Women Human Rights Defenders Face Greater Risks Because of their Gender

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead with CIVICUS.

The rallying calls of #SudanUprising, have been led by Sudanese women who are teachers, stay-at-home-mothers, doctors, students and lawyers. And yet, when President Al Bashir stepped down on April 11, the names of the women who spearheaded this political shift, were largely missing from the headlines. This erasure is not uncommon. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are often erased or slandered in efforts to intimidate them into quitting continuing their human rights work. In Egypt, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Uganda or the Philippines they are often called agents of international interests.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

Afghanistan's Peace Talks: Women & Civil Society Must Have a Real Seat at the Table

By Horia Mosadiq, a prominent Afghanistan women’s rights defender & Sonya Merkova, a researcher with CIVICUS.

This story was facilitated and commissioned by CIVICUS. 

On the face of it, the rare, major gathering of Afghan leaders last week in the capital of Kabul, looked to be a positive effort towards an inclusive peace process. Restrictions on civic space—the space for civil society—and women’s rights in Afghanistan remain under serious threat. And a successful outcome for peace negotiations does not automatically translate to a positive result for fundamental freedoms in that country.

Read on: Diplomatic Courier

 

Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

LGBTQI Rights in the Balkans: A Perpetual Struggle

By Mawethu Nkosana, Crisis Response Fund Administrator at CIVICUS

Romanian Adrian Coman and his American-born partner Clai Hamilton had two major reasons to celebrate when they tied the knot last June. One of course, was their marriage. The other was the historic legal victory they scored when their case before Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) led to the recognition of same sex marriage for the purpose of freedom of movement in the European Union (EU). The case, challenging current law, represented a significant victory for LGBTQI rights, in particular in Eastern Europe.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

 

Hard Battle Ahead for Independent Arab Media

By Mouna Ben Garga, Innovation Officer CIVICUS

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

Sometimes a peak into the future reminds us just how stuck we are in the past and present.

It was the talk of the Middle East’s largest annual media industry gathering: a robot journalist – the region’s first – that wowed some 3,000 industry leaders and practitioners at the Arab Media Forum (AMF) in Dubai recently.

In an address titled “Future News Anchors”, the robot, known as A20-50, waxed lyrical about robots that would report ‘tirelessly’ all day, every day and be programmed to do any task.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

 

Shining a Spotlight on the Strengths & Challenges of Civil Society in the Balkans

By Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General 

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

It is an incredible privilege to welcome you all to the ‘International Civil Society Week’. I am going to remind us of the reasons that make it so important for us to be here in Belgrade this week.

This is our 16th global convening of civil leaders and 4th edition of the International Civil Society Week in particular – following on from events held in South Africa, Colombia and Fiji.

Read on: Inter Press Service 

 

Attacks on Media in the Balkans Sound Alarm Bells for Democracy

By Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva, CIVICUS 

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

 

Rise in Cyberlaws Across Southeast Asia Spell Bad News for Human Rights & Democracy

By Josef Benedict Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS

This article is part of a series on the state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which is the focus of International Civil Society Week

Around the globe, cyberspace has become the new battleground in the fight for the heart and soul of democracy. And Southeast Asia is fast becoming one of the global hotspots where the screws are being tightened on freedom of expression online.

Read on: Inter Press Service 

 

In Diverse Southeast Asia, Growing Ethnic & Religious Intolerance Pose Serious Threat to Stability

 

By Josef Benedict Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW). 

 When the one-year anniversary of Malaysia’s historic presidential election outcome rolls around in early May, the wave of euphoria that followed it will be all but a wistful memory.

The surprise outcome that ended 61 years of interrupted rule by the Barisan Nasional coalition party, brought with it fresh hope that winning Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) party would bring the “New Malaysia” – as it became known – the positive change many yearned for.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

Beyond Venezuela’s bad news headlines, success stories of people power shine through

By Marianna Belalba Barreto Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS and Felipe Caicedo Otero Researcher, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD)

Search the keyword “Venezuela” online or check out news coverage of events in the South American country and you’re sure to be hit with headlines about a nation in the grips of a catastrophic crisisMillions of stricken citizens without food, cash, or rights fleeing to the border or languishing in hopelessness at home.

This spotlight – highlighting stories of state repression, media censorship and attacks on human rights defenders – has shone on this oil-rich nation for years now, capturing the world’s attention.

Read on: Open Democracy 

 

UN Declaration defends peasant farmers, but will it help stop attacks and human rights abuses?

By Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy & Engagement Officer

This article is has been produced in partnership with CIVICUS in the context of the International Civil Society Week conference 2019, held this year in Belgrade, Serbia.

The old cliché “action speaks louder than words” has a deadly ring for campesino (peasant farmers) activists contemplating a historic international pledge to do better to protect them from state-sponsored attacks. One of the toughest, deadliest years for campesino (peasant farmers) activists in Latin America ended in December with a historic United Nations declaration to ensure their wellbeing and prosperity.

 

Human Rights Defenders Need to be Defended as Much as they Defend our Rights

By Micahel Frost, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and a speaker at the International Civil Society Week, 8-12 April 2019, in Belgrade, Serbia

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

 They are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, brothers, friends. But for me they are extraordinary people – the ones who have the courage to stand up for everyone else’s rights. They are the human rights defenders.

Last year, according to reliable sources, 321 of them were killed, in 27 countries. Their murders were directly caused by the work they do to ensure the rest of us enjoy the rights we claim as purely because we are human.

Read on: Inter Press Service 

 

Grassroots Organising Points the way in Fight Against Rising Repression

By Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), scheduled to take place in Belgrade, April 8-12. 

“I never thought it would get so big and I think it is amazing.”

The words of a 16-year-old Swedish teenager who skipped school to protest outside her government’s inaction on climate change. Greta Thunberg is marvelling at how, in just a few short months, her solitary protests outside Sweden’s parliament, have inspired and united hundreds of thousands of young people and others across the globe into a powerful, growing grassroots movement for climate change action.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

Egypt hosting the African Commission to cover human rights abuses?

By David Kode, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Lead 

The timing could not have been more perfect for Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. His country will host the next session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) scheduled to take place from 24 April to 14 May 2019 at a time when Egypt ranks as one of the worst violators of human rights in Africa.

Read on: Open Democracy

 

Human Rights, Participation and the 2030 Agenda

By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer 

This January, the UN organised a much-needed dialogue in Geneva on the link between human rights and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The discussion’s timeliness is brought home by the actions of right wing populists and authoritarian leaders who together with regressive anti-rights movements are seeking to roll back the clock on human rights progress.

Read on: Oxford Human Rights Hub

 

Civil society accountability in times of declining trust: CIVICUS’s journey

By Merle Rutz CIVICUS Impact and Accountability Coordinator & Tamryn-Lee Fourie Impact and Accountability Lead (article on page 76)

Under attack about their legitimacy and accountability, CSOs defending citizens’ rights have to maintain credibility among their constituency and the wider public. Tamryn-Lee Fourie and Merle Rutz from CIVICUS guide us through the organisation’s journey to ensure strong accountability and transparency to its members, beneficiaries and donors.

Read on: European Civic Forum

 

Right-Wing nationalism threatens democratic norms, human rights & press freedom

By Thalif Deen, Director & Senior Editor, UN Bureau, Inter Press Service interview  with Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General 

The steady decline in multilateralism—accompanied by a rise in unilateralism– is beginning to threaten democratic norms, including press freedom, global governance, civic participation and human rights across Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. 
 

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

We need to reimagine democracy to create a better life for all

By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer

As 2019 gets going, it’s a time for many of us to reflect on the year past, consider our current situation and to contemplate resolutions for change in the future. If we were to do this exercise for the state of our communities and reimagine the kind of democracy we live in and the way we experience democracy, what would it look and be like? This was the question researchers at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, put to thought leaders and activists from nearly 80 countries across the globe in the course of a year-long initiative.

Read on: Equal Times 

 

Do referendums improve democracy?

By Inés M. Pousadela is a Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

In Ireland, 2019 gets going on the heels of a busy, bumper year when some watershed changes were delivered via referendums. And by the looks of it, there’s more on the way.

In October 2018, almost two thirds of Irish voters chose to remove a constitutional ban on blasphemy. But even this crucial advance in the freedom of expression was dwarfed by the unprecedented outcome of a referendum held five months earlier, which led to the legalisation of abortion in this staunchly Catholic nation.

Read on: Open Democracy 

 

Harassment and persecution of the voices that denounce the repression in Nicaragua

By Natalia Gomez Peña is Advocacy & Engagement Officer at CIVICUS

On Wednesday, December 12, the National Assembly of Nicaragua voted to cancel the legal personality of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH). After the announcement, Vilma Núñez, 80, the president of CENIDH and one of the most recognized human rights defenders in the region, said: "We have done our job with conviction and will continue to do so until Nicaragua is truly free."

Read on: Open Democracy 

 

The restriction of basic freedoms has become the global norm

By Cathal Gilbert, CIVICUS Head of Civic Space Research

Imagine inviting your ten closest friends to dinner but only four of them show up. The other six can’t make it because they’ve either been arrested for criticising the government during a protest, are caught up in a protracted legal battle to clear their name after a smear campaign or have gone into hiding because of anonymous threats to their life on social media.

 

Read on: Mail and Guardian 

 

Renewing democracy: proposals and ideas from civil society

By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer

 If we could reimagine the kind of democracy we live in and the way we experience democracy, what would it look and be like?

This was the question our global civil society alliance CIVICUS put to thought leaders and activists from nearly 80 countries across the globe, in a year-long Reimagining Democracy initiative. Our report entitled, Democracy for all: Beyond a crisis of imagination, draws from insights gleaned from almost 100 interviews, 54 essays and 26 ‘democracy dialogues’ from across the world to discuss the state of democracy.

 Read on: Democracy without borders

 

Turning data-driven accountability into meaningful action for civil society

By Merle Rutz, CIVICUS Accountability and Impact Coordinator

Are we representing and amplifying the right voices? Are our programmes and campaigns geographically inclusive? How can we support our vision with actual data in order to make good strategic decisions?

These are some of the pressing questions we in civil society today are having to ask – and answer. Accountability and data-driven decision-making have become buzz words in the civil society sector. And yes, the idea of turning information into real-time and meaningful action to deepen our impact and achieve our mission seems a valuable ambition.

Read on: Accountable Now 

 

Climate of repression a dark cloud over upcoming elections in Fiji

By Josef Benedict, Civic Space Research Officer,CIVICUS  

Powdery white beaches. Crystal clear turquoise water. Palm trees swaying in the breeze.

This is the postcard picture of paradise that comes to mind when tourists think of Fiji. But for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but blissful.

And the repressive climate in which elections are about to take place serves to highlight the decline in democracy there in recent years.

In fact, since incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power a coup in 2006, Fijians have seen their civic freedoms increasingly restricted through repressive laws and policies.

Read on: Inter Press Service

 

Latin America | The Escazú Agreement: a light of hope for those standing up for the environment

By Natalia Gomez Peña, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, CIVICUS

In Latin America, environmental activists risk their lives as a consequence of the vital work they do. In a significant step toward their protection, States in Latin America and the Caribbean have adopted a regional agreement known as the Escazú Agreement to fight against the spiral of violence against environmental defenders.

Read on: International Service for Human Rigths 

 

African Union Makes Moves to Neutralise Africa’s Main Human Rights Body

By David Kode, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns lead

For many African activists based on the continent, getting to a major human rights summit just underway in The Gambia is likely to have been a challenging exercise. The journey by air from many African countries to the capital, Banjul, for the 63rd Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), could have been prohibitively expensive, involved transiting through multiple cities and taken days.u

Read On: South South News and  Inter Press Services News Agency

 

5 Ways New Movement Leaders Are Effecting Change

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

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

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

Read on: Yes Magazine 

 

Moving beyond resistance

By Danny Sriskandarajah 

Just a few years ago, it felt like the dawn of a new era of citizen participation. There were uprisings across the Arab World, the Occupy movement, the radical impact of digital campaigning: it was an inspiring and optimistic time. But for those of us exposed to the challenges facing civil society day in day out, the new dawn has given way to dark clouds. A systematic, global crackdown on civic space is testing our resolve and ingenuity, demanding that we construct a radically new approach to tackling critical threats.

Read on: Swiss Alliance of Development Organisations 

 

Agenda 2030 marred by MDG mindsets on steroids

By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS' Chief Programmes Officer

Business as usual is bad news for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, arguably the greatest human endeavour ever attempted to create just, equal and sustainable societies.
Read on: Open Democracy

 

“Listen to us and let us have a direct say,” say citizens worldwide

By Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS' Editor-in-Chief

A group of women fighting back against sexual harassment in Trinidad and Tobago. Marginalised members of the discriminated Dalit caste in Nepal who believe politicians only talk to them when they want their vote. People concerned about the impacts of corruption in Mexico. What do all these people have in common? They all live in societies that describe themselves as democracies, where every few years people get to vote for a leader and party. Yet still they feel no one listens to them. People see political power as something impossibly distant from them.

Read on: Equal Times 

 

Are women the last line of defence against Brazil’s authoritarian shift?

By Ana Cernov, human rights activist and Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally.

Read on: Open Democracy 

 

Cameroon elections promise more trouble, not solutions for Anglophones

By Teldah Mawarire, Campaigns and Advocacy Officer and Ine van Severen, Civic Space Research Officer

For nations in crisis, free and fair elections usually can bring much-needed reprieve. Voting offers hope and chance to end strife and conflict. We’ve seen this in recent times in countries like The Gambia, The Maldives and Malaysia, where increasingly autocratic presidents were booted out of office at the ballot box by fed-up voters.

Read on: The Government and Business Journal

 

Treaty pushes for environmental justice in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary General

Despite closing space for civil society, the new Escazú Agreement—which offers protection measures for environmental groups and defenders—is a shining example of citizens organizing in creative ways to fight for social justice.

Read on: Open Global Rights 

 

Can SA uphold its reputation for human rights on the UN Security Council?

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Coordinator and Advocacy Officer for the Middle East/North Africa region and Lyndal Rowlands, CIVICUS UN Advocacy Officer.

Can an influential African country that was once celebrated as a champion of human rights help hold a powerful Middle East nation to account for its atrocious human rights record? That will be the question on the lips of some observers when South Africa joins the United Nations Security Council in January for a one-year term as a non-permanent member. 

Read on: News24

 

Our heritage is a successful civil society

By William Gumede, Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation

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

As we celebrate our diverse cultures during Heritage Month, worth celebrating too is a civil society culture that has not only promoted cultural diversity but is also itself diverse, with a hard-won heritage of tirelessly fighting for the rights of the people in this country.

Read on: Mail and Guardian

 

Alarm bells ring as EU governments take aim at funding to ‘Political’ NGOs

By Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS and Giada Negri, Research and Advocacy Officer with the European Civic Forum

Increasingly, public figures across Europe are twisting the meaning of “political activity” by claiming that NGOs overstep the mark when they campaign publicly for social or policy change: that they somehow encroach on territory reserved exclusively for political parties.

Read on: Diplomatic Courier 

 

 

Orinoco mining arch: the crisis that few speak of in Venezuela

By Marianna Belalba Barreto, researcher at CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Rafael Uzcategui, general coordinator of Provea, the Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights.

In 2016, the extraction of minerals was approved on a surface equivalent to 12.2% of the national territory, inhabited by 54,686 indigenous people and has a great ecological diversity.

Read on: El País  

 

 

Rural Colombia, Iván Duque and the peace agreements

By Natalia Gómez is an Official of the Vuka Coalition! for civic action, part of the Global Alliance for Civil Society-CIVICUS.

The author expresses fears that the new president will alter what was negotiated between the FARC and the government and endanger the most vulnerable communities in the country.

Read on: El País 

 

Pacific Island leaders are tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

By Josef Benedict, CIVICUS  civic space research officer. 

It’s not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and well-being of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region poses a threat to the well-being of their democracies.
Read on: Asian Correspondent

 

Photos: Lives rent asunder by climate change in Bangladesh

In 2018, two global agreements - one focused on the protection of refugees and the other on migration - are in the final stages of negotiation between governments, under the auspices of the United Nations. Each offers a rare opportunity to protect migrants from one of the biggest sources of displacement today - climate change. Through these images GMB Akash presents stories of loss from among the around 18 million Bangladeshis who risk displacement as the sea moves inward, expected to submerge as much as 17% of the country’s land by 2050.

See on: Hindustan Times 

 

SADC fiddles while the DRC burns

By Teldah Mawarire, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer and Ine van Severen, Civic Space Research Officer 

When a home catches fire, neighbours dash out to fight the blaze. They are motivated not only by a concern for the occupants’ welfare but also for their own — if the fire is not contained, it could engulf their homes too.

Read on: Mail and Guardian 

 

 

Marginalised Malaysians hope promised reforms will include their rights

By Josef Benedict, Civic Space Reearch Officer 

There is optimism following the 100 days of Malaysia’s new government – but the country’s marginalised groups wonder if it will go far enough to fight for equal rights.

Read on: SouthEast Asia Globe 

 

Lack of progress on human rights commitments during gov't's first 100 days

By David Kode, CIVICUS and  Matthew Bugher, Article 19

Dear Prime Minister, we congratulate you on your election victory on May 9, 2018, and your first 100 days in office. During the election campaign, your Pakatan Harapan coalition promised to implement a comprehensive programme of legislative and institutional reform after coming to power. Among the commitments made in your manifesto were pledges to ratify international human rights conventions and to revoke repressive laws including the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publication Act, the University and University Colleges Act and the National Security Act. Further, your government committed to reform the Royal Malaysia Police, which has operated with impunity for years.

Read on: Malaysia Kini

 

G20: Why civil society should be at the table

Spanish

by Inés M. Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist

As the G20 – the world’s wealthiest and most powerful states – meet in Argentina throughout 2018, in preparation for their leaders’ summit in late November, the important role that civil society plays in creating healthy and peaceful societies should also be on their agenda. As the host of this year’s summit, Argentina has an opportunity to engender better understanding and recognition of why it is crucial to enable civil society’s work and open up more space for civil society in the G20 processes.

Difficult conditions for civil society

These are not easy times for civil society, and this should concern all of us. The difficulties that civil society is facing are similar to, and have the same roots as, those that democracy is going through.

Read on: C-20 Argentina 2018

 

We need new ways to protect people in the digital era

By Danny Sriskandarajah

In an age of ever-advancing, ever-encroaching technology, how do we ensure that our basic rights are protected? New technologies and the speed of progress these days may have many positive impacts on our lives but the fact that they are poorly regulated and hardly understood by the public, poses serious threats.

Read on: The Sydney Morning Herald 

 

 

Unanswered Questions: How Civil Society’s Contributions to Sustainable Development are Undermined at the HLPF

By Lyndal Rowlands, CIVICUS UN Advocacy Officer 

As Colombia joined 45 other countries in New York last month to review progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda, four grassroots activists were killed as they fought for sustainable development in Colombian communities. A question posed by an Indigenous representative to the government about such killings – of which there were more than 100 last year – went unanswered, illustrating the many layers at which civil society is obstructed from meaningful participation in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, from the local level to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

Read on: International Institute for Sustainable Development

 

After elections, hard work starts for Zimbabwe’s civil society

By Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Officer

For many Zimbabwean voters, casting their ballots on July 30 is sure to be a somewhat surreal experience. For the first time since the country’s independence, the ever-present face of Robert Mugabe will not be staring back at them on the ballot paper. But that new experience – while perhaps inspiring hopes for positive change among some – is likely to be preceded by an old, familiar feeling of déjà vu. The road to the 2018 general election has been littered with the same potholes of electoral irregularities and restrictive laws of previous polls.

Read on: Inter Press Service 

 

Can Zim exiles finally return home?

By Teldah Mawarire, Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator 

I know many Zimbabweans in the diaspora. I am one of them. Many such exiled Zimbabweans have written public break-up letters with the country of their birth and “filed for divorce” because the relationship had become too “toxic”. With each passing election, nothing changes despite all the promises. Yet with every election, that tortured relationship is rekindled with hope. Perhaps this one will deliver the chance to return home.

Read on: City Press

 

Should not meeting the Sustainable Development Goals get you fired?

By Danny Sriskandarajah

The problem with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), was that no one ever lost their job for failing to meet an MDG target. When I say this at high-level meetings, participants shift uneasily in their seats. Their unease really shows when I ask why, if we truly want the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to succeed, would we not hold accountable those of us in governments, intergovernmental agencies, global business, or civil society organisations (CSOs) responsible for achieving them—even to the point that our jobs would depend on it?

Read on: Brookings Institution

 

Why the Human Rights Council matters to grassroots activists

By Clémentine de Montjoye, CIVICUS

On 19th June 2018, the United States announced it was leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council, citing the foremost international human rights body’s political bias and questionable membership. But as an institution made up of member states, none of which have perfect human rights records, its value is greater than the sum of its parts.

During this session, for example, Eritrea, a country sometimes referred to as the ‘North Korea of Africa’, is on the agenda. For Helen Kidane, an exiled Eritrean human rights activist, this represents a unique opportunity to meet with diplomats and lobby for international action against a repressive government. The Council created a commission of inquiry in 2014 which found reasonable grounds to believe that the Eritrean government had committed crimes against humanity.

"Resolutions may not be always implemented but at least they’ve kept Eritrea on the agenda", Helen told me after the U.S. announcement. "Otherwise it would just be swept under the carpet, and the situation would definitely be worse if no one spoke about it."

While flawed, the Council presents an unequalled platform to raise human rights violations at a multilateral level, enable human rights defenders from the ground to address representatives from 193 countries, and interact with key decision-makers to push for justice.

It has played a key role in shining a light on some of the most egregious human rights violations in the world today. The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, whose mandate is up for renewal during this session, has been prominent in raising awareness of violations and giving a voice to victims in Eritrea. By allowing its position to be influenced by global political fault lines, the U.S. is also withdrawing its support for victims of oppression.

This vital UN body cannot end conflicts and crises, and as a multilateral institution, regional dynamics and geopolitical manoeuvring will always restrict it. For instance, since the refugee crisis hit Europe and states have been working with repressive governments to repatriate refugees, some have indeed been less inclined to draw attention to human rights violations in Eritrea and other source countries. Eritreans refugees, who flee indefinite military service and face a shoot to kill policy at the border, represented the largest group of African refugees in Europe in 2015. 

As is often the case in the microcosm that is the Council, the support we see for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea will be a good gauge of international attitudes towards this pariah state, and how migration policies are affecting them.

But the Human Rights Council is also a place where those who have been persecuted, threatened, arrested, and tortured for speaking out on human rights violations at home can be heard, and sometimes get results. Beyond the politicking and horse trading, this is a place where grassroots activists can make sure that the human suffering they are working to alleviate isn’t reduced to operative paragraphs and resolutions, but that the voices of the victims remain an integral part of the process. By leaving, the U.S. is turning its back on victims and refusing to work with the system to deliver justice for human rights violations.

As we finish our coffee, Helen tells me ‘As a human rights defender I don’t think human rights should be politicised. We can’t escape this but it doesn’t help anyone to disengage like the U.S has done, we need to work to improve the Council from the inside.’ Sadly, the U.S.’s decision to leave creates a vacuum which will likely be filled by traditional backers of national sovereignty like Russia and China who are increasingly working to undermine the legitimacy and substantive work of the Council.

 

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