democratisation

 

  • #UN75 : « Désormais, l'ONU doit demeurer accessible par le biais de plateformes virtuelles »

    Laura ObrienEn commémoration du 75e anniversaire de l’Organisation des Nations Unies (ONU), CIVICUS organise des discussions avec des activistes, des avocats et des professionnels de la société civile sur les rôles que l'ONU a joués jusqu'à présent, les succès qu'elle a obtenu et les défis qu'elle doit relever pour l'avenir. CIVICUS s'entretient avec Laura O'Brien, responsable du plaidoyer avec les Nations Unies pour Access Now, une organisation de la société civile qui s'est donné pour mission de défendre et d'étendre les droits numériques des utilisateurs en danger dans le monde entier. Access Now se bat pour les droits humains à l'ère numérique en combinant le soutien technique direct, le travail politique intégral, le plaidoyer mondial, le soutien financier de base, des interventions juridiques et des réunions telles que la RightsCon.

    Dans quelle mesure la charte fondatrice des Nations Unies est-elle adéquate à l'ère de l'internet ?

    Depuis des années, la société civile encourage l'ONU à moderniser ses opérations afin de demeurer pertinentes à l'ère du numérique. En 2020, l'ONU a été confrontée à une dure réalité. L'organisation internationale a été obligée de faire la plus grande partie de son travail en ligne, tout en essayant d'atteindre de manière significative la communauté mondiale et de faire progresser la coopération internationale au milieu d'une crise sanitaire mondiale, d'un racisme systémique, du changement climatique et d'un autoritarisme croissant. La commémoration du 75e anniversaire de l'ONU par un retour à sa charte fondatrice - un document axé sur la dignité inhérente de l'être humain - ne pourrait être plus cruciale.

    La Charte des Nations Unies a été rédigée bien avant l'existence d'Internet. Toutefois, sa vision globale reste cohérente avec la nature universelle de l'internet, qui permet au mieux la création illimitée de sociétés de connaissance fondées sur les droits humains fondamentaux, tout en amplifiant la nécessité de réduire les risques, non seulement par des moyens souverains, mais aussi par la coopération internationale. Guidée par les principes de la Charte des Nations Unies, la Déclaration sur la commémoration du soixante-quinzième anniversaire des Nations Unies s'engage à juste titre à renforcer la coopération numérique dans le monde entier. Par cet engagement formel, les Nations Unies ont enfin pris en compte l'impact transformateur que les technologies numériques ont sur notre vie quotidienne, ouvrant la voie - ou mieux, comme l'a dit le secrétaire général de l'ONU, établissant une « feuille de route » - pour nous guider à travers les promesses et les dangers de l'ère numérique.

    Alors que les dirigeants mondiaux ont reconnu la nécessité d'écouter « les peuples », comme le stipule le préambule de la Charte des Nations Unies, la société civile continue de rappeler à ces mêmes dirigeants d'écouter plus activement. Compte tenu de sa mission d'étendre et de défendre les droits fondamentaux de tous les individus, la société civile reste une force clé pour faire progresser la responsabilité de toutes les parties prenantes et garantir la transparence dans des processus multilatéraux souvent opaques.

    Quels défis avez-vous rencontré dans vos interactions avec le système des Nations Unies et comment les avez-vous relevés ?

    J'ai commencé à travailler dans mon rôle public en tant que défenseuse des intérêts de Access Now aux Nations Unies, quelques mois avant le confinement dû à la COVID-19 ici à New York. En ce sens, j'ai dû, dans mon nouveau rôle, relever les défis auxquels la société civile était confrontée à l'époque : comment faire en sorte que les acteurs de la société civile, dans toute leur diversité, participent de manière significative aux débats de l'ONU, alors que cette dernière déplace ses opérations au monde virtuel ? À l'époque, nous craignions que les mesures exceptionnelles utilisées pour lutter contre la pandémie soient utilisées pour restreindre l'accès de la société civile et ses possibilités de participer aux forums des Nations Unies. Nous nous sommes donc mobilisés. Plusieurs organisations de la société civile, dont CIVICUS, ont travaillé ensemble pour établir des principes et recommandations à l'intention des Nations Unies afin d'assurer l'inclusion de la société civile dans ses discussions pendant la pandémie et au-delà. Cela nous a aidé à travailler ensemble pour présenter une position unifiée sur l'importance de la participation des parties prenantes et pour rappeler aux Nations Unies de mettre en place des protections adéquates visant à garantir l'accessibilité des plateformes en ligne, ainsi que des garanties suffisantes pour protéger la sécurité des personnes impliquées virtuellement.

    Qu'est-ce qui ne fonctionne pas actuellement et devrait changer, et comment la société civile travaille-t-elle pour apporter ce changement ?

    L'année 2020 a été une année d'humble réflexion critique sur soi-même, tant au niveau individuel que collectif. Aujourd'hui plus que jamais, le monde se rend compte que le modèle centré sur l'État ne conduira pas à un avenir prometteur. Les problèmes auxquels est confrontée une partie du monde ont des conséquences pour le monde entier. Les décisions que nous prenons maintenant, notamment en ce qui concerne les technologies numériques, auront un impact sur les générations futures. Alors que le monde se remet des événements de 2020, nous avons besoin que les dirigeants mondiaux tirent les leçons de l'expérience acquise et continuent à s'engager dans cette réflexion critique. La résolution de problèmes mondiaux exige une action interdisciplinaire qui respecte et protège les détenteurs de droits issus de milieux divers et intersectoriels. Nous ne pouvons tout simplement pas continuer à fonctionner et à traiter ces questions de haut en bas. En effet, les menaces telles que la désinformation ont souvent leur origine au sommet.

    Partout dans le monde, la société civile se mobilise en première ligne des campagnes mondiales qui cherchent à sensibiliser aux problèmes auxquels nous sommes confrontés aujourd'hui et à leur impact sur les générations futures, tout en plaidant pour la responsabilisation dans les forums nationaux, régionaux et internationaux. De la condamnation des coupures d'Internet de #KeepItOn à la remise en question de la mise en œuvre des programmes d'identité numérique dans le monde de #WhyID, nous nous efforçons d'informer, de surveiller, de mesurer et de fournir des recommandations politiques qui respectent les droits, en fonction de nos diverses interactions avec les personnes les plus à risque.

    Quelles sont, selon vous, les principales faiblesses du système multilatéral mondial actuel et quelles leçons peut-on tirer de la pandémie de COVID-19 ?

    Le système multilatéral mondial doit cesser de fonctionner et de traiter les problèmes mondiaux de manière déconnectée. Cela nécessite non seulement un multilatéralisme mieux organisé en réseau - dans l'ensemble du système des Nations Unies, tant à New York qu'à Genève, et incluant les organisations régionales et les institutions financières, entre autres - mais aussi une approche plus interdisciplinaire des problèmes mondiaux. Par exemple, les recherches disponibles suggèrent que plus de 90 % des objectifs de développement durable sont liés aux droits de l'homme et au travail au niveau international. Pourquoi, alors, les acteurs internationaux continuent-ils à soulever ces objectifs uniquement en relation avec les débats sur le développement et non en relation avec les droits de l'homme ?

    De nombreux enseignements peuvent être tirés de la pandémie pour promouvoir une coopération internationale plus inclusive. En 2020, les Nations Unies ont pris conscience des avantages de la connectivité Internet : atteindre des voix plus diverses dans le monde entier. Des personnes qui, en raison d'innombrables obstacles, sont généralement incapables d'accéder physiquement aux plateformes des Nations Unies basées à Genève et à New York ont désormais la possibilité de contribuer de manière significative aux débats des Nations Unies via Internet. Dans le même temps, cependant, l'opération en ligne a également conduit à la reconnaissance officielle par les Nations Unies des graves conséquences pour les quelque quatre milliards de personnes qui ne sont pas connectées à Internet. Ces personnes peuvent être victimes de discrimination de connectivité, se heurter à divers obstacles dus à la fracture numérique et à l'insuffisance des ressources en matière de culture numérique, ou rester hors ligne en raison de l'imposition de coupures sélectives de services Internet.

    À l'avenir, l'ONU devrait continuer à donner accès à ses débats par le biais de plateformes virtuelles accessibles. Tout comme l'ONU est conçue pour faciliter les interactions entre les États, le monde aurait intérêt à ce que la société civile dispose d'espaces tout aussi sûrs et ouverts pour se connecter. Malheureusement, trop de communautés continuent d'être marginalisées et vulnérables. Les gens subissent souvent des représailles lorsqu'ils élèvent la voix et diffusent leurs histoires au-delà des frontières. Nous nous efforçons de créer ce genre de forum civil ouvert avec RightsCon - le principal sommet mondial sur les droits de l'homme à l'ère numérique - et d'autres événements similaires. En juillet 2020, RightsCon Online a réuni 7 681 participants de 157 pays du monde entier dans le cadre d'un sommet virtuel. Les organisateurs ont surmonté les obstacles liés au coût et à l'accès en lançant un Fonds pour la connectivité qui a fourni un soutien financier direct aux participants pour qu'ils puissent se connecter et participer en ligne. Ces réunions doivent être considérées comme faisant partie intégrante non seulement de la gouvernance de l'internet, mais aussi de la réalisation des trois piliers des Nations Unies - développement, droits de l'homme et paix et sécurité - à l'ère numérique. Lorsqu'elle est menée de manière inclusive et sécurisée, la participation en ligne offre la possibilité d'accroître le nombre et la diversité des participants sur la plateforme et supprime les obstacles liés aux déplacements et les contraintes de ressources.

    Globalement, la communauté internationale doit tirer les leçons de l'année 2020. Nous devons travailler solidairement pour promouvoir une coopération internationale ouverte, inclusive et significative pour un avenir prospère pour tous.

    Contactez Access Now via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook, et suivez@accessnow et@lo_brie sur Twitter.

     

  • #UN75 : « La société civile doit être la conscience de la communauté mondiale »

    En commémoration du 75e anniversaire de la fondation des Nations Unies (ONU), CIVICUS organise des discussions avec des activistes, des avocats et des professionnels de la société civile sur les rôles que l'ONU a joués jusqu'à présent, ses succès et les défis qu'elle doit relever pour l'avenir. CIVICUS s'entretient avec Keith Best, directeur exécutif par intérim du Mouvement fédéraliste mondial - Institut de politique mondiale (WFM/IGP), une organisation non partisane à but non lucratif qui s'engage à réaliser la paix et la justice dans le monde par le développement d'institutions démocratiques et l'application du droit international. Fondé en 1947, le WFM/IGP s'emploie à protéger les civils des menaces de génocide, de crimes de guerre et de crimes contre l'humanité, à faciliter la transparence de la gouvernance, à améliorer l'accès à la justice et à promouvoir l'État de droit.

    Keith best

    Quel type de relation la société civile a-t-elle entretenu avec l'ONU tout au long de ses 75 ans d'histoire ?

    La relation de la société civile avec l'ONU tout au long de son histoire a été principalement celle d'un ami critique, et l'expérience du WFM/IGP en témoigne. Ce sentiment a souvent été réciproque. Je me souviens très bien que lorsqu'il était Secrétaire général des Nations Unies (SGNU), lors d'une réunion avec des organisations de la société civile (OSC), Boutros Boutros-Ghali nous a demandé de l'aider à obtenir des États-Unis qu'ils paient leurs arriérés - ce qu'ils ont fait dès qu'ils ont eu besoin de soutien pour la guerre du Golfe ! L'ancien directeur exécutif du WFM/IGP, Bill Pace, a également écrit que « Kofi Annan était un secrétaire général très important, avec lequel j'ai eu la chance de développer une relation à la fois professionnelle et personnelle. Bien que son héritage soit toujours débattu, je crois qu'il s'est engagé à faire face aux grandes puissances et à s'opposer à la corruption des principes énoncés dans la charte ». C'est grâce à Kofi Annan que la doctrine de la responsabilité de protéger a été adoptée à l'unanimité.

    En quoi le travail de l'ONU a-t-il fait une différence positive ?

    On a tendance à ne considérer l'ONU que sous l'angle de son rôle de maintien de la paix et de ses efforts plus visibles pour tenter de maintenir la paix mondiale, en négligeant le travail moins célèbre mais parfois plus efficace accompli par ses agences. Je n'en mentionnerai que trois. Malgré la récente controverse concernant la COVID-19, où les principaux problèmes semblent avoir été ses pouvoirs limités et son manque de coordination, l'Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS) a obtenu un succès durable. Elle a été officiellement créée le 7 avril 1948 dans le but « d'atteindre pour tous les peuples le niveau de santé le plus élevé possible », la santé étant entendue non seulement comme l'absence de maladie ou d'infirmité, mais aussi comme le plein bien-être physique, mental et social de chaque individu. Son plus grand triomphe a été l'éradication de la variole en 1977 ; de même, ses efforts mondiaux pour mettre fin à la polio sont maintenant dans leur phase finale. Ces dernières années, l'OMS a également coordonné les luttes contre les épidémies virales d'Ebola en République démocratique du Congo et de Zika au Brésil. Ce serait une catastrophe si les États-Unis se retirent de l'organisation au lieu de l'aider à mettre en place un mécanisme d'alerte plus efficace et à coordonner la distribution de médicaments dans le sillage d'une pandémie qui sera certainement suivie par d'autres.

    Un autre héros méconnu est l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture, qui a travaillé dur pour améliorer la situation des petits agriculteurs, la préservation et l'amélioration des méthodes agricoles et la connaissance des biotechnologies, entre autres choses. En outre, le Programme des Nations Unies pour le développement, fondé en 1965, encourage la coopération technique et la coopération en matière d'investissement entre les nations et plaide en faveur du changement en mettant les pays en contact avec les connaissances, l'expérience et les ressources nécessaires pour aider les gens à se construire une vie meilleure ; il fournit des conseils d'experts, des formations et des subventions aux pays en développement, en mettant de plus en plus l'accent sur l'aide aux pays les moins avancés. Certaines de ces agences ont été critiquées non pas tant pour le travail qu'elles font mais plutôt pour la conduite et les actions de certains de leurs employés. Le mode de sélection de certains d'entre eux est une question en suspens pour le WFM/IGP.

    En grande partie grâce au travail des Nations Unies, des développements importants ont eu lieu, tels que la création de la Cour pénale internationale (CPI) et la responsabilité de protéger. Sur la base des recommandations de la Commission du droit international et des tribunaux de Nuremberg, Tokyo, Rwanda et Yougoslavie, la CPI a consacré pour la première fois dans l'histoire la responsabilité individuelle des chefs d'État et autres personnes en position d'autorité pour crimes contre l'humanité, crimes de guerre et de génocide et, plus récemment, crimes d'agression. Avec le recul, on peut considérer qu'il s'agit là d'une évolution importante du concept de responsabilité internationale qui, jusqu'à présent, n'était attribuée qu'aux États, et non aux individus. Le concept de responsabilité de protéger, approuvé à une écrasante majorité en 2005 lors du sommet mondial des Nations Unies, le plus grand rassemblement de chefs de l'État et de gouvernement de l'histoire, a fait basculer des siècles d'obligations du citoyen envers l'État - une obligation non seulement de payer des impôts, mais aussi, en fin de compte, de donner sa vie - sur la responsabilité de l'État de protéger ses citoyens, pour souligner son contraire. Elle pourrait mettre fin à 400 ans d'inviolabilité de l'État pour répondre à ses pairs, consacrée par le traité de Westphalie, dans la mesure où le concept de non-intervention n'a pas survécu au siècle dernier.

    Quelles sont les choses qui ne fonctionnent pas actuellement et qui devraient changer, et comment la société civile travaille-t-elle pour que cela se produise ?

    Ce qui a été décevant, bien sûr, c'est l'incapacité de l'ONU à se réformer de l'intérieur de manière efficace et, principalement en raison de l'intérêt des grandes puissances à maintenir le statu quo, le fait qu'elle soit devenue inadéquate pour remplir sa mission dans le monde moderne. Le meilleur exemple en est l'utilisation ou la menace d'utilisation du veto au Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies (CSNU). Le P5, c'est-à-dire ses cinq membres permanents, est encore constitué par les vainqueurs de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, sauf qu'en 1971, la République populaire de Chine a remplacé le Taïwan/République de Chine. Jusqu'au Brexit, deux sièges étaient occupés par des États qui faisaient partie de l'Union européenne. Ni la plus grande démocratie du monde, l'Inde, ni sa troisième économie, le Japon, ne sont représentées. Ces dernières années, l'utilisation ou la menace d'utilisation du veto a rendu l'ONU incapable de prévenir les conflits dans un certain nombre de situations. Dans un livre récent, Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes (Les limites juridiques actuelles du pouvoir de veto du Conseil de sécurité face aux crimes d'atrocité), Jennifer Trahan explique que cet abus de pouvoir est en fait contraire à l'esprit et à la lettre de la Charte des Nations Unies. D'autres États exercent une pression croissante pour réduire ces abus, et nous espérons que les campagnes de la société civile à cet effet apporteront des changements.

    Une autre chose qui doit changer est la manière dont le Secrétaire général des Nations Unies est nommé, qui dans le passé a été en coulisse, ce qui n'a peut-être pas permis de prendre en compte tous les candidats compétents. Mais grâce à la Campagne 1 pour 7 milliards, à laquelle le WFM/IGP a activement participé avec de nombreux autres acteurs, y compris des gouvernements, le processus de sélection du SGNU a peut-être changé à jamais, car l'espace où il se déroulait, et qui permettait des accords entre les grandes puissances, s’est déplacé du CSNU à l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies (AGNU). L'actuel Secrétaire général des Nations Unies, António Guterres, a souvent fait l'éloge et soutenu le nouveau processus par lequel il a été sélectionné. Ce processus est le résultat du travail conjoint de nombreuses organisations dirigées par un comité directeur informel composé d'Avaaz, de la Fondation Friedrich Ebert-New York, de l'Association des Nations Unies-Royaume-Uni et du WFM/IGP, et a été soutenu par plus de 750 OSC, avec une portée estimée à plus de 170 millions de personnes. Nombre d'entre eux espèrent donner un nouveau souffle à une campagne visant à consolider et à améliorer les résultats obtenus jusqu'à présent. L'un des points sensibles est que la campagne initiale favorisait un mandat unique et plus long pour le SGNU plutôt que deux mandats potentiels ; cet objectif restera en place et, espérons-le, le titulaire actuel ne le considérera pas comme une menace pour sa propre position.

    De nombreuses organisations demandent maintenant une conférence de révision en vertu de l'article 109 de la Charte des Nations Unies, mais nous devons faire attention à ce que nous souhaitons. Dans le climat actuel, dominé par un nationalisme et un populisme à courte vue, nous pourrions bien nous retrouver avec une version édulcorée de la Charte actuelle. Il vaudrait beaucoup mieux encourager un changement évolutif et progressif, qui sera probablement plus durable.

    Pensez-vous qu'il est nécessaire et possible de démocratiser l'ONU ?

    Oui, tout à fait. Les principales faiblesses du système des Nations Unies appellent non seulement à une réforme du Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU afin que ses membres permanents - et beaucoup soutiennent qu'il ne devrait pas y en avoir, ou du moins qu'aucun nouveau membre ne devrait être ajouté - reflètent plus fidèlement la puissance économique et diplomatique dans le monde actuel, mais aussi à remédier à son manque fréquent de transparence et de responsabilité et à l'absence d'éléments démocratiques ; d'où la campagne « 1 pour 7 milliards ».

    Dans un avenir prévisible, l'ONU continuera probablement à s'appuyer sur les États-nations, dont l'égalité au sein de l'AGNU est l'une des caractéristiques les plus intéressantes. Cependant, il existe un appel croissant en faveur d'une plus grande démocratie pour réaliser le principe « nous, peuples des Nations Unies », par opposition à la simple représentation gouvernementale. D'où l'appel à la création d'une assemblée parlementaire de l'ONU, peut-être créée en vertu de l'article 22, qui débuterait non pas comme un organe législatif mais comme un organe de contrôle de l'ONU et de ses agences, puisque toute attribution de pouvoirs législatifs garantirait son échec en faisant en sorte que les États s'y opposent dès le départ. Lorsqu’autant d'organisations et de traités internationaux comprennent des assemblées parlementaires avec divers pouvoirs, il ne devrait y avoir aucune raison, au-delà de la mécanique électorale, pour que cela ne se produise pas également au niveau mondial.

    Quels enseignements peut-on tirer de la pandémie de la COVID-19 pour la coopération internationale ? Qu’est-ce qui devrait changer suite à la crise ? 

    La pandémie de la COVID-19 a certainement focalisé notre attention, mais il reste à voir si elle sera finalement assez cataclysmique pour devenir un moteur du type de changement qui a été stimulé par les guerres mondiales dans le passé. La pandémie a souligné que nous sommes « tous dans le même bateau », qu'un croisement entre l'animal et l'homme ou le développement d'un nouveau virus dans une région éloignée de la planète peut très rapidement produire des effets partout, sans frontière pour l'arrêter. Elle a clairement mis en évidence que les sociétés les plus touchées sont celles qui étaient déjà les plus vulnérables, les plus pauvres, les moins préparées et les moins équipées d'un point de vue sanitaire. Il est révélateur que les compagnies pharmaceutiques enseignent actuellement l'éthique en matière de distribution équitable des médicaments aux politiciens, afin de s'assurer que ce n'est pas la richesse qui en détermine l'accès. C'est une leçon qui a une applicabilité plus large. Elle a mis en évidence la nécessité de décisions mondiales exécutoires dans l'intérêt de l'humanité tout entière. Il s'agit là encore d'un message d'une plus grande pertinence dans le contexte du changement climatique et de la crise environnementale.

    Une grande partie de l'idéalisme des années 1960 et 1970, qui ont été des périodes passionnantes pour ceux d'entre nous qui les ont vécues, a été traduite dans le réalisme de l'époque actuelle. Cela n’a rien de mauvais, car ces questions doivent résister à un examen minutieux. La technologie a mis en évidence le fait que les guerres sont désormais menées contre des civils plutôt que contre des soldats en uniforme, et que les cyber-attaques contre l'approvisionnement en énergie et en eau sont plus susceptibles de neutraliser l'ennemi que les armements, qui sont maintenant si coûteux qu'ils sont confrontés à des contraintes de durabilité et ne sont utiles qu'aux États qui peuvent se les permettre. Le monde est devenu plus petit, au point que nous sommes plus susceptibles de savoir ce qui se passe à l'autre bout du monde que chez notre voisin. Grâce aux médias numériques, les voix des gens sont de plus en plus présentes et mieux articulées ; les gens veulent que leur voix soit entendue. La technologie des satellites permet non seulement l'extraction précise des individus, mais aussi l'observation de leurs actions jusqu'au niveau le plus élémentaire : il n'y a plus d'endroit où se cacher. Si elle est utilisée de manière responsable pour promouvoir la justice internationale selon des normes universellement acceptées, cette technologie moderne peut constituer un acteur du bien, mais si elle est mal utilisée, elle peut aussi nous conduire à la destruction.

    Le défi du multilatéralisme aujourd'hui est de diffuser ces messages d'interdépendance et de faire comprendre que, de plus en plus, pour atteindre leurs objectifs et répondre aux aspirations de leurs citoyens, les États doivent travailler ensemble, en partenariat et sur la base d'une compréhension mutuelle. En soi, cette compréhension conduira inévitablement à la nécessité de mettre en place des mécanismes permettant de gérer notre climat et notre comportement, sachant que l'action de chacun provoquera une réaction ailleurs susceptible de nous affecter. Qu'il s'agisse de la destruction de la forêt amazonienne ou de l'appauvrissement d'un peuple par le pillage et l'autoritarisme, le reste de l'humanité sera touché. La pauvreté détruit les marchés des nations industrialisées, ce qui produit ensuite l'instabilité, qui à son tour entraîne une augmentation des dépenses pour la prévention ou la résolution des conflits. La réponse aux flux migratoires ne consiste pas en la clôture et le renforcement des frontières, mais à s'attaquer aux causes profondes de la migration.

    Nous vivons l'époque la plus rapide de l'histoire, où même les certitudes récentes sont remises en question et mises de côté. Cela est perturbateur, mais cela peut aussi nous ouvrir de nouvelles possibilités et à de nouvelles façons de faire les choses. Dans un tel climat politique, la capacité du WFM/IGP et de la société civile à être la conscience de la communauté mondiale et à viser une meilleure forme de gouvernance, qui soit fédéraliste et permette à la voix du peuple d'être entendue, est plus importante que jamais.

    Contactez le World Federalist Movement-Global Policy Institute via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@worldfederalist sur Twitter. 

     

  • #UN75: ‘Moving forward, the UN should continue to provide access through accessible virtual platforms’

    Laura Obrien

    Following the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN), CIVICUS is having conversations with civil society activists, advocates and practitioners about the roles the UN has played so far, the successes it has achieved and the challenges ahead. CIVICUS speaks to Laura O’Brien, UN Advocacy Officer at Access Now, a civil society organisation that works to defend and extend the digital rights of users at risk around the world. Through direct technical support, comprehensive policy engagement, global advocacy, grassroots grant-making, legal interventions and convenings such as RightsCon, Access Now fights for human rights in the digital age.

    To what extent is the UN’s founding Charter fit for the internet era?

    For years civil society has encouraged the UN to modernise its operations to maintain its relevance in the digital age. In 2020, the UN met this harsh reality. The international organisation was forced to take the majority of its operations online, all the while trying meaningfully to reach the global community and advance international cooperation amid a global health crisis, systemic racism, climate change and rising authoritarianism. Commemorating the UN’s 75th anniversary by revisiting its founding Charter – a document centred on inherent human dignity – could not have been more crucial.

    The UN Charter was drafted long before the internet even existed. Nonetheless, its global outlook remains consistent with the universal nature of the internet, which at its best enables borderless knowledge societies grounded in fundamental human rights, while also amplifying the need to reduce risks, not solely through sovereign means, but also through international cooperation. Guided by the principles of the UN Charter, the Declaration on the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations rightfully commits to improving digital cooperation worldwide. Through this formal commitment, the UN finally paid heed to the transformative impact digital technologies have on our daily lives, paving a path – or, as better captured by the UN Secretary-General, a ‘roadmap’ – to steer us through the promises and perils of the digital age.

    While world leaders recognised the need to listen to ‘the people’ – as captured in the preamble of the UN Charter – civil society continues to remind those leaders to listen more actively. With missions rooted in extending and defending the fundamental human rights of all individuals, civil society remains an essential force to advance stakeholder accountability and ensure transparency in often opaque multilateral processes.

    What challenges have you faced in your interactions with the UN system, and how did you manage them?

    I stepped into my public-facing role as UN Advocacy Officer at Access Now a few months before the COVID-19 lockdown here in New York. As such, I was a new voice navigating the challenges civil society was facing at that time: how do we ensure that civil society partners, in all their diversity, are meaningfully involved in UN discussions as the UN transitions its operations online? At that time, we feared that the exceptional measures used to fight the pandemic could be cited to restrict civil society access and opportunities for participation within UN fora. So we mobilised. Several civil society organisations, CIVICUS included, worked together to provide principles and recommendations to the UN to ensure civil society inclusion in UN discussions during the pandemic and beyond. This helped us work together to present a united position on the importance of multi-stakeholder engagement and to remind the UN to put adequate protections in place to ensure accessible online platforms and sufficient safeguards to protect the security of those participating virtually.

    What things are currently not working and would need to change? In what ways is civil society working towards that kind of change?

    2020 was a humbling year of critical self-reflection both on an individual and collective level. Now, more than ever, the world is realising that the state-centric model will not propel us into a hopeful future. Problems in one part of the world have consequences worldwide. The decisions we make now, particularly regarding digital technologies, will impact on future generations to come. As the world recovers from the events of 2020, we need world leaders to build off the lessons learned and continue to engage in critical reflection. Solving global challenges requires interdisciplinary action that respects and protects rights-holders who come from diverse and intersectional backgrounds. We simply cannot continue to operate or tackle these issues top-down. Indeed, threats like disinformation often originate at the top.

    Civil society worldwide is mobilising to spearhead global campaigns to raise awareness of the issues we face today, and their impact on future generations, while advocating for accountability across national, regional and international forums. From condemning internet shutdowns – #KeepItOn – to questioning the implementation of digital identity programmes worldwide – #WhyID – we are working to report, monitor and measure, and provide rights-respecting policy recommendations based on our diverse interactions with those most at risk.

    Looking more broadly at the global multilateral system today, what do you think are its main weaknesses, and what lessons can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

    The global multilateral system needs to stop operating and addressing global issues in silos. This requires not only better networked multilateralism – across the UN system in both New York and Geneva, and including regional organisations and financial institutions, among others – but also that global issues be addressed from a more interdisciplinary perspective. For instance, research suggests that over 90 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are connected to international human rights and labour. Protecting human rights is therefore necessary to reach the SDGs. Why then do international actors continue to raise the SDGs only in tandem with discussions around development and not human rights?

    Many lessons can be drawn from the pandemic to advance more inclusive international cooperation. In 2020 the UN was made acutely aware of the benefits of internet connectivity, reaching more diverse voices worldwide. People normally unable physically to access UN platforms based in Geneva and New York – due to a myriad of barriers – were now able to contribute meaningfully to UN discussions online. Yet simultaneously, online operations also made the UN formally acknowledge the severe impact for the approximately 4 billion people who continue to remain disconnected from the internet. Those individuals may suffer network discrimination, experience various barriers due to digital divides and inadequate digital literacy resources, or remain disconnected through targeted internet shutdowns.

    Moving forward, the UN should continue to provide access to UN discussions through accessible virtual platforms. Just as the UN is built to facilitate state-to-state interactions, the world would benefit from similarly secure and open venues for civil society to connect. Unfortunately, too many communities remain marginalised and vulnerable. People often face reprisals for raising their voices and telling their stories across borders. We strive to create this open civil forum at RightsCon – the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age – and similar events. In July 2020, RightsCon Online brought together 7,681 participants from 157 countries across the world in a virtual summit. The organisers overcame affordability and access barriers by launching a Connectivity Fund to provide direct financial support for participants to connect and engage online. These convenings should be considered integral to internet governance, but also to achieving the three pillars of the UN – development, human rights and peace and security – in the digital age. When carried out inclusively and securely, online participation presents an opportunity to widen the number and diversity of those engaging with the platform and removes barriers and resource constraints linked to travel. 

    Overall, the international community must lean into the lessons of 2020. We must work in solidarity to advance open, inclusive and meaningful international cooperation in order to achieve a prosperous future for all.

    Get in touch with Access Now through itswebpage orFacebook profile, and follow@accessnow and@lo_brie on Twitter.

     

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

    martin pairet

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How has civil society responded to the changes?

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

    What are the major challenges that remain for civil society?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What role is hate speech playing in stoking ethnic conflict?

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

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

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

    How can further political reform be encouraged?

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

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

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

    What are the most urgent support needs of civil society?

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

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

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

     

     

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

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

    bilen asrat

     

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

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

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

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

    Do limitations apply to CSOs promoting LGBTQI+ rights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think are the main challenges ahead?

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

    What role can society play in overcoming those challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How hopeful you are about the future?

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

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

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

     

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

    martin pairet

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Where in Europe is the situation most worrying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How is European Alternatives working to counter hate speech?

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • UN75: ‘Civil society needs to be the conscience of the global community’

    To mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN), CIVICUS is having conversations with civil society activists, advocates and practitioners about the roles the UN has played so far, the successes it has achieved and the challenges ahead. CIVICUS speaks to Keith Best, Interim Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM/IGP), a non-profit, nonpartisan organisation committed to the realisation of global peace and justice through the development of democratic institutions and the application of international law. Founded in 1947, WFM/IGP works to protect civilians from the threat of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; facilitate transparency in governance; increase access to justice; and promote the application of the rule of law.

    Keith best

    What kind of relationship has civil society maintained with the UN over its 75-year history?

    The relationship of civil society towards the UN has been mostly that of a critical friend throughout its history and WFM/IGP’s experience mirrors that. Often, the feeling has been mutual. I recall vividly when Boutros Boutros-Ghali was UN Secretary-General (UNSG) that in a meeting with civil society organisations (CSOs) he publicly appealed to us all to help him secure the outstanding dues from the USA – which were promptly paid when the US needed support for the Gulf War! Former Executive Director of WFM/IGP, Bill Pace, also wrote that “Kofi Annan was a very important Secretary-General, whom I was fortunate enough to develop both a professional and personal relationship with. Though his legacy is still being debated I think he was committed to standing up against to the big powers and corruption of the principles set out in the charter.” It was through Kofi Annan that the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect was unanimously adopted.

    In which ways has the UN made a positive difference? 

    There is a tendency to think of the UN only in its peacekeeping role and more visible efforts in seeking to maintain world peace while neglecting the less heralded but sometimes more effective work of its agencies. I shall mention only three. Despite the recent controversy over COVID-19, where the main issue may have been its lack of powers and coordination, the World Health Organization (WHO) has achieved lasting success. It was officially established on 7 April 1948 to achieve “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health,” with health being not just the absence of illness or infirmity but the complete physical, mental and social wellbeing of the individual. Its greatest triumph was the eradication of smallpox in 1977; the global efforts that it has led to end polio are now in their final stages. In the past few years, the WHO has also coordinated battles against viral epidemics of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zika in Brazil. It will be a disaster if the USA withdraws from it instead of helping it assert a better warning mechanism and distribution of medicines following a pandemic of which, assuredly, there will be more.

    Another unsung hero is the Food and Agriculture Organization, which has done much to enhance the lot of small farmers, conservation and improvement in agricultural methods and report on biotechnologies, among other things. Also the UN Development Programme, founded in 1965, promotes technical and investment cooperation among nations and advocates for change and connects countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life for themselves; it provides expert advice, training and grants support to developing countries, with increasing emphasis on assistance to the least developed countries. Some of these agencies have been criticised not so much for the work that they do but for the manner and actions of some of their officials. The way in which some are selected is unfinished business for WFM/IGP.

    Largely though the work of the UN we now have the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Responsibility to Protect – both major advances. The ICC, building on the recommendations of the International Law Commission and the Nuremberg, Tokyo, Rwanda and Yugoslav tribunals, has enshrined for the first time in history the individual accountability of heads of state and others for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide and, more recently, the crime of aggression. In the colder light of reflective history this will be seen as a major development in global responsibility which, hitherto, had attached only to states but not to individuals. The concept of Responsibility to Protect, endorsed overwhelmingly in 2005 at the UN World Summit – the largest gathering of heads of state and government in history – turned on its head centuries of obligation of the citizen to the state – an obligation not just to pay taxes but, ultimately, to give one’s life – by reversing that responsibility onto the state to protect its citizens. Its potential is to end 400 years of the inviolability of the state to answer to its peers as enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia, while the concept of non-intervention has not survived the last century.

    What things are currently not working and would need to change, and how is civil society working to make it happen?

    The disappointment, of course, has been the inability of the UN to reform itself effectively from within and, mostly through the major powers having vested interests in maintaining the status quo, rendering itself unfit for purpose in the modern world, exemplified particularly by the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the use or threatened use of the veto. The P5, its five permanent members, still represent the victors of the Second World War, with the People’s Republic of China substituted for Taiwan/Republic of China in 1971, and, until Brexit, two seats held by member states of the European Union. Neither the world’s most numerous democracy, India, nor the third-largest economy, Japan, are there. In recent years the use or threat of use of the veto have made the UN unable to prevent conflict in many situations. In a recent book, Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes, Jennifer Trahan explains that this abuse of power is, in fact, contrary to the spirit and letter of the UN Charter. There is mounting pressure from other states to curtail such abuse, and we hope that a civil society campaign can bring such change to fruition.

    Another thing that needs to change is the way in which the UNSG has been appointed, which in the past has been secretive and arguably failed to canvass all suitable candidates. But thanks to the 1 for 7 Billion Campaign, in which WFM/IGP was active alongside many others, including governments, the process by which the UNSG is selected has arguably changed forever, as the previous arrangements conducted by the major powers were wrested away from the UNSC to the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The present UNSG, António Guterres, has frequently praised and supported the new process by which he was selected. This was the result of a number of organisations led by an informal steering committee of Avaaz, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York, United Nations Association-UK and WFM/IGP, supported by over 750 CSOs with an estimated reach of over 170 million people, coming together. Many of them are now hoping to breathe new life into a renewed campaign to consolidate and improve on the gains so far. One of the delicate issues is that the original campaign favoured a lengthier single term for UNSGs rather than two potential terms, and this will remain an objective but, hopefully, without the current incumbent thinking it a threat to his own position.

    Many are now calling for a review conference under article 109 of the UN Charter, but we should be careful what we wish for. In the current climate dominated by narrow nationalism and populism we might well end up with a watered-down version of the current Charter. Far better to encourage evolutionary and incremental change which is likely to be more long-lasting.

    Do you think it is both necessary and possible to make the UN more democratic?

    Indeed. The main weaknesses in the UN system are not only the much-needed reform of the UNSC so that its permanent members – and many argue that there should be none or at least no new permanent members – more accurately reflect the economic and diplomatic power in the world but also its often lack of transparency and accountability and the absence of a democratic element, hence the 1 for 7 Billion campaign.

    For the foreseeable future the UN is likely to be based on the nation state – the equality of which in the UNGA is one of its more endearing features – but increasingly there is a call for greater democracy to give effect to “we the peoples of the united nations” as opposed to just the governments. Hence the call for the establishment of a UN parliamentary assembly, perhaps created under article 22, which would start not as a legislative body but a scrutineer of the UN and its agencies, given that any attribution of legislative powers would ensure its failure through states’ opposition at the outset. When so many international organisations and treaties have a parliamentary assembly – with varying powers – attached to them, there should be no reason, other than electoral mechanics, why it should not happen at the global level.

    What lessons for international cooperation can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic? What should change in the aftermath of this crisis?

    Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has concentrated minds, but it remains to be seen whether it is sufficiently cataclysmic to become a main driver for change, of which the stimulus in the past has been world wars. The pandemic has emphasised that we are ‘all in this together’, that an animal-human crossover or the development of a new virus in a remote part of the world can soon translate everywhere, and no national borders will stop it. It has highlighted that the most affected are the already most vulnerable, poorest, most ill-prepared and most medically ill-equipped societies. It is telling that the pharmaceutical companies are teaching ethics to the politicians in the way of equitable distribution of remedies and ensuring that it is not wealth that should determine availability. That is a lesson that has a wider application. It has highlighted the need for enforceable global decisions in the interests of humanity as a whole – a message, again, that has wider relevance in the environmental and climate change context.

    Much of the idealism of the 1960s and 1970s, which were exciting times for those of us involved, has been translated into a realism of the current era. There is no harm in that as these matters need to stand up to adverse scrutiny and a hard-nosed approach. Technology has brought home the fact that wars are now fought against civilians and not uniformed soldiers and that cyber attacks on energy and water supplies are more likely to achieve the incapacity of a foe than armaments, which are now so expensive as to be both limited in their sustainability and only useful to those states that can afford them. The world has indeed shrunk to a situation in which we are more likely to know what is happening on the far side than in our neighbour’s home. Through digital means the voices of the people are ever more articulate and widespread and the people want their voices to be heard. Satellite technology enables not only precision take-out of individuals but also the observation of actions down to that level: there are now no places to hide. If used in an accountable way in the furtherance of international justice according to universally accepted norms, such modern technology can be a force for good – but if misused, it can also lead us to destruction.

    The challenge of multilateralism today is to spread these messages of interdependence and make clear that, increasingly, to achieve their desires and the aspirations of their citizens states have to work in combination, partnership and common understanding. That realisation in itself will lead inevitably to the need for enforceable mechanisms of managing our climate and our behaviour, in the knowledge that my action will have a reaction elsewhere which is likely to haunt us. Whether it is the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest or the impoverishment of a people through rapacity and failed autocracy, these will impact on the rest of humanity. Poverty destroys markets for manufacturing nations, which then creates instability, resulting in increased expenditure on conflict prevention or resolution. The answer to migratory flows is not encirclement and strengthened borders but addressing the causes of migration in the first place.

    We live in the fastest-moving age in history in which still recent certainties become questioned and outmoded. That is disruptive but can also open new opportunities and ways of doing things. In such a political climate the capacity of WFM/IGP and civil society to be the conscience of the global community and to point to a better federalist form of governance, giving voice to the people at the basic level, is greater than ever.

    Get in touch with the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy through itswebpage orFacebook profile, and follow@worldfederalist on Twitter.

     

  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘Civil society has proved itself to be an indispensable ally’

    ben donaldsonCIVICUS speaks to Ben Donaldson, Head of Campaigns at the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK). Founded in 1945, UNA-UK is devoted to building support, both political and financial, for the UnitedNations (UN) among policy-makers, opinion-formers and the public. Its action is based on the belief that a strong, credible and effective UN is essential to build a safer, fairer and more sustainable world.

    Why should people care about the UN?

    The reason for caring about the UN is the same as the reason for caring about the planet. Anyone concerned about the climate crisis, conflict, terrorism, or cybercrime should also be concerned about the health of the UN since it remains our most effective medium through which to combat global challenges. When you think about the UN as a meeting place with an agreed rulebook for the international community to address the defining issues we face, its need is apparent.

    Another indispensable part of the UN’s programme is its coordination of humanitarian activities, from supplying vaccines to almost half the world’s children to the tens of millions who depend on it for their food, shelter and protection. When disaster strikes it’s often said that the UN is the first to arrive and the last to leave, at great personal risk to UN staff. Similarly, day-in day-out, UN peacekeepers are putting themselves in harm’s way across 14 missions, keeping the peace in some of the world’s most dangerous environments.

    When things go wrong our newspapers are filled with the atrocities that are taking place, and we rightly question why the international community isn’t doing more to prevent this. But we rarely credit the role UN diplomacy and peacekeepers have played in preventing countless conflicts since the UN was founded 75 years ago. Throughout this time the UN has fulfilled its fundamental role: to avert a third world war. Dag Hammarskjöld, a towering figure in UN circles and perhaps the best leader the UN ever had, perhaps said it best, when he famously remarked: “The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”

    Like all large organisations, the UN is far from perfect, but without it the world would be more dangerous and more chaotic. Rather than discussing whether or not the UN matters, I would love to see more energy going into how the UN can adapt and become more effective given the current political landscape.

    Do you think the UN offers a valuable space for civil society?

    The UN is currently dominated by states and this is a massive problem. Civil society, businesses and local and regional leaders all clearly need to work in partnership with states to respond effectively to issues such as ecosystem collapse and cybercrime, yet they are locked out of the decision-making structures and when they are invited to participate in discussions, their involvement is often tokenistic.

    The UN Charter gives civil society organisations (CSOs) consultative rights with member states, but 75 years on, the means to achieve this have not kept pace with the burgeoning UN system. The UN secretariat lacks the resources to provide a coherent, system-wide approach. The results are a hotchpotch of different ways for civil society to engage with various processes and UN bodies, with key organs such as the General Assembly and the Security Council still only allowing piecemeal participation on certain occasions, and usually only to those – often well-resourced – organisations that have been able to navigate their way to attaining much-vaunted consultative status. The process to do this, overseen by a committee of member states, has been widely exposed as politicised and biased, with organisations working on issues such as LGBTQI and sexual and reproductive rights treated unfavourably.

    Despite these shortcomings, civil society has proved itself to be an indispensable ally to the UN, contributing massively to many aspects of its programme work, from service provision to defending human rights to data collection and much more.

    What needs to be done so that civil society can participate more effectively in UN processes?

    Internally, reform is urgently needed to create easier and more meaningful ways for civil society to engage with UN activities. A good start would be the appointment by the Secretary-General of an Under-Secretary-General for Civil Society to act as a system-wide focal point. Crucially this role would need to be backed by an office with the institutional status and funding necessary to mainstream civil society participation across the UN. Supportive states or donors willing to champion this idea will be vital to its longevity and success. The idea is not new, but is needed now more than ever.

    But the benefits of civil society to the UN will remain stunted until they are fully invested in decision-making structures. Opportunities should be sought to reform the governance structures of UN bodies to incorporate and recognise the interests of other stakeholders, including civil society. The way the International Labour Organization works – with delegations made up of government, business and workers’ representatives – could provide some inspiration on this front.

    Externally, the UN secretariat and its officials need to be determined and vocal in their support for the protection of civil society space. The global trend towards silencing – sometimes brutally – those who support human rights and are willing to oppose those in power is hugely concerning and must be reversed if the international community is to come good on its mantra to ‘leave no one behind’. This is where the internal and external strands meet: by improving access to UN platforms to those who have been silenced or oppressed in their domestic contexts, the UN can give voice to the voiceless and disincentivise repressive behaviour by states, whose reputations will take a hit.

    Is the UN facing a legitimacy challenge?

    Yes. This is mainly because the UN is an easy target for states and non-state groups to point to when something has gone wrong. It’s distant, it’s made up of mostly unelected officials and its role as a servant to states makes it tricky to stand up robustly to accusations made by member states. A large proportion of the media coverage I read on the UN also makes it apparent that it is not well understood. This often takes the form of journalists regurgitating the lazy misconception that a conflict is the fault of UN inaction or the fault of the ineffective UN Security Council, when in reality, it is almost always very specifically the fault of one or two states, whose motivations for blocking action should be under the spotlight, not the UN.

    There is, of course, also the justifiable criticism that the UN comes under such as over its mishandling of whistleblowers or of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Then there is the question of both gender and geographic representation in UN appointments and in the location of UN offices. On appointments, the current Secretary-General has made some progress on gender parity at the senior level, but there remains a lot to be done both in terms of reaching gender parity across all levels, including the top job, which has seen nine men occupy the role, and in terms of the stranglehold on top jobs that influential countries continue to maintain. Issues like these inevitably cause reputational fallout to the organisation and need to be addressed.

    Much of the current backlash is against a perceived elite and therefore it is more important than ever, both for legitimacy and principle, to get serious about the promise contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind. A global system can work, but it needs to work and be seen to work for everyone, particularly in today’s political climate. The most representative body – the General Assembly – has an expanding role to play here, including on matters of peace and security, which need not be the exclusive preserve of the Security Council.

    Can you tell us more about what UNA-UK does, and specifically about its recent campaigns, such as the one conducted around the election of the UN Secretary-General?

    UNA-UK is a campaigning organisation that makes the case for an effective UN. One of our recent successful campaigns was the 1 for 7 Billion Campaign to reform the way the UN chooses its leader. The campaign ran for three years ahead of the appointment of the most recent Secretary-General, building a strong civil society coalition and working closely with progressive states and the then-president of the General Assembly to revolutionise the way the UN Secretary-General selection process was conducted. Instead of being dominated by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the P5) in the shadows like in previous races, the process involved a list of named candidates from all over the world along with vision statements and public hearings in the General Assembly for each candidate. We are now working to ensure these hard-won gains are consolidated and built into all future selection processes for the UN’s top job as well as for the learning to be applied where appropriate to other senior appointments.

    You are currently leading a campaign, Together First, aimed at establishing “a global system that works for all.” What does the campaign seek to achieve?

    Together First is our flagship campaign that we launched with partners in 2018. Its vision is to give civil society a seat at the table when the world’s future is being discussed.

    Humanity faces challenges that threaten our very survival, and rising to those challenges requires the world to work together. But the status quo is not set up for this. Global coordination to mitigate cross-border threats remains overwhelmingly dominated by states, despite it being undeniably apparent that civil society needs to be part of the decision-making process if it is to be successful.

    Together First is focusing on building coalitions of CSOs, activists and experts around the most promising existing ideas so we can then turn them into a reality. We are a coalition of realists and are delighted to count CIVICUS among our ranks. We understand that to convince decision-makers to pursue reforms in the current environment will not be easy, but that the chances of success will be maximised by demonstrating where existing support and resources for proposed ideas can be found, along with clear roadmaps for implementation.

    Next year the heart of our current global system, the UN, turns 75 years old. Governments have decided to mark this milestone with a leaders’ summit in September 2020. What could make this more than a talking shop is for the associated intergovernmental process to agree on a forward-looking outcome document on the theme: ‘The future we want, the UN we need’. The first clause appears somewhat redundant given we already have the SDGs, but the second clause speaks to a long-overdue exercise which, if done well, could get to the heart of how multilateralism must radically adapt to face the challenges of the 21st century.

    This is a crucial opportunity to demand action to improve our current global system. Together First’s objective is to ensure we make the most of this historic moment.

    Get in touch with UNA-UK through itswebsite andFacebook page,follow@UNAUK on Twitter, and get involved in theTogether First campaign.