With freedom of expression, association and assembly increasingly under attack, there is a greater need for intervention in the early stages of the drafting process of laws or the introduction of moves restrictive of civil society activity. Early intervention greatly increases the chances of success in influencing and cooperating with a government or other stakeholder in the revision of a particular action.
CIVICUS, in partnership with the International Center for Not-for-profit Law (ICNL), has developed an early warning system (EWS) to identify and monitor impending threats to civil society in order to enable effective and pre-emptive response. The EWS will alert both local and international civil society actors and decision-makers, possibly preventing such threats from progressing further. An example of this is the representations CIVICUS recently made to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, protesting the projected introduction of a so-called international cooperation manual. CIVICUS received information on this manual, which would have placed severe restrictions on the work of international NGOs, from its EWS partner in the country and wrote to President Ortega, pointing out that its implementation could result in fewer resources for Nicaragua. The manual’s implementation has subsequently been postponed.
The EWS project has been piloted in seven countries (Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Philippines, Solomon Islands, US and Vietnam) and the full implementation, scheduled for October 2009, will include a further seven: Egypt, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. A workshop to discuss its use and the lessons learned from the pilot phase will be held in September in Johannesburg and will be attended by representatives from the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Programme, ICNL and CIVICUS members from all 14 partner countries.
There will also be an EWS webpage, to be launched shortly after the workshop, which will feature a database to store reports, information on threats or possible threats to civil society activity, and contact information for other networks and institutions involved in or affected by a particular issue.