Squeezed – Space 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 oranise 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.

Dossier: For Democracy

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.

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.

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.

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In many regions of the world the freedom of the Internet is just an illusion. Especially in Arab countries, the neighbouring states of Russia and Subsahara-Africa the year 2015 marked the lowest point for democratic participation and civil liberties.

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Close on the heels of the UN adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 the HABITAT III conference offers the international community a timely opportunity to revisit and revision its commitments to putting human rights at the heart of sustainable urban development. The global context is adverse, marked by growing inequity, rising levels of homelessness and landlessness, forced migration, environmental degradation and climate change.

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.

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

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Russian NGOs are under pressure: They are hindered in their work with laws and checks by the authorities, paralyzed and driven to close down. External support is not only helpful, but vital.

Interview with Emin Milli, journalist and director at Meydan TV

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