January’s World Social Forum in Nairobi offered CIVICUS the opportunity to bring together its partners around the world and to organize two workshops, one on accountability for civil society organizations and the other on a proposed Charter to better protect civil society.
In addition, a press conference was organized to highlight increasing threats to civil society, such as the undermining of democracy and human rights by increasingly restrictive government action. Panellists including Kumi Naidoo of CIVICUS, actor Danny Glover, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi, and Sylvia Boren of Oxfam Netherlands (NOVIB) explored how civil liberties are being sacrificed in the name of the war on terror.
During 2006 CIVICUS highlighted threats to civil society in 80 countries. In Belarus, for example, most outspoken NGOs have been banned in the past three years. Those that continue to exist do so illegally, with their members always under threat of prison. A series of repressive laws and presidential decrees has prevented NGOs from receiving foreign funding, criticizing the government or organizing demonstrations. In Russia, too, the government has used draconian legislation to threaten the activities of both local and international NGOs. In August 2006, CIVICUS facilitated a conversation between President Putin and 11 other international NGOs on their concerns about the implementation of a new law. However, despite his promises to review the law, six months later no official action has been taken.
These are just two examples of the way in which new legislation, regulations or operational policies are increasingly being used in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, and to suppress voices critical of government. The strongest message of the press conference was expressed by Jody Williams: ‘We need to continue our fight as civil society to make governments really be of the people, by the people, for the people and not allow this terrorist war to stop us from exercising our rights as national and global citizens.’