CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

Posts Tagged ‘Bahrain’

Press Statement: CIVICUS condemns crackdown on Civil Society in Bahrain

Posted by civilsocietyindex on December 13, 2010


Johannesburg. 10 December 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply concerned about the deteriorating operating environment for civil society in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The past few months have been marred by growing intolerance towards dissenters, which began in the run up to the October elections and continues in the post election phase.

Authorities in Bahrain are waging a relentless campaign against activists whose views are not in line with the official position. Currently, 24 prominent human rights defenders are facing trial under Bahrains anti-terrorism laws. They have been charged with collaborating with foreign organisations and circulating false information. They have also been accused of forming terrorist networks, destruction of public and private property and defaming the authorities.

The arrested activists have complained about torture and abuse meted out to them by the National Security Agency. They have so far appeared in court on four occasions and the next hearing has been scheduled for 23 December. During their first appearance in court on 27 October, detainees informed the court that while in detention they were beaten, electrocuted, verbally and physically assaulted and denied adequate sleep. Those detained were not allowed access to legal representation during interrogation and some family members did not know where they were being detained for two weeks after their arrest. It has also been reported that prior to, during and after the elections about 350 other activists have been arrested.

In a worrying trend, it has become commonplace in Bahrain to arrest activists for writing articles and delivering speeches which are critical of the governments discriminatory policies and official corruption, said Netsanet Belay, CIVICUS Director of Policy and Research. Persecution and torture of public-spirited individuals offering legitimate criticism against official policies and the clampdown on their organisations amounts to a repudiation of Bahrains accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture.

The Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), a CIVICUS partner for the Civil Society Index and one of the few remaining independent groups striving for the protection of civil and political freedoms in the country, has been targeted in the recent crackdown. On 6 September, the Ministry of Social Development issued an order to dissolve the Board of the BHRS and went ahead to appoint an administrator  an employee from the Ministry  to lead the BHRS. The BHRS has had to go to court in response to these arbitrary actions and its fate currently depends on the courts response. The first hearing of the case scheduled for 26 October has been postponed to 4 January 2011.

According to Abdullah Aldorazi of BHRS, the unfair order issued by the Ministry of Social Development to dissolve the Board of the BHRS is a security strategy aimed at preventing the documentation of atrocities carried out by the authorities during the crackdown and preventing families of the detainees from using the society as a safe haven.

CIVICUS urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to live up to their commitments under international law and guarantee civil society the space to freely express, associate and assemble.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) Project of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.


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Small states: why assessing civil society matters

Posted by civilsocietyindex on October 6, 2010

– By Mark Nowottny, CSI Project Coordinator –

In 2003-2006, the Civil Society Index was implemented in Cyprus, just one of the world’s 45 small states (World Bank). In the 2008-2010 phase, the Index is now being implemented in three: Bahrain, Cyprus, Malta. According to the World Bank and the Commonwealth, who have led much of the world’s international development work in small states, it is difficult to precisely define ‘small states’, although a threshold of 1.5 million people has become the usual benchmark. No single criteria, however, whether in geography, population, or economy, can necessarily definitively capture the nature of ‘smallness’, and others are often interchangeably included in work on small states (for example, the Commonwealth includes Jamaica, Lesotho, Namibia and Papua New Guinea in some groupings).

Development, we are often told, is about people. No wonder then that international development discourses – and the money of international NGOs and bilateral agencies – have tended to align themselves with the problems of countries where the millions reside. The 20 million people of the 45 small states represent just 0.4% of the population of developing countries worldwide (World Bank).

In recent years, the discourses of international development have started to be kinder to small states, particularly because a large number of them are also islands. The spectre of climate change threatens to overwhelm low-lying states in the Caribbean and Pacific, and the self-pronounced threat of Maldives’ obliteration has turned from irrational fear to international cause celebre.

Nevertheless, few other interventions have sought to confront the more negative afflictions of ‘smallness’. In the Pacific, thousands migrate to New Zealand, only to find themselves without job, without social inclusion, and without family. Left behind are island societies gutted of their best talent, drained of their brain. In the Caribbean, American television, music, films and values are broadcast across the few miles of sea that lies between, while local artists and cultural producers struggle to create a space for the young and restless to look at the here and to look at the now, and to make peace with the idea of remaining in – and building – their small island.

These themes – these challenges – that confront the millions of citizens in small states are timeless, and precede the trends and language of international development. Frantz Fanon, Marcus Garvey and Aime Cesaire knew of them when they wrote of the face of post-colonial smallness which was more akin to mental slavery. Earl Lovelace, perhaps more sympathetically, explored the way it made those in his beloved Trinidad and Tobago think and act. In Belize, thinkers like Assad Shoman and Evan Hyde understood that the newly independent country had to take possession of its own history and reflect on its own unique problems, not look at them in the light of other countries’ very different experiences.

In these small states, it might be initially hard to see why assessing civil society matters. Certainly, the numbers do not demand it. From a research perspective, what use anyway is an accurate empirical picture of civil society in a country where there are few donors ready to change the way they spend their few pennies?

An example of active citizenship in Cyprus: the Volunteer Network Project [Management Centre]

For the CSI, it matters because the project can offer a space for reflection, and for looking inward on the state of active citizenship. In focus groups, in surveys, and in the National Workshops, the Civil Society Index offers one small space – not enough by itself, but a start – for civil society to come together to reflect on what it is doing, what it looks like, where the challenges lie, and also where the opportunities and commonalities are. These spaces for national conversations exist more rarely than one might think. Just as a picture, a song, a film, or a dance can open a window for citizens into their own realities and world, so can a forum for reflection give space for citizens to look at their actions, the effect of these actions, and where they must go in the future.

Across the Caribbean, the Pacific and the small states of the world, citizens must play an active part in confronting their own unique challenges: climate change, small-scale import economies, crime and lack of social cohesion, brain drain and, finally, cultural anomie in the face of the potential for local cultural production. The solutions might just be there: making the most of a voice on the global diplomatic stage, concerning new technologies and the creative economy, and cultural policies.

Governments and international development actors will not step up to these challenges, and will certainly not do so alone. But citizens in small states – perhaps more than anywhere else – are capable of changing the domestic paradigms of development and the national discourses of social justice to suit their own realities better. To do so, they may just need to make more use of forums offering the space for internal reflection and the opportunity to move towards being at ease with oneself. Tools such as the Civil Society Index, led by and for civil society, can perhaps be one such weapon in their arsenal.

– Mark Nowottny –

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