The Enemy Within: Civil Society at Bay

Among the more surprising developments in 21st-century politics are the reversals experienced by civil society, once regarded as an irresistible force in the global struggle for democracy. 

The growing offensive against civil society is in many respects a tribute to the prominent role that NGOs have come to play in the political life of most countries. An active civil society is often seen as a formidable threat to a repressive or illiberal status quo. Civil society was the linchpin in the successful popular revolutions in Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia. In fact, civil society organizations frequently pose a greater threat to autocracy than do traditional opposition parties, which have proven relatively easy for determined strongmen to sideline, neutralize, or co-opt. Civil society movements, by contrast, are generally composed of younger activists, committed to a cause, more resilient, more agile, and less prone to corruption.

FORUM-ASIA Annual Report 2016

The report gives an overview of the work FORUM-ASIA has done in 2016 for the promotion and protection of human rights in the region. It features updates and activities from all programmes, a financial overview, and a map with all our member organisations in 2016, among other things.

Through this report, FORUM-ASIA hopes to give an insight to what we have done, and open the doors to further collaboration in the future. We would like to express our gratitude to our donors, members and partners, but most importantly all the human rights defenders, the people whose whose invaluable contributions have made FORUM-ASIA’s accomplishments possible.

Findings from the CIVICUS Monitor

According to new findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, just three percent of  people live in countries where space for civic activism - or civic space- is truly open. The first ever analysis of civic space covering all UN Member States shows people in 106 countries face serious threats when organising, speaking out and taking peaceful action to improve their societies. These rights are guaranteed by most national constitutions and enshrined in international  law. 

EENA Synthesis Report

The Enabling Environment National Assessment (EENA) is an action-oriented research tool designed to assess the legal, regulatoryand policy environment for civil society. The EENAs are designed to be locally-owned, rooted in primary data collected at the grassroots level, and validated by a consensus based, multi-stakeholder process with the dual purpose of strengthening the capacity of civil society to advocate for an enabling environment and improving CSO-government relations.

The research tool was designed by CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Center for Non-for-Profit Law (ICNL) under the Civic Space Initiative. Between 2013 and 2016 it has been implemented in 22 countries worldwide. The EENA is part of the Civic Space Initiative, implemented by CIVICUS in partnership with the ARTICLE19, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy, with support from the Government of Sweden.

2016: The Year In Assembly & Association Rights

The office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur has put out its annual report on the freedom of assembly and association worldwide. Detailing the tumultuous year, the report discusses closing spaces for civic engagement and retaliation against human rights defenders. People fundamentally need to engage in their societies, and they will continue to do that no matter what the cost – even if it means risking their safety, their liberty or even their lives.

The report also details places in which progress was palpable, illustrating just how powerful assembly and association rights can be in motivating change – and why people fight so hard to exercise these rights. Massive protests led to the ousting or impeachment of national leaders in Brazil, Iceland and South Korea. They also forced the governments of Turkey and Poland to withdraw regressive legislation on child sexual assault and abortion, respectively.

These stories and more are summarized in this report, Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai’s third and final “yearbook” of assembly and association rights – a year-end summary of the major developments of 2016, including important news events and the key activities of his mandate.

2016 ANNI Report on the Performance and Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), as the Secretariat of the Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI), has made available the report on the performance and establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia in 2016.

The 2016 ANNI Report primarily focuses on issues of independence and effectiveness of the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), looking also at the trend and level of engagement of the NHRIs with other stakeholders, such as civil society and parliament.

The publication serves as serve as a reference and advocacy tool for all stakeholders engaged in enhancing the role and functioning of NHRIs as public defenders and protectors of human rights on the ground.

Against All Odds

All over the world there is an evident growing backlash against activists and campaigners who ask for a fair use of their countries’ natural resources. In 2015 alone 185 activists fighting to protect the environment and for transparency in oil, gas and mining, have been killed, including the high profile death of Berta Cáceres in Honduras.

These activists are harassed, threatened, arrested and even killed for standing up for the rights of their fellow citizens. This is only getting worse. Women and indigenous peoples are especially at risk as they are already often economically and politically disenfranchised.

The report contains a series of case studies illustrating the different types of threats, from restrictive legislation, criminalisation, unwarranted surveillance to smear campaigns, tight control of public space and violence. 

Handbook on Combating Corruption

The purpose of this handbook is to provide the 57 OSCE participating States and 11 Partners for Co-operation with a reference guide on available legal tools, the latest legislative and policy trends, and pertinent measures and practices to prevent and suppress corruption. It is aimed at raising awareness of the range of international instruments available to national policymakers and anti-corruption practitioners, and assisting them in developing and implementing effective anti-corruption policies and measures, thereby reducing the possibilities for corruption, instability and transnational crime. The handbook is produced by the OSCE in collaboration with UNODC, OECD and GRECO and other partners.

Global Trends in NGO Law: Survey of Trends Affecting Civic Space: 2015-16

This issue of Global Trends examines key events at the regional and international levels that impacted the enabling environment for civil society during 2015-16. It also includes a brief look at some of the successes achieved by civil society during the same period. Finally, this report examines the primary ways in which civic space continues to be narrowed in many countries around the world.

Front Line Defenders: 2016 Annual Report

As the 2016 Annual Report documents, at least 156 human rights defenders were killed or died in detention in 2015. More than half of those killings, 87, took place in Latin America, with Colombia alone accounting for 54 killings. Outside the Americas one of the starkest figures was the total of 31 targeted killings of HRDs in the Philippines.

Breaking the Silence and Unlocking Barriers for Human Rights Protection in ASEAN: A report on the performance of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanisms in 2015

‘Breaking the Silence and Unlocking Barriers for Human Rights Protection in ASEAN’ is the sixth annual review of the performance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) human rights mechanisms produced by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Solidarity for ASEAN People’s Advocacies – Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR).

This report reviews both the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), on how they have implemented activities in relation to their mandates, their engagement with civil society organisations (CSOs), achievements and shortcomings. It shares general expectations from CSOs and other stakeholders in their engagement with the AICHR and the ACWC. The report concludes with key findings of the assessment and proposes recommendations for improvement to the AICHR, the ACWC and the ASEAN overall.

Global Witness Report: "Find the Facts, Expose the Story, Change the System"

Global Witness released a report, Find the Facts Expose the Story Change the System, that focuses on the world's worst environmental and human rights abuses that are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global. 

Closing Civil Society Space - Threat to World Bank's Mission and SDGs

Combating Corruption in Closing Spaces: Implications for Governance Panel Discussions

Lifeline Consortium partners Freedom House and ICNL coordinated a panel at the World Bank Annual Meeting, joined by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch, to highlight the suppression of journalists and civil society organizations (CSO) combating corruption and advocating for transparency and good governance. It discussed how the World Bank’s mission and the new Sustainable Development Goals can be leveraged to keep the space for civil society and media from closing further.

Useful information on this subject is also available from The Coalition for Human Rights in Development

Videos from the panel are below:

Dr. Robert Herman - Vice President for Emergency Assistance Programs and Multilateral Initiatives - Freedom House

Jessica EvansSenior Researcher/Advocate for International Financial Institutions – Human Rights Watch (Overview)


Dr. Courtney Radsch - Advocacy Director - Committee to Protect Journalists

Yoseph Badwaza- Sub-saharan Africa Program Officer - Freedom House - (Formerly Secretary General of Ethiopian Human Rights Council)

Dr. Claudia Escobar Currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow - National Endowment for Democracy - Judge in the Guatemalan Judicial System

Irene Petras - Legal Advisor-Africa - The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (Formerly of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights)

Report: UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association

From July 11 to July 27, Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association made an official visit to the United States. During his mission, the Special Rapporteur visited ten cities, including Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York City, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Ferguson, Phoenix, New Orleans, Jackson, and Baton Rouge. 

CIVICUS Brief: "Burundi on a Downward Spiral"

A recent policy action brief from CIVICUS details the ongoing political repression in Burundi and the potential for the conflict to escalate even further. As Pierre Nkurunziza continues to target representatives of civil society and crack down on suspected members of the political opposition, the country risks a return to the level of violence and human rights violations suffered during Burundi's civil war. In the brief, CIVICUS provides concrete recommendations and action points for all involved actors, including the international community, armed opposition groups, the government of Burundi, and civil society groups.



CIVICUS: State of Civil Society Report 2016

CIVICUS has released its 2016 State of Civil Society report, detailing the key events, issues, and trends affecting civil society around the world. This year's report's theme explores the issue of exclusivity and its impact on civil society activists. 

The report draws on contributions from over 30 civil society experts and includes investigative work from CIVICUS staff who conducted their research in partnership with hundreds of activists on the ground. 



Protection International: Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders Report

Protection International releases Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders report. 

"The report illustrates the interplay among legal instruments, socio-political contexts, practices by state authorities and non-state actors, which altogether ultimately contribute to stigmatise, delegitimise and criminalise HRDs. Counter-measures that may be adopted to combat criminalisation are also discussed in the report together with a number of concrete recommendations to HRDs, State authorities and justice institutions, as well as foreign governments, multilateral agencies, donors and civil society organisations."