Stronger commitment needed to protect civil society space


ACT Alliance is this week raising an alarm over the increasing violation of the space for civil society to operate in Central America.

“The deteriorating situation for civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Central America in general, and in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in particular, is of major concern,” said John Nduna, ACT Alliance General Secretary.

Nduna was addressing the alliance’s forums in Honduras and in Central America upon the recent killing of indigenous rights defender, Bertha Cáceres in her hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras.

While the circumstances of Cáceres’ death are not yet clear, ACT Alliance is urging the Government of Honduras to take decisive action to ensure human rights defenders and civil society organisations in the country are protected.

“Every violation of civil society space, and the rights and freedoms of civil society should be addressed without impunity or exception,” said Nduna. “Governments must exercise their duty to protect human rights defenders, and the international community must show solidarity to the victims of this worrying trend, and hold all perpetrators accountable.”

ACT Alliance, a network of 139 faith based organisations working with communities and governments in over 100 countries globally, has long been assessing political and social developments that impact on the space for civil society and been standing with communities as they assert their human rights.

Research conducted by the alliance found that increasingly, human rights defenders and civil society organisations across the world face considerable risks and restrictions, particularly when they promote democracy, human rights and social justice, despite international recognition of civil society as playing a vital role in advocating respect for human rights, shaping development policies and overseeing their implementation.

This role was acknowledged by the Accra Agenda for Action in 2008 as integral to driving aid and development effectiveness, and was reaffirmed by the subsequent 2011 Busan Partnership for Effective Development.

Yet increasingly, the alliance said, the work of these groups is carried out in a climate of fear where people are subjected to harassment, censorship and inequitable legislation.

“Our experience shows that it is not sufficient for civil society to be left alone in securing and strengthening an enabling environment for development,” said Carlos Rauda, ACT Alliance Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Guaranteeing and protecting the role of civil society actors in their own right requires the support of a wide range of stakeholders, including the international community.”

“We are committed to ensuring that communities, particularly indigenous groups, women’s organisations and other marginalised and disadvantaged groups are able to participate meaningfully in the decision-making processes,” he continued. “It is imperative, because sustainable development and democracy cannot be achieved in the absence of a robust and independent civil society.”