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
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.
Over 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
On 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
Caption: Women from Paraguay’s Ita Guasu indigenous community discuss their community development plan. (Photo: USAID, Creative Commons via Flickr)
Mulugeta Gebru, Chief Executive of the Ethiopian civil society organisation (CSO) Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organisation (JeCCDO), was in a candid mood when we spoke to him about his rich leadership experience. Twenty years ago, he led JeCCDO through a challenging organisational shift from running orphanages to promoting community engagement. Today, like so many other Southern CSOs, JeCCDO faces new challenges, and the imperative to find new ways of doing things is as strong as ever.
“We have such deep experience, strong engagement, and good learning and processes … Big donors are telling us they want us to sustain ourselves, but no one is willing to invest in helping us stand by ourselves.” (Mulugeta Gebru, JeCCDO, Ethiopia)
The current blog theme is Digital Accountability, and our guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter.
The refugee crisis, turmoil in the Middle East, a rising right wing agenda, and a shrinking civil society space; civil society is at the heart of these looming issues – fighting and contributing through our programmes, advocacy and public campaigns. However, in a world connected through technology, we are continuing to miss an incredible opportunity; we must put our collective mission first, cast aside our differences, and start moving as one.
Civil society collaboration is challenging and complex – there are always competing agendas, perspectives, and outputs. You can watch the face of any person from a civil society organisation (CSO) explode in agony when you mention the thought of “coalition” work. Despite this, we all know that we must move together. MORE
One undeniable trend in the development sector over the last few years has been people talking more about disability. From the WHO/World Bank World Report on Disability in 2011, through DFID’s first Disability Framework in 2014, to the UN’s adoption of disability within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015; disability appears to have captured the development community’s imagination.
Continuing the trend, the International Centre for Evidence in Disabilities’ (ICED) third international symposium earlier this year – Disability in the SDGs: Forming Alliances and Building Evidence for the 2030 Agenda – had a record turnout. More than 300 people attended from around the world, and from the disability community, official development agencies, NGOs and academia. The symposium generated 67 recommendations for its call to action, many linked to the SDGs. Clearly, there is much to do. MORE
In September of last year the world witnessed an historic moment – leaders from every member state of the United Nations unanimously ratified a bold and comprehensive 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This agreement emerged not only from the negotiating chambers at the UN but also from a radical and far reaching global conversation that eventually included more than ten million people and thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs), largely through the MY World 2015 survey. The mix of new and old techniques opened the negotiation process to a vivid display of the variety of experiences, knowledge and organisational forms which populate the civic space and left member states buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of people worldwide, ultimately resulting in a far reaching, complex and ambitious agenda for action.
Thus, the new Goals carry in their DNA openness and inclusiveness, and it is this same spirit that will be required in order for member states to achieve them. The shared vision of the SDGs will be tested as governments lead the process for their implementation: It is critical that space is created for a broad range of actors beyond those traditionally involved in development-related decision processes, if the scale and ambition of the agenda – to leave no one behind – is to be realised. Through the MY World survey initiative for example we saw a massive engagement from young people worldwide (over 70% of survey respondents were under 30 years of age) we must continue to harness this energy to not just debate what the agenda should be but to drive the agenda forward, foster innovation and mobilise new actors. MORE
What a joy it was last September for the international civil society sector: Pope Francis’ address touching many of today’s challenges; Presidents of small and big nations giving their supportive views to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Malala conveying essential voices of young people; and the plenary of the General Assembly endorsing and applauding the SDGs.
As civil society organisations (CSOs) we have come a long way in the development process of the SDGs; at the beginning, we were not at all sure if our arguments would be considered. Thanks to our joint efforts, and the clear message that we must have a seat at the table, we have harvested fruits. Many of the needs and the rights of the people we represent have become a priority. Just in time, we – smaller and bigger organisations alike – understood how much was at stake if we didn’t work together. We realised that our responsibility had to go beyond our organisational interests. This put healthy pressure on us, and we managed well under strict time constraints. But can we maintain this spirit in the implementation?
Even more energy is needed during the implementation process; now it’s about action. We know the goals, but what is the right approach to achieving them? We can’t allow ourselves to run off with great intensity into different – or even opposite – directions. We can’t think that we are faster alone, and that we can achieve quick, sustainable results without collaboration. My wish is to see us act in the spirit of cooperation that made us succeed in the advocacy phase. MORE
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its set of interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets resulted from the most inclusive policy dialogue the United Nations has ever organised, one in which civil society organisations (CSOs) fully participated. This established a new benchmark for dialogue and inclusiveness at the UN. As the Secretary-General noted recently, there can be no going back.
The 17 SDGs address – in an integrated way – the most pressing economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. They are a universal and shared vision of humanity for transforming our society and projecting our planet. They form a social contract between the world’s leaders and ‘We the peoples’.
Implementing this comprehensive and far-reaching Agenda will require all governments and decision-makers to commit to leave no one behind. It calls for adopting new approaches and breaking down silos. To begin such a transformation and place humanity on a more sustainable course, we need all hands on deck to work across borders and sectors, and move from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’.