Civil society has been described as the oxygen of democracy by no less than UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. As the world’s largest democracy, India has a proud history of inspiring people’s movements and non-profit organisations looked up to by social change advocates across the globe.
South Africa celebrated human rights month this March with President Zuma recalling
the “heroism of our people who stood up for their rights.” However, this same month which commemorates the sacrifices of those who took part in the struggle against apartheid and those who died in the Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960 was not a happy one for today’s civil society activists and organisations engaged in defending human rights. Two shocking incidents raise troubling questions for the future of civil society in the country.
Whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden
and Julian Assange
are hounded – not by autocratic but by democratic governments – for revealing the truth about grave human rights violations. Nobel peace prize winner, writer and political activist Liu Xiaobo
is currently languishing in a Chinese prison while the killing of Egyptian protestor, poet and mother Shaimaa al-Sabbagh
, apparently by a masked policeman, in January this year continues to haunt us.
For those of us interested in a vibrant civil society, it seems to be best of times and the worst of times.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges
for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.
The killings of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, in Gaza – whose only fault was to have been born on the wrong side of the wall – was a major point of contention at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of July.
In December 2011, 159 governments and major international organisations recognised the central role of civil society in development and promised to create an “enabling” operating environment for the non-profit sector.
In the hope for a fairer deal on aid for the continent, African leaders are planning to present a unified position at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) in Busan, South Korea. Currently, discussions are underway between the African Union, New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and private sector and civil society representatives on how to improve the impact of aid for the most vulnerable and marginalised. The outcome of these discussions will then be taken to Busan in November this year as the 'African Consensus and Position on Development Effectiveness'.
Interestingly, the website of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization proudly proclaims "NATO Allies decided on March 27 to take on the whole military operation in Libya under UN Security Council Resolution 1973." This sole claim of ownership over a UN-sponsored mandate by a military alliance is indeed worrying and begs the question whether international precedents are being established here to conflate a multi-lateral UN force with a NATO force.