INCREASED REPRESSION OF CIVIL SOCIETY FREEDOMS, RIGHTS – ALARMING GLOBAL TREND - WOMEN
Civil society is being repressed by many alarming restrictions throughout the world, as laws that require registration, raids and forced closures of organizations, media, labor groups. Funding from abroad is increasingly monitored or forbidden. Peaceful rallies require advance approval or are met with military force. Violence against civilians has become rampant, including sexual violence. Women and men are arbitrarily arrested and held without due justice. Reporters and independent media are threatened, detained. Media is regularly censored or blocked, including social media. Extrajudicial arrests, violence, missing persons, can be especially insidious.
What does all this mean for women as we are encouraged to engage in the Post-2015 Development Goals?? As women are the largest number of poor, they may well not know about the restrictive laws and requirements until they are caught in the web of harassment as at a protest over a land dispute. Women rarely have money to have strong legal representation, access to courts. Women in NGO’s may find their “lifeline” for activity cut because of foreign funds restrictions. Women also feel the trauma of these repressions when family members are targets of surveillance, threats, arrests.
Where can a woman feel totally safe in this complex world, where polarized power and profit seem to rule? In conflict countries, she is rarely at the peace table, and yet may be forced into displacement and lose all dear to her, see her life and family fragmented without security for the future.
Coercive practices by governments often are created without civil society knowledge and participation. These restrictions on free movement, gatherings, speech, media, organization functions, are often against democracy and even international law. But, do women trying to combat poverty, women not with power, clout, and leverage, have the tools and advocacy skills and experience to defend their rights, individually and collectively? Yet, as part of the women’s movement, this is our mandate: to be aware, to publicize, to offer good practices, to create coalitions, to prevent repression. Governments, even private sector or international financial institutions, do not want negative exposure, publicized evidence that they are violating human rights and social justice. We must persevere as women, for women, with women, to protect our rights, always and ever, everywhere! WUNRN
Repression of Civil Society in Cambodia Reflects an Alarming Trend Globally
By Clothilde Le Coz on Oct 11, 2015
Protesters rallied in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, this summer to vent frustration over a new law restricting civil society. ©LICADHO
PHNOM PENH — Accused of organizing an “insurrection” last year, nearly a dozen Parliament ministers from the political opposition were sentenced to prison terms from 7 to 20 years by a Phnom Penh court this summer. The charge stemmed from demonstrations held in July 2014, rallying the opposition to end the national ban on public gatherings.
In a joint statement published right after the sentencing, 13 civil society organizations working in Cambodia condemned it.
Now civil society in Cambodia finds itself in serious jeopardy as the National Assembly and the Senate passed a law in July, blandly titled “Law on Associations and NGOs,” requiring all associations and nongovernment organizations to register with the government and to be “politically neutral.”
Such a restriction is a violation of international human-rights law and could dry up modes of free expression and assembly in the country, a route that dozens upon dozens of other governments are taking as they squeeze the rights of civil society, including in China, Egypt, India and Russia, notably. It’s a list of nations that the United Nations human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said has grown far too long to compile.
In some countries, the notion of the public standing up for its rights is nonexistent. But the phenomenon of restricting civil society is not relegated only to repressive societies. In Britain, for example, surveillance of the rights group Amnesty International has become public knowledge; in the United States, mass surveillance by the government in the name of counterterrorism continues to be hotly debated.
How new and expanding restrictive laws, which have been promoted by countries for a wide range of reasons, play out will depend on a country’s politics. But few of the groups affected by the laws are welcoming the changes.
Yet bright spots prevail, not only in the open-minded model of Norway, for example, but also in the public’s use of social media and litigation. Amnesty International, for one, is widening its regular constituency to draft new supporters in Brazil, India and Mexico and other countries.
As Thomas Carothers, an expert on civil society at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in an interview with PassBlue, small and large groups can create a variety of counternarratives to protect human rights and rule of law when these liberties are being suppressed or taken away.
Such suppression, however, acts in insidious, minute ways. In Cambodia, the new registration law was enacted in August; less than a week later, a representative for 69 families involved in a land dispute in the central region of the country was asked by the local police force to register the families with the Ministry of Interior before the group could continue action on its claim.
Forced registration with the Cambodian Ministry of Interior presents a broader problem, says the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, a leading organization that defends universal human-rights principles. Chak Sopheap, the director, said, “Cambodian authorities are more concerned about silencing critical voices, rather than building on those to create a better country.”
Civil society in Cambodia is fighting the new law. As a member of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, a consortium regulating ethics and professionalism in the development sector, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights is part of a campaign called Stop & Consult to resist enactment of the law.
“We will continue exercising our role of watchdog, no matter the new challenges that [the law] will impose,” Chak Sopheap said in an interview. The center receives money from the European Union, the US Agency for International Aid (USAID) and the Open Society Foundations.
Legally, the Cambodian Constitution requires the regulation of nongovernment organizations, but that doesn’t mean it is viable internationally.
David Moore, the vice president of legal affairs with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, based in Washington, D.C., confirmed that “a compulsory registration requirement — especially one that is backed up by criminal penalties for unregistered groups — is a direct violation of international law.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia signed in 1992, Moore emphasized, recognizes that freedom of association includes the right to work freely without government consent.
According to the Washington center, more than 60 countries have proposed or passed restrictions to block civil society organizations from working freely. In the last decade, this trend has been affecting state-citizen relations negatively, Moore noted. Other experts say that censorship and blocking social media or graver acts like “disappearances” of human-rights defenders or killing journalists reaches far beyond 60 nations.
“These legal measures shrink the available legal space for civil society,” Moore added. “As others have noted, strong, stable countries need strong, stable civil societies. Legal impediments against civil society will eventually weaken not only independent CSOs [civil society organizations], but the country itself by undermining the ability to solve problems.”
Just think about the repercussions of such restrictions, said Maina Kiai, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
“The simple fact of joining with your fellow citizens to pursue a cause as a group makes you criminals, unless you register in advance,” Kiai said. “This is a clear violation of international law, and it lacks common sense. It’s frankly none of the government’s business, which is why freedom of association is a fundamental right.”
No government likes criticism, but Kiai also said that “a government isn’t really democratic unless it submits itself to open, honest and sometimes blunt criticism from the people it governs. Otherwise it’s just playing at democracy.”
Being required to show political neutrality is a main concern of nonprofit groups under the Cambodian law, as it has become recently for many foreign nonprofit groups operating in Russia, like the MacArthur Foundation, which has departed the country. When Cambodia started to consider drafting its law in 2010, nongovernment groups detected that it would confer excessive powers to government officials, building obstacles to the registration of organizations.
Restrictive registration laws can work against civil society in more internal ways, like weeding out stronger organizations and associations from lesser ones, encouraging them to compete with one another more for space in their environment.
It’s all about a country keeping control in coercive and other ways. Thomas Carothers, the director of the democracy and rule of law program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has written extensively on the undermining of civil society internationally.
In his 2014 report, written with Saskia Brechenmacher, “Closing Space: International Support for Democracy and Human Rights Under Fire,” it notes that “Allowing international aid actors some leeway to carry out democracy and rights programs within their borders has typically been a way for semiauthoritarian governments to burnish their image abroad. But increasingly, when they come under stress, governments close the tap on that assistance.”
Billy Chia-Lung Tai, an independent human-rights consultant who works with Cambodian grassroots groups, looks at the situation in his country more specifically.
“Stating [that] the government feels civil society has too much freedom is a speculation,” he said. “The Cambodian government never engages with NGOs or CSOs. They let international donors do so. But they realized that CSOs can be dangerous, because they have developed many grassroots movements in the past decade.”
Indeed, most aid money to nonprofit groups can come with strings attached, so some governments contend that outside foreign entities threaten a country’s sovereignty.
Yet civil society can find ways to work around or oppose new restrictions. Carothers advised groups to use “alternative narratives” as to who the groups are and what they do. “Public image is often not very good,” he said, about grassroots entities, who are often viewed as troublemakers. So one approach could be to “invest more in public relations to position better themselves in society” when a group comes under pressure.
“It’s kind of a new thing, exploring counternarratives; people are talking a lot about it, how to change how they describe themselves,” he said.
Other nongovernment groups are trying to “forge effective coalitions,” Carothers said, aiming to develop stronger local partners or getting foreign funders to work with rich individuals in the country, he said. Some organizations are also forming informal coalitions to resist legislative changes. This approach, he said, “sometimes works, like in Kenya, but not in others.”
In Kenya, a new regulatory and administrative framework for nongovernment organizations is expected to come into force. Called the Public Benefits Organizations Act of 2013, it provides that a new body, to be called the Public Benefits Organizations Regulatory Authority, be established, but its implementation was halted when the government sought to amend the law to restrict external funding of NGOs.
The law states that every organization registered under the Act shall have the freedom to join in association with other organizations as desired. Anne Waiguru, who heads the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning in Kenya, told the press that the Act “contain[s] impeccable regulations for the sector,” and civil society is urging the government to allow the Act in its current form. A coalition of 40 nongovernment organizations recently managed to postpone the adoption of new amendments, stating in a declaration that they would create mistrust between them and the government.
Such direct dialogue with governments can indeed work. Emilie Domzee, a program manager for Ariadne, a private network that connects European donors and foundations supporting social change and human rights, said that “several coalitions have been created in the past 10 years to try and counter this threat against civil society and find more appropriate solutions.”
Working with regional and international institutions, such as the UN, is one prescription, though broadening the democratic sphere “takes time,” she said.
WUNRN ASKS – HOW WILL RUSSIAN WOMEN’S NGO’S COPE WITH THESE ADDITIONAL RESTRICTIONS, LIMITS ON FOREIGN FUNDING, NETWORKING WITH FOREIGN WOMEN’S & HUMAN RIGHTS NGO’S?
Russia – Legislation Further Restricts NGO’s - Gives Authorities Power to Shut Down Foreign & International Organizations in Russia – Curbs on NGO Funds from Abroad – Gender Impact?
Thomas Grove – May 25, 2015
MOSCOW—New restrictions signed into law over the weekend by President Vladimir Putin give Russian authorities the power to shut down foreign-backed groups deemed “undesirable,” in a step activists say is likely to further pressure the country’s beleaguered civil society.
The new law allows any foreign or international NGO to be shut down and introduces cash fines, restrictions on movement or jail time of up to six years for those who violate it. It builds on a law passed in 2012 that branded groups as “foreign agents” for their supposed political activities as well as funding they received abroad. About 60 organizations have been officially listed in that category.
The term “undesirable” hasn’t been widely used in Russia before, and in the legislation it is only vaguely defined, leaving room for broad interpretation. Critics of the law said that lack of a clear definition will allow for abuse. The new law is the latest step in what rights groups say is the Kremlin’s policy of clamping down on critical voices, some of whom have been accused of being pawns in a Western plot to repeat a Ukraine-style revolution in Russia.
Pavel Chikov, head of a group that provides legal services to nongovernmental organizations, said Monday that the new law increases the scope and severity of the foreign-agent law, which has sent authorities to the doorsteps of numerous rights organizations, including Amnesty International and groups probing the alleged deaths of Russian troops in Ukraine.
“The law allows the forbidding of any social and political activity once it is declared an ‘undesired’ organization, and those who continue to work can be sent to prison,” said Mr. Chikov, whose own group, Agora, has been declared a foreign agent.
“Most of all, this is about rights-advocacy organizations, ecologists and all other groups that champion liberal values, because the Kremlin considers them a risk to the current political regime,” he added.
Lawmakers who introduced the bill, which was passed quickly in three readings with little debate, said when it was first brought before parliament last year that it was meant to prevent outside forces from instigating a violent overthrow of the government.
“It is unacceptable that one of our foreign organizations would have the ability to distribute weapons as was the case in Ukraine,” said lawmaker Anton Ishchenko, speaking to a Russian newspaper at the time.
Lawmaker Vitaly Zolochevskiy wrote a letter to Russia’s chief prosecutor Yuriy Chaika requesting him to probe five of Russia’s top international rights groups. The letter, which was uploaded to his Facebook page, asked for checks on whether the likes of Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Russia’s oldest rights group Memorial fit the criteria for closure under the new law.
Russia’s human rights commissioner Ella Pamfilova said the lack of court proceedings or clarity over the criteria of what constitutes an undesirable organization under the new law may contradict the constitution.
“There are no clear legal criteria to determine the status of an undesirable foreign or international organization on the territory of the Russian federation,” she said in a statement on her Web page.
The U.S. quickly criticized the law, which allows prosecutors to declare an organization “undesirable” without court proceedings.
“We are concerned this new power will further restrict the work of civil society in Russia and is a further example of the Russian government’s growing crackdown on independent voices and intentional steps to isolate the Russian people from the world,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Tanya Lokshina, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said the law was aimed not at closing organizations down, so much as raising the stakes for Russians who want to work in groups that could be critical of the government.
Mr. Putin supported the foreign agent law after vote-monitoring group Golos cataloged numerous alleged voting violations during the 2010 parliamentary election. Anger at the irregularities sparked some of the biggest protests in Russia since Mr. Putin took over the presidency in 2000.
Pro-Kremlin media has run purported exposés on pro-democracy groups receiving money to inspire a revolution in Russia, like those that toppled Middle East and North African regimes during the Arab Spring.
OSCE – Organization for Security & Co-Operation in Europe - http://www.osce.org/fom/159081
OSCE Calls on President of Russia to Veto Newest Restrictive Law that Would Have a Negative Effect on Free Expression & Free Media
WUNRN ASKS: HOW ARE RUSSIA WOMEN’S & HUMAN RIGHTS NGO’S RESPONDING TO THESE RESTRICTIVE RUSSIAN LAWS THAT WOULD LIMIT FREE EXPRESSION, FREE MEDIA, RELATIONSHIPS WITH FOREIGN NGO’S, FOREIGN FUNDING, MANY HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVITIES, & WITH POTENTIAL FINES, CLOSURES, ARRESTS??
RIGA, 20 May 2015 – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ms. Dunja Mijatoviæ today said new restrictive laws in the Russian Federation would have a negative effect on freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism of opinions.
“The broad and imprecise wording of this legislation would impose serious restrictions on a wide-array of important democratic rights, including freedom of expression and media freedom,” Mijatoviæ said.
On 19 May, 2015, the Russia State Duma adopted a law which gives the Prosecutor General and his deputies the authority to declare foreign or international NGOs “undesirable”, which means they can be banned as a threat to the country’s constitutional order, defense or national security. On 20 May, the law was approved by the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly.
“I call on the President of the Russian Federation to veto this legislation in order to protect pluralistic debate,” Mijatoviæ said.
Among other things, the law:
Mijatoviæ noted concerns about the legislation raised by various local and international human rights organizations, including the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights under the President of the Russian Federation, which presented its critical expert opinion on the law in March.
In 2012 another restrictive law was adopted requiring NGO’s to register as “foreign agents” on the basis that they engage in political activity and receive foreign funding. It has had wide-reaching crippling effects for NGO’s working to protect and promote media freedom in Russia. The Representative issued public statements on this issue which are available at www.osce.org/fom/142391 and at www.osce.org/fom/100569.
RUSSIA – BILL PRESENTED IN PARLIAMENT TO CRIMINALIZE COOPERATION WITH FOREIGN ORGANIZATIONS – ADDITIONAL THREAT TO WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS WORK
Paris-Geneva, 19 January 2015 - The State Duma must drop the Bill on “undesirable foreign organisations” that will be debated on January 20, said the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders today. If adopted, the law will complement an already very restrictive legislative arsenal used to silence all forms of criticism against the regime in contradiction with international human rights instruments ratified by Russia and will allow authorities to ban legitimate human rights activities, though they are protected under international law.
On January 14, the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation recommended that the lower house pass a bill to ban “undesirable foreign organisations” in Russia and ban cooperation with them. The bill, presented initially by two members of Parliament, would allow the Prosecutor General’s Office, upon consultation with the Foreign Ministry and based on information provided by the interior and security agencies, to ban foreign and international organisations that “threaten the defence or security of the State” or “public order and health”.
“ Countless human rights NGOs and defenders have been criminalised by the authorities for allegedly threatening security or public order. We fear that these vague terms will again be used to criminalise legitimate human rights activities implemented by INGOs in Russia ”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “ A law that effectively criminalizes human contacts or institutional partnerships with other human rights actors is indeed unprecedented ”.
Russian organisations have become over the last decades a vital and proud part of a global movement participating in international meetings and sharing their knowledge, experience and advice in global human rights networks and federations. This law risks to isolate Russian activists and to break international solidarity and support.
Under the bill, the designation of a foreign or international organisation as undesirable would be followed by the closure of branch offices in Russia. It would also ban the distribution of information, including online.
Furthermore, individuals involved in the operation of an undesirable foreign or international organisation in Russia would be fined between 10,000 and 100,000 Rubles (185 – 1,850 Euros). And the employees of an undesirable organisation that continued to work in Russia could face criminal charges and fines ranging between 300,000 and 500,000 Rubles (5,560 – 9,260 Euros) or up to eight years in prison. If adopted, this measure would negatively impact the work of those who are members of international NGOs in Russia and will make it impossible for human rights defenders based abroad, should their organisation be registered as “unwanted”, to enter Russia.
The Observatory recalls that, if adopted, this bill would add to an already very restrictive legislation for civil society organisations further shrinking the space for freedom of association in the country. In 2012 the State Duma adopted a law that required NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they engaged in “political activity” and receive foreign funding. Because “foreign agent” can be interpreted only as “spy” or “traitor”, such label aims at discrediting NGOs and obstructing their working environment.
“ Following the adoption of the NGO law in 2012 which led to the registration of more than 30 prominent Russian NGOs as foreign agents and the closing down of 4 others, including FIDH member organisation ADC Memorial, it seems clear that this new bill will be used to ban the presence of international human rights NGOs in Russia. Slowly but surely, Putin is getting rid of all human rights organisations in the Russian Federation ”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.
The Observatory, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), therefore opposes the possible adoption of this bill on the strongest terms and calls for the State Duma to drop it.
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Subject: Russia - Tighter Laws Restrict NGO's, Foreign Funding - Impact on Women's NGO's?
RUSSIA - WOMEN'S NGO'S FACE EVEN MORE RESTRICTIONS ON IMPORTANT FOREIGN FUNDING
- NGOs working in Russia are facing more repression in the form of even tighter legislation on foreign funding as part of what some rights activists say is a concerted campaign to “liquidate” civil society in the country.
Under legislation proposed earlier this month in the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, NGOs receiving foreign funding could be registered as “foreign agent” without their consent.
The legislation would strengthen an existing law which forces such NGOs to register as “foreign agents” – a controversial term with cold war connotations which affected NGOs says makes it almost impossible for them to work with local partners or government bodies – or face stiff fines and possible jail sentences. The new proposals have met with stinging criticism from local rights activists who say they are part of a concerted plan by the Kremlin to stifle civil society.......
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Subject: Russia - Laws Restrict NGO's, Foreign Funding - Impact on Women's NGO's?
RUSSIA - LAWS RESTRICT NGO'S & PLACE LIMITS ON ASSOCIATION WITH FOREIGNERS AND FOREIGN FUNDING
Human Rights Watch:
http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/24/russia-worst-human-rights-climate-post-soviet-era - Website Link Includes Video.
Direct Link to Full 82-Page Report:
"Russian authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, begun a nationwide campaign of invasive inspections of nongovernmental organizations, harassed, intimidated, and in a number of cases imprisoned political activists, and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies."
"Two of the new laws - the "foreign agents" law and the "Dima Yakovlev law - clearly seek to limit, or even end, independent advocacy and other NGO work in Russia by placing new limits on association with foreigners and foreign funding..."
Moscow – The Russian government has unleashed a crackdown on civil society in the year since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency that is unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history.
The 78-page report, “Laws of Attrition: Crackdown on Russia’s Civil Society after Putin’s Return to the Presidency,”describes some of the changes since Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012. The authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, begun a nationwide campaign of invasive inspections of nongovernmental organizations, harassed, intimidated, and in a number of cases imprisonedpolitical activists, and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies. The report analyzes the new laws, including the so-called “foreign agents” law, the treason law, and the assembly law, and documents how they have been used.
“The new laws and government harassment are pushing civil society activists to the margins of the law,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government crackdown is hurting Russian society and harming Russia’s international standing.”
Many of the new laws and the treatment of civil society violate Russia’s international human rights commitments, Human Rights Watch said.
Several of the new laws seek to limit, or even end, independent advocacy by placing new, draconian limits on association with foreigners and foreign funding. The “foreign agents” law requires organizations that receive foreign funding and supposedly engage in “political activities” to register as “foreign agents.”Another law, adopted in December, essentially bans funding emanating from the United States for “political” activity by nongovernmental organizations, and bans groups whose work is “directed against Russia’s interests.” A third law, the treason law, expands the legal definition of treason in ways that could criminalize involvement in international human rights advocacy.
The report documents the nationwide campaign of intrusive government inspections of the offices of hundreds of organizations, involving officials from the prosecutor’s office, the Justice Ministry, the tax inspectorate, and in some cases the anti-extremism police, health inspectorate, and the fire inspectorate. The inspection campaign, which began in March 2013, was prompted by the “foreign agents” law.
Although many organizations have not received the inspection results, at least two have been cited for failing to register as “foreign agents,” and others have been fined for fire safety violations, air quality violations, and the like, Human Rights Watch said. Inspectors examined the groups’ tax, financial, registration, and other documents. In several cases they demanded to inspect computers or email. In one case, officials demanded that an organization prove that its staff had had been vaccinated for smallpox, and in another the officials asked for chest X-rays of staff to ensure they did not have tuberculosis. In yet another case, officials demanded copies of all speeches made at the group’s recent seminars and conferences.
“The government claims the inspections are routine, but they clearly are not,” said Williamson. “The campaign is unprecedented in its scope and scale, and seems clearly aimed at intimidating and marginalizing civil society groups. This inspection campaign can potentially be used to force some groups to end advocacy work, or to close them down."