Neighbouring countries are recording an alarming rise in the shrinking of space for civil society, violations of freedom of association and expression, restrictions on the right to access to information and challenges in mobilising financial resources. These factors limit the capacities (financial, structural and organisational) and human resources of civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly those of advocacy and rights-based organisations targeting policy change. Slowly but surely, freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to access information are undermined, impeding a real dynamic and an enabling environment for civil society to be developed and sustained. Instead, there is a growing trend towards disillusion and discontent, which ultimately threatens the stability of the region.
One concrete example is the 11 year blockade of Gaza, impeding Gaza inhabitants’ freedom of movement. Refusals to grant permits and regular checkpoint closures further hinder NGOs work in preventing Human Rights defenders from travelling to the West Bank or attending conferences abroad. Moreover, the violent Israeli repression of the March of Return is another example of the violation of freedom of association and expression. Our partners ANND (Arab NGO Network for Development) and PNGO (Palestinian NGO Network) call on the international community to hold Israel accountable for attacks committed against civil demonstrators, journalists and health workers during the March as well as for an end to the blockade.
The importance of tackling the issue of freedom of association and creating an enabling environment for civil society, human rights defenders and trade unions in the region is paramount. Freedom of peaceful assembly and association are fundamental human rights that should be enjoyed and exercised by individuals and groups, unregistered associations, legal entities and corporate bodies. These rights are an important strand in the maintenance and development of culture, and are crucial to creating a tolerant, inclusive and pluralistic society in which groups with different beliefs, practices or policies can exist peacefully together. They are the cornerstones of the space for civil society.
Next week SOLIDAR will discuss this issue during its SOLIDARity week in action, together with its members and partners at the Majalat Brussels Civil Forum and at the closing event of the project Mobilising for Social Justice in the MENA. The Majalat project establishes a three year dialogue between Southern Mediterranean CSOs and EU institutions, aiming to feature civil society’s concerns and priorities in the EU Neighbourhood policy. After gathering in Amman in September to define political priorities, Southern CSOs will meet with EU institutions to start this three year dialogue. The project Mobilising for Social Justice in the MENA started in 2015 and aimed to strengthen and promote CSOs, social movements and independent trade unions’ role in reforms and democratic change in the area of decent work, social protection and freedom of association. After four years of activities, our members and partners from seven different countries will be brought together to exchange, advocate and evaluate the project.