Why are our civil society on attack?

Why are our civil society on attack?

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of peaceful assembly and association is a right that every individuals  have to come together forming an association for or not a lucrative goal.  The special rapporteur on the same rights for the United Nations point it out loud and make stresses on the fact that even seeking and utilizing funds should be enjoyed as a right for these associations.  “The freedom of association necessarily includes the right to freely seek, receive and use resources. The right to access resources is also referred to as “To ensuring that associations –registered and unregistered – can seek, receive and use funding and other resources from natural and legal persons, whether domestic, foreign or international, without prior authorization or other undue impediments, including from individuals; associations, foundations or other civil society organizations; foreign Governments and aid agencies; the private sector; the United Nations and other entities.”

Is this the case?

In some African countries, these rights are protected and whoever infringes them is punished by the law whereas in other countries these rights are violated. The world Movement for Democracy hosted a series of online forums with civil society organizations and activists across Africa and Asia to discuss at what extent those rights are protected. In some cases countries around the globe block civil society from seeking, accessing and utilizing funds from foreign donors. For example in Egypt, civil society groups require advanced government approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity to receive foreign funding. The Ministry penalizes anyone who accepts foreign funds to conduct activities deemed harmful to Egypt’s national interests and security.“Yes there has always been attach on the CSOs in Ethiopia, the charities and societies Agency has shoot down more than 200 NGOs for non compliance with the Charity and Societies Proclamation and for lack of funds. Many of the NGOs that were shoot down because of lack of funds had experienced restrictions to access funds from foreign benefactors.” said an activist from Ethiopia where income from foreign sources may amount to no more than 10% of the total organizational income.

“In normal circumstances, our governments do not impose any restrictions on the right to access resources; they can only do so in order to preserve national security.” Said a civil society actor from Kenya continued “However, in some countries, civil society is under more aggressive attack than at any time in recent memory. Facing independent civic groups that have further reach, and more outlets to publish their findings and make their case, governments are concentrating their efforts to silence them by depriving them of their right to seek funding abroad, even when domestic funds are unavailable. “

Why are our civil society on attack?

“restrictions are there, some organizations in my country were shutdown on the pretext that they should be political parties not NGOs and others were forced to close because they did not have a clear way to access financial resources to implement their activities. In Zimbabwe when your organization is not involved in any political act even advocacy… you are free to operate”

There have been many arguments responding to this question from governments. Counterterrorism and anti-Money laundering efforts necessitate increased scrutiny over international money transfers. This is based on the presumption that terrorist organizations are especially inclined to use CSOs as cover for illicit transfers. Aid effectiveness, transparency and accountability are enhanced by limiting international funding of CSOs. The presumption being that much of the international funding for CSOs is “wasted” on administrative costs and does not reach beneficiaries. Civil society sustainability is enhanced when CSOs are forced to rely on domestic resource mobilization, rather than being dependent on international donors. State sovereignty and protection against external interference in domestic affairs necessitates that a government maintain control over the flow of resources across its borders. International donor support to activists working towards changing official policies is viewed as especially pernicious

What is the way forward?

Education and capacity building of CSOs on their right to access resources is the most adequate tool to advocate for civil society on issues relative to the access to resources. “CSOs needs to know well their rights and governments their obligations towards CSOs, for this to be possible, all parties have to be educated on the same lever about the right to access resources. The right to access resources is a concept that requires further evaluation and more in-depth discussions to determine its parameters and identify strategies to counter existing restrictive laws that prevent civic spaces from thriving.