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CIVIL SOCIETY UNDER ATTACK

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JOHANNESBURG, Dec 19 2007 (IPS) - In the last twelve months we have seen civil society organisations challenged by political threats to civil society\’s right to exist, by the need to improve its internal governance, and by the threats that face humankind, from climate change crisis to poverty and inequality, writes Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS: A World Alliance for Citizen Participation. In this article the author writes that in 2007 civil society found itself under attack in many countries around the world. In Ethiopia peaceful anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie are still in prison after 25 months on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. The verdict of their case is due on 24 December, 2007. In Burma (Myanmar) we saw a vicious state-sponsored crackdown on civil society expressing its right to assembly and expression. In Pakistan activists, lawyers, and campaigners were the victims of President Pervez Musharraf\’s imposition of emergency rule. Unfortunately these are not isolated cases but a few of many continuing attempts across the globe to clamp down on dissenting voices, often in the name of the \’war on terror\’. These are being waged increasingly through legislation to restrict civil society\’s legitimate work.

In 2007, civil society has found itself under attack in many countries around the world. In Ethiopia peaceful anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie are still in prison after 25 months on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. The verdict of their trial is due on 24 December, 2007. In Burma (Myanmar) we saw a vicious state-sponsored crackdown on civil society expressing its right to assembly and expression. In Pakistan activists, lawyers, and human rights campaigners were dealt a major setback in the form of President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule on November 3.

Unfortunately these are not isolated cases but a few of many continuing attempts across the globe to clamp down on dissenting voices, often in the name of the ‘war on terror’. These efforts are being waged increasingly through legislation that is intended to restrict civil society’s legitimate work. Let us hope and work for 2008 to be the year when this rollback of civil liberties ends and civil society is allowed its rightful space to flourish.

In addition to responding to these external challenges, in 2007 civil society sustained its consideration of its own internal governance structures. While polling has consistently indicated that people trust civil society leaders and organisations more than they trust business or government, it is essential that civil society continue to lead by example in accountability and transparency if it is to confront and monitor governments, international institutions, and corporations.

In this regard, it is a very encouraging development that by the end of 2007 nearly 60 organisations will have signed the International NGO Accountability Charter (launched in 2006), which outlines a common commitment to excellence, transparency, and accountability. Moreover, throughout 2007, workshops, meetings, and conferences were held as part of an ongoing process intended to create and improve civil society governance systems.

In the past year, civil society has also been challenged by a number of major problems currently affecting humankind as a whole. Issues like the climate change crisis and the prevalence of poverty and inequality continue to affect citizens in every area of their lives and, in turn, have a significant impact on the work and focus of civil society organisations. In 2007 civil society responded to many of these global issues with coordinated and successful campaigns and mobilisations. On October 17th the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), in partnership with the United Nations Millennium Campaign, mobilised more than 43.7 million people in more than 125 countries to take action against the structural causes of poverty and inequality. In addition, civil society organisations organised a series of coordinated and powerful events and advocacy initiatives around the world in conjunction with the December United Nations climate change meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

The developments of the past twelve months have highlighted how important it is for civil society to continue to confront external threats, to proactively improve its internal governance structures, and actively work to advocate and campaign for solutions to the major issues affecting humankind. In this context, there can be no doubt that the work of civil society for the purpose of building a more just world remains as relevant as ever, if not more so. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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