Today many civil society organizations (CSOs) working at local, national or international level are being affected by restrictive government action. Throughout the past few years, many laws have been passed by governments around the world restricting civic freedoms. Increasingly, citizens and their organizations are suffering from the oppression of their rights to free speech, from impediments to running their programmes, and from threats to activists’ lives.
Actionaid International as part of its initiatives to redefine how we can secure and expand civic space hosted a session on Mobilizing Across Borders to defend and Expand Civic and Political Space at the just concluded World Social Forum held in Montreal from 9th-14th August, 2016.
The first presenter Omar Jeronimo a human rights defender from the indigenous tribe of Chorti testified that judicial harassment and physical attacks by public and private security forces are tools frequently used to silence and criminalize those advocating in relation to large-scale development projects. The threats affecting these defenders have an even greater impact on indigenous communities and women human rights defenders. Omar's experience as someone who has been at the heart of challenging this injustices for a long time was particularly inspiring.
Turning to the case of Zimbababwe, David Manyonga, draped in the national flag of Zimbabwe and an advisor with Actionaid Uganda but hailing from Zimbabwe painted a vivid picture of what is happening in Zimbabwe. T
anchored my intervention on the new assault on constitutional changes to remove presidential term limits and how that has impacted on operating space drawing examples from Uganda, and Burundi which Akina Mama wa Afrika as a pan-african development organization has been partnering with to address issues of women’s engagement in peace building. Specifically highlighted women led efforts by the Uganda Women Situation Room Eminent Women that are championing a national dialogue process to resolve post election tensions and controversy and Burundian Women and Girls Movement for peace and security that is amplifying the women’s voice for peace to address the current deteriorating situation in Burundi.
A presentation by Hoang Phuong Thao the Executive Director of Actionaid Vietnam shared the Association of South East Asian States’s experience of shrinking space. Human Rights defenders face restrictions in the ASEAN region but the situation is extremely varied across the ten member states. She highlighted the story of a leading Lao civil society activist Sombath Somphone who disappeared three years ago and police standard answer is that the investigations are “ongoing” despite closed circuit television showing that police stopped his car at a check point.
Miriam Niehaus shared with the meeting the conceptual framework, history and highlights of the Civic Charter that was developed and owned by civil society organizations to draw together the most crucial terms for civic participation in an easily understandable way and serve as a global reference point for civil society to allocate their rights in the complexity of international law. A steering group has led the process and wide consultations have taken place. Strategies to roll it out are being discussed including regional launches.
During the lively plenary, moderated by Soren Ambrose, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research at Actionaid International, participants echoed the need to build alliance and enhance solidarity across the globe to push back against shrinking space. From Guatemala, to Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burundi, Asia and globally it emerged clearly that another world is needed, if we act together.
By Eunice Musiime
Akina Mama wa Afrika