A repressive trend of increased attacks on the people and organisations that defend our basic human rights is leading to a crisis for civil society, says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. CIVICUS is currently tracking major threats to fundamental freedoms of speech, expression and association in over 100 countries and in 2015 the murders of 156 human rights defenders were recorded.
This sharp global crackdown has continued in 2016 with the horrific deaths of Honduran human rights activist Berta Caceres and South African community leader Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe. More governments are making foreign funding of NGOs illegal and state surveillance of online activities is on the rise as authorities fear the power of civil society and social media to mobilise citizens to protest. Intimidation is affecting the ability of people to fight for a range of human rights.
‘Civil society faces a worsening global crisis’ says Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS. ‘Human rights defenders are being detained, tortured and killed as governments try to shut down civic space and shut up dissenting voices. We need to find new ways to defend activists and hold governments to account for these violations as well as the progress they must make in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change.’
Against the backdrop of Colombia’s peace negotiations over 500 leading activists and thinkers are expected at International Civil Society Week 2016 (ICSW 2016) in Bogota from 24th-28th April to tackle these and other key challenges facing human rights, democracy and development struggles. Speakers will include Nobel Peace Prize winner Ali Zeddini, of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, Yara and Mazen Darwish, of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, Jose Ugaz Chair of Transparency International and Kumi Naidoo, former Executive Director of Greenpeace and now Director of the Africa Civil Society Centre.
Sriskandarajah considers the timing and setting to be critical: ‘this is a potentially defining moment for the future of social justice struggles, especially those in the Global South. We must ask ourselves ‘‘how can we better protect our rights defenders? How can we achieve transparency in implementing the global Sustainable Development Goals? And how can international NGOs remain legitimate by becoming more accountable?” The right answers will help global civil society fight for all our futures’.
Activists from across the world fighting gender and LGBTI struggles, helping build youth movements, strengthen land rights reforms and lead climate change and inequality campaigns will all take part in
workshops and events that will celebrate the strength and innovation of civil society. Organisations hosting events include the Community of Democracy, Global Philanthropy Project, Article 19, International Centre for Non-Profit Law, Amnesty International, International Land Coalition, Abong Brazilian Association of NGOS, Transparency International and ACT Alliance.
Innovation is a key theme with the latest trends in protest and movement building as well as technologies that can empower and mobilise citizens both on the agenda. Projects such as DataShift are exploring how citizen-generated data can empower campaigners as well as achieve transparency around the monitoring of the global Sustainable Development Goals.
ICSW 2016 begins on the 24th April with the CIVICUS Youth Assembly at which young leaders from across the world will convene to debate the impacts on and solutions for youth of poverty, inequality and climate change. The public ICSW 2016 programme then runs from 25th-28th April culminating in the CIVICUS World Assembly. The Nelson Mandela – Graça Machel Innovation Awards will be presented during the World Assembly programme with nominations for Youth Activists, Individual Activists, Civil Society Organisations and Brave Philanthropy.