Wolfgang Jamann

8 May, 2018

Leave no one behind – a brave and bold ambition that forms the theme of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to eradicate poverty and injustice by 2030. The international community, including the civil society sector, takes this as guidance for its programmes and projects. As part of that ambition, one area of focus will include the most marginalised communities and people in every country. And there are many: discriminated ethnic minorities, mutilated war victims, impoverished children, desperate refugees and displaced families, to name but a few.

Last week, the global ‘Leave No One Behind’ (LNOB) coalition met in Dhaka, Bangladesh, bringing together several of the largest international civil society organisations. The aim: to join forces to raise the voices of the most marginalised. The group has been working in five pilot* countries over the past six months and is developing a plan to combine data, distil learnings and use those for better programming and advocacy nationally and globally.

20180503_092540

Bringing together many actors from different national contexts has many complexities, but provides for valuable learning, and hopefully, greater impact through a collaborative approach. In one country, for example, Vietnam, this coalition is already becoming the principal voice of civil society vs the Voluntary National Review which is submitted annually to report progress on SDGs. One overriding theme at the meeting was indeed, how the coalition can input into those government-led monitoring mechanisms, which too often lack disaggregated data and the voice of marginalised communities. And it proved beneficial to have representatives of the Bangladesh Government attend part of the meeting, which was hosted by the influential NGO BRAC, in order to discuss better linkage of monitoring between state and civil society.

Figuring out what marginalisation means is a key, and difficult task, because of its highly contextual nature. Bangladesh, again, is a good example of this, as it is now hosting one of the largest vulnerable and marginalised refugee communities, which fled from neighbouring Myanmar last year. Giving Rohingya people a voice is imperative, without losing consideration of those communities that are less visible.

Inclusive data gathering needs to cover quantitative data according to the many SDG indicators that exist. But every marginalised person has a story, which should be told so that underlying causes for discrimination and injustice are understood and addressed. In a world of increasing use of big and small data, their protection and the concerns for privacy need to be dealt with seriously, especially as marginalisation often has highly political dimensions. The LNOB coalition is seeking expert advice on data use so that people‘s rights are not violated.

The High-Level Political Forum of the UN exchanges progress and challenges on the Goals every year. The LNOB project is aimed at this Forum and will be represented there this year. It will link up with similar initiatives to bring the voices of the most marginalised and poorest into the centre of discussions. Without prioritising them, the international community will not achieve the Goals, nor live up to the needed structural changes that need to happen in social, economic and political terms.

If your organisation is interested in joining the coalition or in finding out more, then please contact the project manager Peter Koblowsky at pkoblowsky@icscentre.org

*Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam

Thomas Howie

13 March, 2018

Blockchain and Big Data can transform how international civil society organisations (ICSOs) work and what they achieve. To benefit from them, collaboration between ICSOs is essential. At our 2018 Innovators Forum on 27-28 February 2018, experts gathered to work on new projects using Blockchain and Big Data to solve problems.

If the civil society sector does not organise now, then the potential of Big Data and Blockchain may be lost altogether. That was the feeling among 30 innovators and digital experts gathered at our 2nd Innovators Forum.

The motivation to act now is to avoid making the same mistake our sector made with the internet. In the early days of the internet, no one knew its true potential. However, big corporations were quick to react, capitalising on this digital innovation. They took the lead and made decisions that affected our lives and way of working. The likes of Google and Facebook capitalised, while civil society voices were not heard on important issues, such as data privacy and security. Ever since, we have been playing catch-up, rather than leading digital innovation. MORE

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.

MORE

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.

MORE

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.

MORE