This is a joint article by Miriam Niehaus, Securing Civic Rights Manager at the Centre and Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out. Here, they each write how the fight for greater Civic Rights and LGBT+ Rights are conneected to the fight for our Human Rights.
Criminalized and persecuted in many countries, the LGBT+ community and their activists are often on the frontline of the human rights struggle. So today, on Human Rights Day, I ask the Civic Charter Community and all of those believing in Human Rights, to stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ Community.
The Civic Charter Community are those who believe in and are committed to its principles; principles, which are based on human rights. We stand in solidarity with each other when we come under attack, when governments want to take away our rights to our most basic freedoms – freedom of expression, assembly and association. This growing community is rich in diversity as members come from all over the world and work on a range of issues from climate change, to development, to ensuring free media. Our strength derives from being inclusive – and in turn, being united. This means it is imperative to look at shared struggles from different perspectives, so that they remain relatable to others.
Some 6 weeks ago, I participated in an eye-opening meeting. From 22-24 October, we convened the International Civic Forum, usually set up as a meeting of civic freedom experts from different sectors. For the first time, we ran this meeting not as a stand-alone event but within another conference and therefore with another audience: the International Anti-Corruption Conference. Consequently, the topics of the Civic Forum sessions all related civic freedom issues to corruption.
One session stood out in particular. It was run by Matt Beard from All Out, along with Sana Ahmad and Bisi Alimi, on extortion of gay men in Nigeria, among other aspects. By understanding extortion as a method of corruption, the anti-corruption community could readily relate to the struggle that All Out is in. At the same time, the then described method of state actors rang familiar to participants working more generally on civic freedoms, who are aware of a wide range of government methods, usually used to intimidate activists and CSOs.
In this instance, a new sense of connectedness between activists and CSOs of different ‘sub-sectors’ came about. And it is this spirit in which we need to show more solidarity with each other, making a conscious effort of relating our different experiences to each other and being open to that.
The opening line of the Civic Charter boldly declares “We, the people, have the right to participate in shaping our societies”. For LGBT+ communities living in hostile environments around the world, this is a rallying call for our equality, our dignity and our agency as citizens. And with 69 governments around the world continuing to make same-sex love illegal (and nine of these using the death penalty against us), these words are also a call for our very existence as citizens.
LGBT+ people are so often denied the vision for human rights outlined in the Civic Charter. There are far too many examples. In Russia, a so-called anti-gay “propaganda” law prevents freedom of expression – earlier this year, a sixteen-year-old boy, Maxim, was arrested for posting gay-related content on a social network. In Uganda, a Government Minister, Simon Lokodo, has repeatedly denied the LGBT+ community the right to freedom of assembly, using violence to prevent peaceful Pride celebrations. In Tanzania, LGBT+ civil society organizations are obstructed or closed down, in a denial of freedom of association. In deeply hostile environments like Indonesia, LGBT+ people must hide in the shadows, unable to play a role in the community and denied effective participation. In Chechnya, the state’s duty to protect failed massively in 2017 as gay and bi men were rounded up in a state-sponsored purge, taken to illegal detention centers, tortured and, in some cases, murdered. In Nigeria, LGBT+ people are denied public accountability – gay men are regularly arrested for no reason, with their families forced to pay bribes for their release.
At All Out, we believe that human rights are inalienable and indivisible. We believe that the common struggle to achieve human rights for all is a deeply uniting force that makes us stronger. We believe in the vision of Martin Luther King that there cannot be justice anywhere until there is justice everywhere. We therefore support and endorse the Civic Charter enthusiastically and want to use it as a framework to reach out to and collaborate with other groups fighting for human rights, justice and equality.
At the end of June, people from different continents gathered in Arusha, Tanzania to discuss civil and political rights in the countries they currently reside. The meeting was organized by International Civil Society Centre, and I was lucky enough to be invited as person who was involved in civic activities which contributed to this political change in a hybrid system.
Sitting for 7 hours at the Istanbul airport en route to the meeting got me thinking about nation-state concepts and people living under different political and legal environments. Some are more intrusive to civilian spaces than others, yet nearly all try to limit open public spaces for free communication, interaction and information to people coming from such diverse communities in this world and Universe we all share. Some governments are reluctant to open the world to its citizens while others actively spew hatred towards the “otherness”.
However, looking at the millions of different individuals interacting daily only in this airport, I realized that there is no repressive model invented able to stand the need of people to move, explore, exchange, socialize. Even repressive regimes need to maintain their economic and military strength if they plan to maintain power, and thus they have to participate in the exchange of labor, products, and services on global level. So, closed borders, militarization, wars, heavily urbanized killers (of health and nature) cities… are these constructed spaces just a product of our imagination as humans? And if so, can we imagine something better in future? Can we take a leap on the evolutionary scale by recognizing such constructs and think of all natural space as an empty canvas on which we can draw a better picture? Is that just a prelude to the next step: aware humanity?
Is the social interaction and exchange the key to opening the door to awareness of the co-dependence of all beings with nature? Can mistakes and destruction lead to comprehension that natural resources and our habitat as we know it is expendable, while humanity being dependable may parish?
This thought stayed with me on the 10 h. flight to Arusha, and throughout the 4 days which passed faster than those 17 hours of travel! I met people, heard stories, and developed deep friendships with activists from:Hong Kong, Singapore, Argentina, Uganda, Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cameron, Tanzania, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Germany, United States of America…
We share the same vision on what our civic space should look like as spaces extending to communities where social interaction take places, where people see each other even without communication, where friends meet, or celebrate and cultures mix. Something like the scenery I’ve tried to capture while pondering the airport in Istanbul.
One may ask, did we succeed to finding a way to protect our spaces for communication and democracy? Did we detect and overcome the obstacles to future participatory democracies with citizens well-being put on the top of the political agenda? Have we thought of ways to remove the different restraints on civil and political rights? How to protect your self and others from government oppression, military power, hunger and live in societies which allow people to organize, participate and communicate among each other without fear of prosecution, pollution, famine, overall natural and human deprivation?
Well, reaching the end of the text the obvious answer is no, we didn’t find the way. We didn’t solve the world hunger, wars, dictators or housing problems, but we have few ideas on how to get people together to socialize and communicate their hardship openly and freely. We thought of ways how people can help each other across borders, governments and continents and that is a force to be reckoned. Remember that one thing I’ve mentioned that governments and militaries can’t stop, at the beginning of this text?
Well, they can’t stop us from meeting, talking, thinking and acting in the public or virtual world. They may slow the process by different forms of oppression, but they can’t stop it.
In cooperation with Funzi, Kepa has developed a mobile course to give citizens tools to defend the space for civil society.
The Civic Charter is a charter for civil rights, a tool to defend civil rights and freedoms. It discusses the rights of all of us to unite, meet, and express our views. It also reminds us of civil society’s rights and opportunities for participation, as well as access to information, funding, and cooperation.
Defending the space for civil society is at the moment topical in just about every country, as the annual progress report, State of Civil Society Report 2018 by Civicus, points out. One step towards supporting civil societies is raising awareness. It is precisely to address this need that Kepa developed the Civil Society Today mobile course with Funzi; a course that introduces the Civic Charter and civil society rights.
We hope that Finnish civil society organisations, together with their partner organisations, will actively take advantage of this course, published in English. In emerging countries, the smartphone is more useful for many than the computer. Because the course works directly in the browser, it can also be used on all phones with an Internet browser.
Meanwhile, we have gained valuable experience using new learning platforms – in this case, mobile. Along with traditional on-site training, we at Kepa also want to offer opportunities for new kinds of learning. Mobile learning can be utilised as such or as one tool in training programs, or even in communication and global education.
“Funzi has had nearly 6 million users, mainly in the developing markets in Africa and the Middle East,” says Saila Kokkonen, Account Manager at Funzi.
“This experience strengthens the fact that mobile is an extremely important tool in people’s everyday lives. Not just in communication, but also in taking care of errands and increasingly also as an enabler for continuous learning,” Kokkonen adds.
For Funzi, cooperation with Kepa has brought an important addition to the courses openly available for everyone at www.funzi.mobi, most of which have previously focused on developing skills for entrepreneurship and job-seeking. The intent is to also support the wholesome development of individuals and communities, which is now in part enabled by the Civil Society Today course.
You can also get acquainted with Funzi and Funzi’s courses at the World Village Festival on May 26-27, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland (R515).
So grab your mobile and start studying the Civil Society Today mobile course now. And once you finish, remember to sign the Civic Charter!
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