legally established requirements, including being based on reasonable suspicion. According to information provided by the authorities, the raids involved people who were thought to be prone to committing acts of vandalism during the protest. However, it was mainly people linked to artistic groups, alternative media and social movements. Among the items seized were posters, brushes and paintings.

    Also on 19 November, the Ministry of the Interior issued Decree 2087/2019, establishing new measures for the maintenance of public order. Article 3 made “a very special call to district and municipal mayors, so that in their duty to preserve public order in their respective territories, they comply [with the provisions of the Law] in matters of public order.” This call prompted the authorities of at least eight cities – Bogotá, Buenaventura, Cali, Candelaria, Chía, Facatativá, Jamundí and Popayán – to declare curfews. These affected the exercise of the rights to free movement and social protest for all citizens, even though acts affecting public order had been extremely localised.

    Throughout the protests, the authorities made an improper and disproportionate use of force. Although Resolution 1190/2018 states that “the use of force must be considered the last resort of intervention by the National Police,” in most cases ESMAD has intervened without any apparent reason to do so. On 22 November it intervened in Plaza de Bolívar, where more than 5,000 people had assembled, although the demonstration was completely peaceful. On 23 November, Dylan Cruz was killed as a result of an unjustified intervention by ESMAD during a peaceful mobilisation. Although the weapon uses was among those authorised, the ammunition fired by ESMAD caused the death of this young man because of improper use, since according to international standards this type of weapon can only be fired at a distance greater than 60 metres, and only against lower extremities; otherwise, it is deemed to entail lethal risk. Strikingly, on a video recorded live by the Defend Freedom Campaign, an ESMAD agent can be heard encouraging another one to shoot, saying: “Shoot anyone, just anyone, come on daddy.”

    During the protests more than 300 people were injured, including 12 who had eye injuries. Some young people were injured by firearms shot by the police, including Duvan Villegas, who might remain paralysed as a result of a bullet hitting him in the back. Another young man lost his right eye in Bogotá after being hit by a rubber bullet fired by the ESMAD, and two other people could face the loss of their legs due to the impact of teargas canisters thrown by the police from close range.

    Overall, there were 1,514 arrests during the protests, 1,109 of them in Bogotá. Out of 914 people who were arrested, 103 (6.8 per cent) were prosecuted for allegedly being caught in the act of committing violence against a public official; however, arrest procedures were declared illegal in a high number of cases, both because there were not enough grounds for conducting them and because they were accompanied by physical violence against detainees.

    The rest of the people who were detained (93.2 per cent) were transferred for protection or by police procedure. According to the law, detention in these cases is justified when the life or integrity of the person or a third party is at risk or danger. However, in practice an abusive use of this power was made, since these were mostly administrative detentions, used as a mechanism of intimidation and punishment against citizens who were exercising their right to protest. Therefore, these were mostly arbitrary detentions.

    In some of these cases, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment was documented during detention, particularly in Immediate Attention Commands or police stations. Cases came to our attention of people who were forced to undress, others who received electric shocks through electrical control devices and some who had broken bones in their hands as a result of baton charges or being kicked.

    Additionally, in Bogotá, more than 620 people who were transferred to the Protection Transfer Centre were punished with police appearance orders, in many cases for the crime of disruption, for having obstructed transport. This mechanism, which results in fines amounting to around 200,000 Colombian pesos (approx. US$60), was used indiscriminately and has affected the exercise of social protest.

    How has civil society organised in the face of these abuses?

    In 2012, the Defend Freedom Campaign was established. Through its Verification and Intervention Commissions, recognised in Resolution 1190 of 2018, the campaign does on-site monitoring of social mobilisation, documents cases of arbitrary and excessive use of force by police authorities, arbitrary detention and transfer for protection and various forms of repression and abusive use of police power against protesters and human rights defenders, and it systematises the information collected. The campaign also promotes the creation of a National Network of Civil Society Commissions for Verification and Intervention in situations of social mobilisation.

    Likewise, through a joint demand, the National Process of Guarantees, the Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Summit and the Defend Freedom Campaign have obtained verifiable commitments from the national government and the government of Bogotá to establish public policies aimed at enforcing respect for the freedoms of individuals, communities and social organisations that promote and defend rights. The most important of these were Decree 563/2015 (Protocol of Action for Social Mobilisations in Bogotá: For the Right to Mobilisation and Peaceful Protest) issued by the Office of Bogotá’s Mayor and Resolution 1190/2018 (Protocol for the coordination of actions to respect and guarantee peaceful protest) issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

    What immediate measures should the Colombian government adopt in response to the protests?

    First, the government should convene the monitoring mechanism (‘Mesa de Seguimiento’) to respect and guarantee peaceful protest, as a space for negotiation and dialogue that should define mechanisms to guarantee the right to protest, as envisaged in Resolution 1190. Likewise, the government should immediately suspend the use of 12-calibre shotguns by ESMAD members, due to their high impact on people’s physical integrity and life. Second, it should refrain from pursuing stigmatisation and criminalisation campaigns against those who engage in social protest. Third, the government should initiate a negotiation process with the National Strike Committee to address its demands. And in response to the substantive demands made by the National Strike Committee, the government should start by withdrawing its proposals for labour and pension reform that are due for congressional debate, and initiate a broad and participatory process towards the formulation of new laws concerning those issues.

    Do you think the response of the international community has been adequate? How could international groups and organisations support Colombian civil society and contribute to safeguarding civic space in the country?

    I believe that the international community and the United Nations system were able to issue a timely warning regarding the risks of repression of social protest. The call made by human rights organisations in the USA to urge their government to start a moratorium on the sale of US riot weapons to Colombia was also timely.

    However, it would also be important for Colombian civil society to receive longer-term support to undertake medium-term strategies that allow for a deeper and more detailed follow-up of the human rights situation, and particularly to help make progress in judicial investigations for the human rights violations allegedly committed during the protests.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Solidarity Committee Foundation through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@CSPP_ on Twitter.
    Get in touch with the Defend Freedom Campaign through itswebsite andFacebook page, or

     

     

  • Comprehensive UN resolution needed to protect civic space

    Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights

    A group of governments (Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia) and over 50 civil society organisations reaffirm the need for the Human Rights Council to adopt a comprehensive resolution that promotes and protect civic freedoms.


    Madame High Commissioner,

    This core group first took the initiative of a Council resolution on civil society space in 2013.

    We did so in light of what we saw as two equally true but very different realities:

    • first, the transformative role which civil society can and does play, alone or in partnership with other stakeholders; and
    • second, that civil society space is all too regularly, and unfortunately increasingly, restricted and threatened.

    In the intervening period, our commitment to this initiative has not diminished, in fact quite the opposite, we have established new frontiers.

    We remain deeply committed to highlighting at this Council, the critical importance of protecting and promoting a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

    In normal times, we would have presented a resolution to this Session of the HRC.

    But these are not normal times, so, for practical reasons, we have decided to raise these important issues by way of a Joint Statement.

    In this Joint Statement, we take the opportunity to draw attention to the concerns that persist for civil society including inter alia: diversity of participation; attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors; shortcomings in access and accreditation processes; the use of legal and administrative measures to restrict civil society activity; and the particular challenges that have emerged in recent weeks and months by the almost wholesale move to online methods of communication and engagement.

    We also pay tribute to the significant steps forward that international organisations and States have taken to foster and encourage the meaningful participation of civil society, set out in the

    High Commissioner’s report presented at this Session. This report also noted that significant further steps are needed, such as: increasing support to and empowering civil society, including human rights defenders, in particular women’s rights and environmental defenders and journalists; and expanding the space in which civil society operates through better laws and policies and improved protection mechanisms.

    Realisation of these steps would bring to bear the immense benefits of this participative approach to policy formulation and implementation, as emphasised by the Secretary-General in his “Call to Action”.

    Madame High Commissioner,

    The people that States in this room represent are facing the challenge of a generation in dealing with COVID19 and its devastating impact, particularly in terms of the many, many lives lost, on every continent.

    In responding to, and rebuilding from this crisis, we must recognise, as articulated by the UN Secretary-General, and as emphasised by this Council in the recently adopted Presidential Statement on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of human rights in shaping the response to the pandemic, both for the public health emergency, and the broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

    We welcome your statement, Madame High Commissioner, that civil society must be included in every stage of response to the COVID19 pandemic.

    We would encourage you therefore Madame High Commissioner, to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report that you will present to the 46th Session of the HRC, as mandated by the recent Presidential Statement.

    There will be many lessons to be learned from our experience of recent weeks and months if we are to build back better, by protecting fundamental freedoms in the face of crises and addressing structural inequalities.

    We stand ready to learn.

    And we undertake to bring to a future Session of this Council, a resolution that will build on a more comprehensive examination of the key challenges and opportunities that have emerged and will set out concrete steps for States to take to realise open civic space for the benefit of all.

     

  • COP26: ‘We need to regenerate ourselves and what we have destroyed’

     Portuguese

    Daniel Gutierrez GovinoAs the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, UK, CIVICUS continues to interview civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are taking to address them and the reprisals they face because of their work.

    CIVICUS speaks with Daniel Gutierrez Govino, founder of the Alter do Chão Forest Fire Brigade, a group that works to prevent, combat and promote socio-political coordination against fires in the Amazon forest in the state of Pará, Brazil. He is also a co-founder of the Alter do Chão Aquifer Institute, an institution that promotes social projects in the town of Alter do Chão, municipality of Santarém in Pará.

    What made you become an environmental defender?

    I felt the urgency to work to keep the planet viable for humans and other species. I was moved, and still am today, by the possibility of human beings reversing their actions and ways of thinking about our role in nature. We need to regenerate ourselves and what we have destroyed.

    What does the Alter do Chão Brigade do?

    We have worked since 2017 to prevent and combat forest fires in Alter do Chão, in the municipality of Santarém in the north of Brazil. We brought together a group of community volunteers who, with great courage, have worked to protect biodiversity, the people of Alter do Chão and the region from forest fires. To do this, we received training from the Military Fire Brigade, the Civil Defence and the Municipal Secretariat for the Environment and Tourism of Belterra. We have trained new brigade members and promoted socio-political coordination and communication with local communities.

    What restrictions have you faced in response to your environmental activism?

    In the case of the Alter do Chão Brigade, I and three other brigade members were arrested in 2019 on unfounded charges of causing fires in an environmental protection area. Our work was criminalised because it proposes solutions and a transformation of the local political context.

    In addition, the current national context for organised civil society is hostile. We were scapegoats in a narrative that sought to criminalise civil society organisations, at a time when the country’s president and his supporters were trying to blame civil society for the dramatic increase in forest fires.

    I have also faced resistance when trying to promote changes in current public policies in the microcosmos of Santarém. Political and social conservatism undermine any movement that seeks to advance progressive agendas. The government, the civil police and the local elite reject environmental activism by attacking our work. We were lucky and our privilege kept us alive, but activists in the Amazon are always threatened with violence and death. It is not a safe region for those who fight for freedom and justice.

    What kind of support did you receive when you were criminalised?

    We received all kinds of support when we were arrested, both nationally and internationally. The key support came from pro bono criminal lawyers from the Freedom Project, who still accompany us to this day. But we also received support from national institutions such as Projeto Saúde e Alegria and Conectas, as well as from international ones, such as WWF Brazil, Article 19, Front Line Defenders and many others.

    We were released from prison after a few days thanks to the actions of these defence and protection networks. However, the criminal process against us has been ongoing for two years, without any proof backing the accusations against us. At the federal level, the police investigation was closed; however, the authorities of the state of Pará have insisted on charging us. Recently, the jurisdiction of the court case was challenged by the federal prosecution, but for months the process has drifted in the Brazilian justice system. Part of our equipment remains confiscated to this day. I have no more hopes for justice.

    Despite all of this, I believe that Brazilian civil society is emerging stronger. Our partner Caetano Scannavino, from Projeto Saúde e Alegria, who also works in Alter do Chão, says it is like a boomerang effect. I think this assessment is brilliant. They attack us, and their attacks make us stronger.

    What avenues are available for activists in your region to seek protection and support? What kind of support do you need from civil society and the international community?

    The main thing is to be aware of the available support networks and coordinate with them before anything bad happens, that is, to coordinate preventively. This includes national and international institutions, such as those that supported us. But above all, it is crucial to know local support networks.

    The types of support needed are specific and depend a lot on each region. Brazil is of a continental size and the needs of the south are not the same as those of the Amazon, for example. One cannot even say that the Amazon is a region, because it is, in fact, a continent with particularities in each region. But it is these networks that will connect those in need of support with those who can help.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Alter do Chão Forest Fire Brigade through itswebsite or itsFacebook page.