Ilina Nesik

16 January, 2018

In recent years, governments around the world have responded to increased activism, protests and political engagement of citizens and various civil society actors with cracking down on civic space. Unfortunately, these trends have not passed the Western Balkans and Turkey by either.

As restrictions on foreign funding (in Kosovo, Turkey), barriers to registration (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey), intervention in CSOs’ internal affairs (Macedonia and Turkey), negative narratives (Serbia and Macedonia), and declining public trust in civil society in almost all of the countries become the new normal in this region, civil society and donors are going to have to adapt to this context: 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

Melissa Sonnino

31 January, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

What is hate crime and why should we all be concerned about it? Defining the problem is a first step towards understanding a phenomenon which affects our society as a whole. Hate crime is commonly defined as a criminal act with a bias motivation, where bias is a type of prejudice against a person, or a group, because of their real or presumed identity.

Although probably not morally correct, the “could be you” argument is usually a winning argument when it comes to explaining to people why hate crime is not only for civil society organisations (CSOs), targeted groups and police. In fact, to not belong to any of the groups at risk in society doesn’t mean you cannot be a victim of hate crime. The perpetrators’ assumption about someone’s identity is the only decisive factor. Passing by a gay bar with a friend or reading a copy of the Quran at the bus stop could lead a perpetrator to the assumption you are gay or Muslim, even if you are not, and to commit a hate crime motivated by homophobic or anti-Muslim sentiments. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

10 January, 2017

“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.” This appeal at the end of my most recent post demands action – and it demands a plan: What do we have to do?

  1. We need to take the rise of xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, and authoritarian government seriously

For years, a small number of individuals and organisations have warned of rising intolerance and shrinking civic space, but still too many of us think that this worrying trend will not affect us directly, eventually passing by. I recently discussed this phenomenon with a friend who is part of the German political establishment. His comments: “This is democracy. There is not much we can do. It will turn worse before it gets better”. I don’t think we can afford such fatalism. We have seen democracies turning into nasty dictatorships before, Germany being a case in point. We have left the stable political environment where two or three moderate parties replaced each other in government from time to time and arrived at a point where intolerance, racism, chauvinism, and authoritarian leadership are entering the mainstream. Democracy allows us to elect representatives of these nasty ideologies – but will we have enough democracy left to kick them out once we recognise that they are doing a terrible job? If we truly value democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law, we must act now, and with determination.

A Jones CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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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

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

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