Governments silence activists' voices, says ACT Alliance report

July 13, 2011

Geneva, July 13 (ENInews)--Harsh restrictions on the freedom of human
rights organizations are on the rise and the threats include intimidation,
persecution and even murder of staff and activists, according to a report
released on 8 July by Geneva-based ACT Alliance.

The report, called "Shrinking Political Spaces," recounts extreme cases of
repression in countries ranging from Brazil, India, Indonesia, Peru and
Malawi to Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Zimbabwe, according to
a news release from ACT Alliance, an association of 111 churches and
church-related organizations that work in humanitarian assistance and development
in 140 countries.

In an increasing number of countries, social struggle is deemed a criminal
offence. "This is about local people working for human rights and their
survival. Governments must stop seeing civil society as a threat," said ACT
advocacy officer Suvi Virkkunen.

The report says that repressive governments are increasingly hindering or
even halting the work of organizations through campaigns of restriction,
prosecution and harassment. Even under democratic governments, such as those
of India or Brazil, organizations find it more and more difficult to fulfil
their mandate. Discussions about topics likely to antagonise some
governments, such as justice, land rights or minority rights, are often demonised
or stigmatised.

ACT Alliance general secretary John Nduna says ACT is pushing for change
through two channels: the UN human rights system, which has a new special
rapporteur on freedom of assembly, and petitioning donor governments to make
sure organizations are included in talks with their governments on where
and how they operate. 

"The hypocrisy is that some donor governments talk about the importance of
civil society and human rights, development and ownership but at the same
time can see that the space for actors trying to work is just not there.
Where is the action to counter that trend?" says Nduna.

ACT recently took these views to a meeting in Cambodia that set standards
for the minimum political and social freedoms civil organizations need to
function. The talks set the stage for a high-level meeting in South Korea in
November, at which governments, UN and civil society will be asked to
agree to these principles.