Contrary to the optimistic post Cold War projections of many, civil society now finds itself more constrained than ever. The so-called war on terror has been used to justify old-fashioned repression not only by undemocratic regimes but, even more disturbingly, by self-proclaimed champions of democracy.
Since 2007, CIVICUS has identified more than 85 countries where governments have carried out systemic actions aimed at curbing the space and activities of civil society. These include legislation that prohibits the registration of CSOs or restricts funding to civil society; identifying and targeting human rights advocates and activists; imposing restrictions on travel; and closing down CSOs.
CIVICUS is therefore launching a Crisis Response Fund to ensure that timely, comprehensive action can be taken whenever civil society is under attack, particularly where threats arise without prior warning. Prevention is far more achievable and effective than a remedy once legislation, for instance, has been passed – which makes the need for such a flexible fund even more critical. The Fund is different from other initiatives in that it aims to respond primarily to systemic threats that affect civil society as a whole rather than to actions against individuals.
The CIVICUS Civil Society Watch (CSW) Programme is developing a Civic Space Barometer and an Early Warning System to help identify situations where civil society is threatened. Action will also be taken when partners and members identify urgent threats to civil society and when threats have been documented by the media.
In the past few years, CIVICUS has responded successfully to threats to civil society and civil society activists in countries like Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia and Zimbabwe, but it has been unable to confront urgent threats in other parts of the world because of a lack of resources. The Fund, it is hoped, will enable CIVICUS to respond to more threats in a more timely and comprehensive manner.