Burkhard Gnärig

2 January, 2018

One year ago I reviewed the political environment in which civil society had to act and drew some conclusions for the year 2017. I expressed my expectation that “we will not succumb to Brexit and Trump” and demanded: “We urgently need to come together in a powerful global movement to defend tolerance against the intolerant, pluralism and the rule of law against authoritarianism, and our future as a global community against chauvinism and xenophobia.” What has happened in this respect over the past twelve months?

Oppressing citizens’ freedoms has become mainstream

As I write these lines the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, announces that he will not seek a second term in office due to the “appalling” climate for human rights advocacy. From our own work on citizens’ rights, we know exactly what he means: during the past year several activists who worked with us and signed the Civic Charter were imprisoned, and many citizens and their organisations suffered from increased oppression and persecution. To name just one example: ActionAid Uganda, with a very impressive history of concrete achievements in the country, suffers from a range of oppressive measures by the government including their offices being raided by the police and their bank accounts frozen.

The ethic of solidarity is being replaced by the “survival of the fittest” MORE

Brandi Geurkink

31 October, 2017

Last week was (on some accounts) a good week: Joshua Wong of the Umbrella Movement was released on bail in Hong Kong and Özlem Dalkıran, part of the so-called #Istanbul10, was released from prison. These two of the most active Civic Charter supporters had been unjustly imprisoned for their respective work to defend civic freedoms, and we rallied the Civic Charter community to push for their release.

Their imprisonment, and now subsequent release, caused me to think a lot about what it means to be imprisoned. In my very privileged position as a CSO professional and activist living in Germany, where my safety is—for the time being—almost 100% guaranteed if I criticise the government or other powerful actors, I can think about prisons from a theoretical perspective. I don’t want to get too Foucauldian here, but while physical prisons are surely the ultimate and most brutal manifestation of a separation between ‘them’ and ‘us,’ we should also think about the metaphorical prisons we might be in without even realising it. MORE

Arthur Larok

24 October, 2017

On Wednesday the 20th and Thursday the 21st September 2017, the offices of ActionAid Uganda and the Great Lakes Institute, both in Kampala, and Solidarity Uganda in Lira, were raided by the police.

Investigations by the police on the three organisations are ongoing and the accusations labelled against them are:

  1. that they were involved in illicit financial transactions;
  2. they are involved in subversive activities to destabilise Uganda.

Unfortunately, we are preparing for a long-drawn out attack on civil society generally and so it helps to reflect on possible motives of the attack and what is likely to happen in the near future. Most importantly, we must focus on lessons for civil society as we collectively prepare for more such threats.

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Arzu Geybulla

10 October, 2017

Something tells me, we, as in members, representatives, participants and active thinkers of civil society networks, need each other more than ever today. The global political, social and economic order, have changed tides, so much that, while we were all busy doing our own things we have not noticed how our mere presence in this new order of things has been jeopardised.

On one hand, we are fighting harassment, crackdown, and persecution in the hands of the regimes wanting to get rid of independent voices, while on the other, we cannot move fast and effective enough to generate stronger support that would have an impact on regimes cracking down on dissent. The space for civil society is shrinking all the while, the avenues for advocacy mechanisms are exhausting themselves and so are the tactics. But we shall not despair. Because there is still hope. Or at least, this is how I felt, after attending the international civic forum in DC last month. MORE

Soeung Saroeun

3 October, 2017

This contribution by a participant of the International Civic Forum puts into context how insights from the Forum are relevant for local civil society in Cambodia, and what specific areas must be prioritised to defend people’s rights to participate in a country where civic space is rapidly shrinking before our eyes.

Between 11- 12 September, I had the opportunity to participate in International Civic Forum, held in Washington D.C., USA, with 68 leaders from civil society organisations, representatives from government, media and the private sector across the globe. It was an interesting and important forum where good topics, speakers and processes were deployed. Participants shared stories of how civic rights are being dramatically threatened, causing global concern for the gradual “shrinking” of space worldwide. This has been happening not only in the countries ruled by authoritarian governments or dictators, but also by populist politicians and within democracies.

Many governments around the world use legal frameworks, and actions such as harassment, intimidation, imprisonment and killing to silence civil society leaders, media, political activists, trade unionists, environmentalists, and many others.

The country that I come from, Cambodia, was discussed at the Forum as a case study of shrinking civic space. Participants agreed that urgent collective attention is needed as the situation in Cambodia is of serious concern. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

26 September, 2017

Two weeks ago we organised our second International Civic Forum, bringing together 68 representatives from civil society, foundations, the media, governments and business. The one-and-a-half-day meeting reviewed the situation of shrinking space for civic participation globally, focusing on strategies for addressing increasing restrictions to civic freedoms. Discussions in plenaries and workshops focused on:

  • forging cross-sector alliances to secure civic space;
  • using SDG 16 (Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies) to promote civic freedoms,
  • strengthening accountability and transparency in the face of oppression; and
  • countering restrictions in the digital space.

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Miriam Niehaus and Brandi Geurkink

25 July, 2017

In 2015 Greenpeace India had all their assets frozen by the Indian Government and was accused of a slew of allegations related to funding they received from foreign donors. Suddenly, it became clear that the space for civil society to act as a healthy mediator was becoming less certain. This was true even in democracies around the world and for international civil society organisations (ICSOs), which typically enjoy a privileged status in many countries. The environment in India specifically had gotten so hostile that even colleagues from Plan International – a perceivably less politically outspoken organisation than Greenpeace – said it had trouble getting their staff visas to travel to India. MORE

Barbara Unmuessig

11 July, 2017

When the 19 member countries and the EU gathered in Hamburg for the G20 Summit one important topic was not on the agenda: from China to Mexico, Turkey to Russia, Saudi Arabia to India – the respect for fundamental human rights can no longer be taken for granted.

This also holds true for some EU member states such as Hungary or Poland. Freedom of expression, assembly and association are universal human rights enshrined in international law. They are the backbone of any democracy worth its name.

These rights are the precondition for a life in dignity. They are essential for shaping a sustainable future on this planet.

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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

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