Protecting Civic Space Report: CSOs Urged to Pursue Impact Litigation

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The African regional workshop on Protecting Civic Space November 17-18, 2014 University of Pretoria, South Africa

A high-level panel of CSO actors has called on civil society in Africa to pursue impact litigation to challenge restrictive laws in domestic and regional courts, conduct research on legal framework for civic space, foster inclusive coalitions, and diversify funding sources to decrease dependence on international donors in a new report.

Participants further urged the donor community to fund litigation and peaceful protests, include civil society in negotiations with governments, provide more core funding to CSOs, avail more technical assistance and capacity building, and adapt funding requirements in restrictive environments.

In pursuit of a key recommendation from the Civil Society for the US-Africa Leaders Summit  held on August 4th, 2014 during the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC , a workshop was held at the University of Pretoria, South Africa on 17th and 18th of November, 2014 leading up to the publication of a report from the workshop on protecting civic space in Africa.

The Africa regional workshop on protecting civic space was ably convened by the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) , CIVICUS , and the Community of Democracies  in cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai .

Attended by 48 participants from 14 countries in East, West, Central and Southern Africa, Chapter Four Uganda  was represented at the workshop by the Founder and Executive Director, Nicholas Opiyo . As a civil liberties organization, activities geared towards defending and opening up more civic space are fundamental to the founding aim.

Over the two days, the high-level workshop discussed key topics namely responding to constraints on freedom of assembly and expression, coalition-building and advocacy strategies, and issues pertinent to protecting civil society’s right to access resources.

On the constraints on freedom of assembly and expression, ICNL reported tracking more than 20 restrictive laws and regulations since 2012 in Sub-Saharan Africa. To tackle this challenge, participants engaged on law reform during which they highlighted the importance of other African states adopting the model of the Regulation of Gatherings Act of South Africa which provides that conveners of public gatherings are obligated to provide notice of the assembly but do not need authorization from any government agency.

This is not the case with Uganda’s Public Order Management Act and other repressive laws in other African states which require such conveners to access approval from government before proceeding with the assembly.

To achieve these legal reforms, participants proposed that civil liberties advocates need to monitor and document the implementation of laws on assembly and association to track any cases of rights violations. Where necessary, the need for the establishment of civilian review authorities should be explored.

Participants further noted the importance of litigation in challenging restrictive laws.  In this regard, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai offered to provide amicus briefs on international norms to support litigation aimed at defending civic space.

On coalition-building and advocacy strategies, the report notes that participants encouraged civil society to engage more in proactive advocacy rather than focusing solely on reactive advocacy to possibly avert looming crises.

The efforts by Chapter Four Uganda alongside East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)  and other civil society groups in the successful legal battle against Uganda’s homophobic Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014  was recognized and applauded.

On civil society’s right to access to recourses, participants noted that in the last two years, more governments in Africa have taken deliberate steps to restrict CSOs access to resources from international partners.

In this regard, they observed that access to resources by CSOs is a right and not a privilege. Although there may be justifications for certain restrictions in the face of terror threats and laws against anti-money laundering acts, participants strongly shared counterarguments to grounds that apparently provided justification for restrictions most notably that most justifications are illusionary and never ‘real’.

The details of the engagements, findings and recommendations from the workshop can be accessed in the published workshop report.

Downloads & Attachment

Africa Regional Workshop on Protecting Civic Space - Final Report