Dossier: Squeezed – Spaces for Civil Society

Dossier: Squeezed – Space for Civil Society

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Civil society is part and parcel of all political processes, be they national or international. It can shape political processes, successfully organise political participation, uncover corruption and human rights abuses – and it will demand accountability from state actors.

But all across the world, civil society is under pressure. In many countries, state authorities are taking more and more systematic measures, aimed to restrict the work of civil society. Furthermore, civil society actors are targets of defamation, threats and violence. These developments, known as "shrinking space" or "closing space", have become a global trend.

The present dossier provides analyses and background information about how civil societies' spaces are being restricted and highlights various facettes. Examples from a number of countries provide evidence of how civil society is put under pressure – and what counter-strategies are being developed. Finally the dossier presents initatives, that are actively fighting against shrinking spaces to "Regain civic space!"

The present publication “For Democracy” outlines and analyzes the state of democracy worldwide as well as the possibilities of democracy assistance.

Human Rights

The promotion of democracy is one of the core themes in the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s international programmes. In collaboration with our courageous partners in many parts of the world, we are trying to widen the scope for political and social participation and emancipation. Specifically, we aim to strengthen civil society and democratically legitimate parliaments. We are trying to bolster women’s political and social rights, and we campaign against the discrimination and criminalisation of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to the norm, that is: LGBTI.

Initiatives against shrinking spaces

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A Keynote on the Civic Charter at its Launch at the Global Perspectives Conference on 26th October 2016 in Berlin.

Numerous non-governmental organisations and networks have worked on a discussion paper about the restrictions for civil society all over the world.

Repression of civil society is on the rise all over the world. The charter aims to support civil society organizations as activists throughout the world, to advocate for their rights and freedom of action, and to demand government guarantees.

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Civil society space is under attack worldwide. In her welcoming speech to the Global Perspectives Conference, Barbara Unmüßig urged 160 representatives of civil society organisations from around the globe to stand in solidarity with each other and to put the issue of shrinking and closing spaces back on the political agenda.

Introduction

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An analysis carried out by CIVICUS indicates that in far too many countries and in all global regions the conditions for civil society work and activities has worsened. Some of the solutions to this problem could be taken by civil society itself.

Fewer and fewer governments in the North, the South, and the East feel bound by established international law that guarantees and protects freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of organization. We have to remind them of this, constantly and vehemently.
Barbara Unmüßig
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State repression against non-governmental organizations is increasing globally. In this interview, Barbara Unmüßig calls for a reconceptualisation of solidarity with civil society and puts the issue of shrinking and closing spaces at the very top of the political agenda.

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The repression of civil societies activites in countries like Egypt and Russia are justified with the "protection of the states sovereignity" and the "principle of non-intervention". When unwelcomed critique is silenced, activists need all our solidarity and support.

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United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, explains in this interview with Christine Meissler why he will never give up fighting for democracy and human rights.

Shrinking Spaces: In many fields civil societies' activities are restricted

Especially organisations and activists engaging in environmental protection, equality or LGBTI rights are under threat. The limitations are visible on different levels - be it with the disconnection of certain web sites or the participation in international processes.

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The NGO Global Witness documents 185 known deaths of environmental activists worldwide in 2015 - the highest annual death toll on record. Claudia Rolf spoke to one of the authors of the report, Billy Kyte.

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Civil society organisations can be a vanguard of progress for the LGBTI community. Despite the growing number of laws and policies impeding LGBTI advocacy, activists and organisations successfully challenge these trends.

Under pressure: In many countries civil socities are beeing squeezed out

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The civil society in Egypt is facing a disastrous suppression and realignment by the government. By returning to normal foreign policy operations this weakening condition for civil society could be even strengthened.

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In Pakistan NGOs face harsh restrictions and human rights activists risk imprisonment and harrasment. It is important that the government recognizes the role of civil society and promotes a culture of cooperation and trust.

Egypt, Cambodia and Russia are just a few examples on how governments globally are taking extreme actions against civil society activists. Our articles illustrate where the spaces for civil society action are shrinking.

Five years after the iconic “18 Days of Tahrir” and three years after the overthrow of the first freely elected president the situation of Egypt's civil society is precarious: An estimated 40.000 activists languish in Egyptian prisons for political reasons, often without a verdict.
Janis Grimm

Interview with Emin Milli, journalist and director at Meydan TV

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The hostile environment created by the government makes the work of civil society actors practically impossible. To be a human rights activist in Macedonia is to be a person that is constantly threatened, attacked, and demonized.

For your further reading

Across the world, activists, social movements and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are facing verbal hostility from politicians, new laws and regulations that curtail their ability to operate, and outright violence. Africa is no exception.

Without civic engagement and participation, democratization cannot succeed. This publication sheds light on the complex mechanisms of shrinking spaces in the Western Balkans, provides analyses, and develops adequate countermeasures.

Creator: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

With the publication “For democracy” and this online-dossier, we analyze the state of democracy worldwide as well as the possibilities of democracy assistance. At the same time, we provide insights into the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s political work for democracy.

Creator: Gabriella Csoszo. All rights reserved.

Our dossier on Hungary is as a forum for critical voices since the right-wing government came to power in April 2010. The contributions reflect the socio-political changes as well as long-term developments.