Alexia Skok

6 December, 2016

 

Are your rights secure? Will they be gone tomorrow?

From Hungary to Cambodia – and everywhere in between – we are witnessing an onslaught of aggression against civil society organisations (CSOs), activists, and everyday citizens. At every turn, governments, politicians, and powerholders are attempting to block civic participation. We see the ‘Trumps of Europe’ scaremongering citizens to give up their rights in the name of national security. Police and military are arresting and detaining protestors, denying them their rights to freedom of association and expression. In other corners of the globe, governments are laying down arbitrary laws and increasing bureaucracy in an attempt to slow down the effectiveness of organisations which are trying to improve the lives of their citizens.Photo by Debra Sweet via CC BY 2.0

Yet, in the face of this constant suppression, people and organisations are standing up to defend themselves and their communities. They are uniting, they are fighting, and they are claiming their space! From this growing solidarity the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation was born.

Over the past two months, Disrupt&Innovate has shared stories on the state of civic space across the globe. See highlights here, and share your experiences in the battle for civic rights in the comments section below. MORE

Prakash Bhattarai

29 November, 2016
An Overview of CSOs in Nepal

Civil society organisations (CSOs) began to flourish in Nepal immediately after the establishment of multiparty democracy in 1990. Although some were active earlier, they were very few in numbers due to the lack of congruent space to operate independently. However, the democratic setup formed after the success of the People’s Movement of 1990 not only provided an independent space for civil society to operate across the country, but also recognised CSOs’ roles in the socio-economic and political development processes. According to the Social Welfare Council, in 2015 there were nearly 40,000 registered CSOs in Nepal, a mighty jump from the 193 in 1990.

Photo by Punya via CC BY-SA 4.0CSOs have played a crucial role in establishing a human rights and democratic constituency in Nepal, and in areas such as: community empowerment; political mainstreaming of subjugated social issues; promotion of collective bargaining; organisation of marginalised groups; and promotion of democracy and individual rights.

Large CSOs’ relentless lobbying and advocacy also contributed to the establishment of various constitutional commissions, fought against the king’s takeover of people’s power in 2002, and played a leading role in sparking the nonviolent movement of April 2006. Likewise, the rural, grass-roots women’s groups, mothers’ groups, consumers’ groups, and users’ groups have been successful in managing community forests, irrigation facilities, health services, primary schools, and drinking water projects. MORE

Moses Isooba

22 November, 2016

© Africans Rising: 2016 Participants at the Africans Rising conference, Arusha, Tanzania, August 2016The liberation era struggles of the 1950s on the African continent has seen the move from colonial era and one-party dictatorships to a semblance of multiparty democracy and regular free and fair elections in many countries. Accompanying this has been the emergence of relatively vibrant and organised civil society formations, acting as the vanguard for accountability and activism, trying to hold governments accountable for their actions or the lack of them.

The growth of vibrant civil society has been against the backdrop of failed neoliberal economic policies and, an increase in foreign funded transnational criminal activity such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Al Shabab in the Horn of Africa. These conditions together with the uprisings and insurrections in the Maghreb that dislodged long time dictators, have sent shock waves and fear into many African Big Men whose regimes are bent on, and preoccupied with, survival and regime consolidation. MORE

Laura Sullivan and Ben Phillips

15 November, 2016

All the world’s eyes remain transfixed on the ongoing fallout following the US elections. Many European commentators have expressed grave concern about what events “over in America” mean in terms of society’s basic humanity. But how are Europeans themselves faring when measured against that old core value? With leaders like Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban keen to seal up borders, the Turkey deal sweeping the ‘problem’ of people escaping war under the proverbial carpet and the European mainstream narrative sounding increasingly similar to what the populist right have been saying for years, you do wonder, are people in Europe responding to their own Trumps?

Photo by Gage Skidmore via CC BY-SA 3.0

Frauke_Petry

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Miriam Niehaus

8 November, 2016

Brochure_CoverOver the recent weeks we have read about the increasingly harsh realities civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists experience. Peaceful demonstrators face arbitrary arrests, CSOs are vilified, and political activists are disappeared and murdered. While this trend presents itself in a variety of heinous examples – most recently the response of authorities to the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota (USA) – it is glaringly obvious that we are in this battle together globally. We, as civil society activists, must stand together in our struggles.

Since 17 October, citizens all over the world have been holding launch events for the Civic Charter – a much-needed tool that offers precisely this opportunity to connect and amplify our struggles. The document empowers us to stand together more united than ever and, in turn, stronger in the face of growing restrictions and threats to our inherent rights. MORE

Harsh Jaitli

1 November, 2016

India is known for its vibrant voluntary sector, which has contributed not only in the development and growth of India, but also to global discourse.

The existence of the voluntary sector is as old as the recorded history of the country, where it has shared responsibility with the state to provide decent life with dignity to marginalised people. The more structured form of civil society originations (CSOs) came into existence with the formation of Societies Registration Act of 1860, but the contribution of the sector has reached far beyond it. After independence, India faced the herculean task of providing basic services to the remotest corners of the country that were trying to recover from devastating draught and pains of partition. During this transitional period, Mahatma Gandhi became the inspiration for many grass-roots organisations popularly known as Gandhian Organisations. Mahatma Gandhi established that India had only achieved political freedom, and freedom from hunger and disease, and that overcoming deprivation and marginaliation was still to be achieved. He advised the freedom fighters that those who wanted to achieve this through political means could join the electoral politics, while the others should join the social service sector.

The space in which CSOs in India operate is influenced primarily by three factors: regulatory environment, availability of resources, and internal mechanisms. These elements can be targeted by the government to make the functioning of CSOs difficult. MORE

Sopheap Chak

25 October, 2016

It is within the context of a global shrinking of civil society space that Cambodia has seen its own space for civic participation quickly diminishing. This shrinking of space presents Cambodian civil society organisations (CSOs) with a very real need to adapt in order to face the challenges ahead.

In recent months, CSOs in Cambodia have felt an increased tightening of their fundamental freedoms by the government, particularly following the arbitrary arrest and detention of five human rights defenders – four senior staff members from local CSO the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), and the deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee. All five have been detained in pre-trial detention since 28 April on trumped-up charges in relation to their provision of legitimate human rights assistance to a former beneficiary.

 CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 Walther Tjon Pian Gi via Flickr

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Moataz El Fegiery

18 October, 2016

Omar Kamel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via FlickrOn 17 September 2016, an Egyptian court approved a freeze on the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three leading civil society organisations (CSOs) as part of larger legal procedures taken against 37 CSOs charged with illegal foreign funding and operating without licences.  In Syria, Bassel Khartabil – a peaceful online freedom of expression activist – has been held in incommunicado detention since March 2012, and has reportedly been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. On 27 December 2015, Naji al-Jourf – a Syrian film maker and journalist who exposed ISIS atrocities in Aleppo in a documentary produced by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) – was shot dead by an unknown person in the southern Turkish province of Gaziantep. In Bahrain, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja – a leading human rights figure and the founder of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – remains in jail since his incarceration in June 2011, serving a life sentence following an unfair trial and politically motivated charges. These are just a sample of dozens of distressing stories about the high price paid by human rights defenders in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who are caught between authoritarian regimes and the proliferation of intractable domestic and international conflicts. MORE

Maria Jose Veramendi Villa

11 October, 2016

“Wake up humanity, there is no time left!”
–   Berta Cáceres, Goldman Prize acceptance speech, 2015

Being an environmental human rights defender in Latin America is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have. Whether you belong to an indigenous, afro-descendant, peasant community, whether you are an independent activist or you are affiliated with a civil society organisation (CSO), you are at risk. In its most recent report, On Dangerous Ground, Global Witness documented 2015 as being the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental activists[1]. The same report documented 185 killings in 16 countries, making Brazil (50 killings), Colombia (26 killings), Peru (12 killings), and Nicaragua (12 killings) the most dangerous ones in Latin America[2].

Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos via Flickr CC BY 2.0 2Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, the murder of environmental defenders represent a tragic end of the road of a larger problem. We, as a society, all want economic and social progress and Governments are mostly elected on this promise. However, increasingly States and various private actors are routinely complicit in actions that aim to silence the legitimate voices of people and the work of environmental defenders. Threats, harassment, campaigns to discredit or criminalise take a toll on the work of environmental defenders, who then end up spending significant amount of time defending themselves before – also often complicit –  criminal justice systems, or even physically protecting themselves from any attempts on their lives. MORE

Veronika Mora

2 October, 2016

In April 2014, just two days after the general election which brought the repeated victory of the right-conservative government of Fidesz, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office announced that he would initiate the re-negotiation of how funding is provided by EEA countries – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – to Hungarian civil society organisations (CSOs). This signaled the start of a series of unprecedented governmental attacks and harassment of independent civic groups, especially those engaged in human rights, anti-corruption, women’s and LBGT rights.

Hungary My foundation, Ökotars Alapitvany, as the head of the grantmaking consortium which managed the EEA/Norwegian NGO Programme in Hungary found itself in the centre of the conflict, which started at first as a media smear campaign orchestrated by the government. High ranking officials, e.g. deputy state secretaries, accused us as being politically biased, oppositional “cheating nobodies”. However, this was soon followed by official inspections: in late May, the Prime Minister’s Office had announced publicly that the so-called Governmental Control Office (GCO) were to audit the use of the EEA/Norwegian funding – over which, according to lawyers, they clearly had no jurisdiction. It was also quite characteristic of the whole process that we learnt everything from government-friendly media first – official notifications came only after information had been broadcast widely. Although they never answered our repeated requests to clarify the legal basis of the audit, we were forced to cooperate due to the GCO’s wide ranging sanctioning powers. We also found that documents not previously in the public domain, but handed over to GCO by us during the course of the audit, somehow quickly found their way into government-friendly media – always in a damning context. MORE