Over a week ago – on April 3 – Brunei, the tiny South East Asian kingdom on the island of Borneo, announced its citizens would face the full force of the Shariah law.
As the first anniversary of the swearing on Ethiopia’s Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed rolled around last week, Ethiopians – and observers worldwide – marvelled at the pace and scale of radical reform he has brought to the formerly repressed country in the past year.
Counterterrorism measures are not only affecting extremist groups, but are also impacting a crucial sector for peace and security in the world: civil society.
Sometimes a peak into the future reminds us just how stuck we are in the past and present.
It was the talk of the Middle East’s largest annual media industry gathering: a robot journalist – the region’s first – that wowed some 3,000 industry leaders and practitioners at the Arab Media Forum (AMF) in Dubai recently.
The civic space in several African countries, including Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, Sudan, Mozambique, Somalia and Eritrea, is gradually shrinking – and mostly under authoritarian leaders and repressive regimes.
It is an incredible privilege to welcome you all to the ‘International Civil Society Week’. I am going to remind us of the reasons that make it so important for us to be here in Belgrade this week.
“Stay safe. There’s no story worth dying for.”
That’s the message to journalists from Nada Josimovic, programme coordinator of Amsterdam-based media rights organisation Free Press Unlimited.
Anti-government protesters invading
Serbia’s state-owned television station, demanding that their voices be heard. Journalism bodies writing to the Albanian prime minister over plans to censor online media outlets. A Belgrade corruption-busting reporter forced to flee his house that had been torched; a Montenegrin investigative journalist shot in the leg outside her home.
The murder of Brazilian politician and human rights activist Marielle Franco just over a year ago and attacks on other rights activists around the world have galvanised civil society organisations, with the United Nations heightening its own strategy to protect rights defenders.
A former UN Secretary-General, the late Kofi Annan, once described civil society organizations (CSOs), as “the world’s new superpower” – perhaps ranking behind the US and the former Soviet Union.
Around the globe, cyberspace has become the new battleground in the fight for the heart and soul of democracy. And Southeast Asia is fast becoming one of the global hotspots where the screws are being tightened on freedom of expression online.
As it paves a destructive path against international institutions and multilateralism, the Trump administration is slowly but steadily undermining the United Nations and its affiliated agencies.
Amid rising attacks on rights campaigners, and mass protests in countries such as France and Serbia, civil society groups are urging governments to ensure the protection of “democratic values” and freedom of expression.
When the one-year anniversary of Malaysia’s historic presidential election outcome rolls around in early May, the wave of euphoria that followed it will be all but a wistful memory.
Faced with an uneven battle against right wing nationalist governments, repressive regimes and extremist groups, scores of civil society organizations (CSOs) are gearing themselves to fight back.
“I never thought it would get so big and I think it is amazing.”
The words of a 16-year-old Swedish teenager who skipped school to protest outside her government’s inaction on climate change. Greta Thunberg is marvelling at how, in just a few short months, her solitary protests outside Sweden’s parliament, have inspired and united hundreds of thousands of young people and others across the globe into a powerful, growing grassroots movement for climate change action.
They are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, brothers, friends. But for me they are extraordinary people – the ones who have the courage to stand up for everyone else’s rights.
They are the human rights defenders.
The widespread political repression in countries such as the Philippines, Egypt and Saudi Arabia-- and rising right-wing nationalism in the US, Brazil, Italy, India, Poland and Hungary-- have increasingly triggered attacks on human rights and civil society organisations (CSOs).