By Abubacarr Saidykhan, Dakar- Senegal
At the 11th Edition of the World Social Forum in Dakar- Senegal, within the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University and at the section responsible for the faculty of Science- Economy, a civil society organisation, CIVICUS, an International alliance dedicated to strengthening citizens’ action and civil society throughout the world organised a workshop for civil society members to discuss the way forward for the civil society and human right Defenders in all African countries.
In a presentation during the gathering, it was informed that the last few years and especially in 2009 and 2010 have been particularly hard for civil society and human right defenders. It is said that negative global trends that began soon after 9/11 have come to a head as governments continued to encroach on fundamental freedoms through harsh security measures and other legal and policy restrictions.
As highlighted by the civil society watchdog groups in the session, the UN human rights bodies and other close observers confirmed that the trend began soon after the 9/11 when the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 call on all UN member states to take concrete steps to tackle terrorism. The delegates believe that the intention behind the resolution to protect innocent civilians and state structures from mindless acts of terrorism may have been sound, but the negative consequences on fundamental freedoms, including the rights of civil society actors have been devastating as governments used the climate of fear to dilute civil liberties, reduce personal privacy, lower trial standard and restrict the free movement of people across borders. Moreover, the delegates believed that the ability of citizens and civil society to express democratic dissent has been severely curtailed through a clampdown on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the global north as well as the south.
Speaking on behalf of his organisation, David Kode, the Policy Officer for CIVICUS: World Alliance For Citizen Participation in South Africa, who gave an overview of the whole discussion said, CIVICUS has experienced a trend over the years which is dangerous. She said there is an attack on civil society organisations in many ways in Africa. He said there are six major ways in which Governments attack on civil organisations in their promulgations of laws and regulations. He said intimidation and harassment of human right activists was one of the ways used by governments to get rid of civil society organisations. He said the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also assured them of the importance of the role played by civil society organisations despite the threats involved.
Megan MacGarry Convening Officer for CIVICUS International in Johannesburg South Africa noted that many things are getting worse for civil society members in Africa. She said there are lots of evidence that clearly show the difficulties encountered by civil society activists. She said in India the fundamental rights of her people are controlled by the Government; adding that they need real laws to make their work smooth.
Bhekinkosi Moyo the Program Director of Trust Africa from South Africa and base in Senegal, who talked about the Civil Society Role in Africa , said the main role of the civil societies is to see the issues of democratic governance. He said as civil society campaigners, they understand the whole issues of harassment before starting the campaign. He said the attack on the civil organisation is not only done by government, but also private society. He said it is unfortunate that our brothers as our own government officials used most of these undemocratic intimidations against us in our own countries.
He said right to association, assembly and to expression are all rights that need not to be registered before operations, noting that having an open society in any country is of a paramount interest. He said the role of journalists, Human right Defenders is to call on government to be accountable and also to be transparent in issues that are directly dealing with the lives of the people. He said many governments see the civil society as a threat to government functions; noting that there should be always dialogue between these two groups.