Civil Society in Fragile and Conflict–affected States

By 2015, half the world

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  OXFAM POLICY COMPENDIUM NOTE JULY 2013   CIVIL SOCIETY IN FRAGILE AND CONFLICT-AFFECTED STATES Overview By 2015, half the world’s poor  1 will live in fragile states. Their prospects for peace and development depend not only on building accountable governments, but also a vibrant civil society  –  that can raise the voices of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, and hold the state to account for its performance in reducing poverty and upholding all human rights. This note is about how external governments and international institutions must do more to build that civil society  –  through aid and technical assistance, and diplomatic influence, particularly where civil society space is threatened by repressive legislation or other restrictions. They should: 1. Help influence the state to: ã  Build and protect the ‘space’ for civil society through effective freedom of association, assembly and expression, including positive legislation on civil society, media, unions, cooperatives, faith groups etc. ã  Genuinely engage civil society organisations (CSOs) through freedom of information, and participation in peace processes, budget monitoring etc. 2. Strengthen CSOs ’  relationship with citizens and with the state, in order to: ã  Genuinely represent communities and constituencies, including women and women’s rights organisations and all vulnerable groups; and ã  Help make the state both more effective and accountable, in delivering pro-poor development and all human rights. This requires support for a wide range of CSOs not limited to the development and humanitarian sectors, and a wide range of assistance to build up management, governance and networks, as well as specific technical skills. With that support, CSOs can help build a society in which every citizen’s rights, including to humanitarian assistance and protection, are upheld. 2     2 1 Background Over 1.5 billion people live in areas affected by fragility, conflict or criminal violence. 3  This is where global poverty is concentrated, 4  and this concentration may become even greater as many areas become more vulnerable to violence from the scarcity of energy, food and water. 5   Fragile states ‘Fragile states’ can be a controversial term  with no universally agreed definition. We mean states that fail, through lack of capacity or lack of will, to provide public goods to their citizens  –  including safety and security, economic well-being, and essential social services . 6   Why fragile states? Many of these people live in ‘fragile states’ struggling to overcome a cycle of poverty a nd violence combined with weak and often unrepresentative governance. 7  By 2010, 41% of those living in below $1.25-a-day poverty were living in fragile states  –  double the proportion in 2005. 8  Most international humanitarian aid goes to these ‘fragile states’ and other countries afflicted by large-scale violence. 18 of the top 20 recipients of humanitarian aid were affected by conflict for 5 or more of the 10 years to 2010.9 In 2010, 38% of total official development assistance was spent on fragile states. 10  That fragility helps to lock countries in poverty, and affects their neighbours, regions and potentially the whole world, through the export of drugs, piracy and terrorism. Civil society Civil society m eans ‘everything between the citizen and the state’ , 11  from community self-help groups to trade unions and busi ness groups, from women’s movements  to development and humanitarian organizations, faith-based groups, human rights activists, peace campaigners and more. It not only offers a platform for citizens to organise themselves outside the state, private sector and family. It is a vital part of a decent society in which values such as trust and cooperation are central, and in which poor and marginalised people can gain control over their lives by exercising their right to political participation, freedom of expression, information and assembly, and access to justice. This crucially includes the youth- led and women’s movements that often lead positive social change, and in many countries also a ‘virtual civil society’ that has become a major part of such activism for a better world.   3 Why civil society? Without a strong civil society, the power of states and corporations goes unchallenged. With one, citizens can come together to make both more accountable. Collectively, they can claim their rights, and ultimately transform society to provide more equitable opportunities for all. 12  In fragile states, that is even more vital  –  and even more challenging. But civil society organisations can still play their three vital roles  –  the balance between them varying in different contexts. These vital roles are to: ã  Encourage active citizenship, particularly among marginalised groups, helping express and advocate their views; ã  Help make the state more accountable to all those citizens, including women and youth, in order to equitably share resources and effectively fulfill its duties, including to uphold its citizen s’ rights to humanitarian assistance and protection; in this role, civil society can not only act as a ‘watchdog’ but also present policy alternatives and innovations;   ã  Provide services  –  including humanitarian assistance  –  to complement the state, and showcase innovations that the state can scale up (or where the state is still too weak or dysfunctional, fill vital gaps that the state is failing to do). In South Sudan, Oxfam supports a 3- year programme to ‘increase trust and understanding between civil society and the government. ’ 13  Such trust must of course be built on a shared determination to meet citizens’ needs. As Rama Anthony, Oxfam’s Civil Society Programme Manager there said in 2013: civil society engagement happens in different ways, through working with the state on constitutional matters, lobbying for change, or encouraging citizen involvement in governance. But the aim is always to ensure power-holders meet the needs of their citizens and guarantee their rights. 14  In some countries, such as Myanmar, the space for civil society to play these roles is expanding. But in others it has shrunk as governments have sought to suppress criticism and limit civil society activity. In different countries, a host of means have been used for this purpose, including high taxation, restrictions on foreign funding, and legislation that is deliberately unclear, ready to be used against a CSO that steps out of line. 15  It is against this background that international support is so vital. Influence as well as aid In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the EU and UK have funded Oxfam to train CSOs in advocacy skills, so that they can lobby the authorities in Jericho to resolve disputes over water and electricity. 16  That kind of aid is essential. But the influence of external governments and international institutions is at least as vital. In 2010, the Afghan government offered women only 5 per cent of the seats in the country’s Peace Jirga. Since then, w omen have pressed for better participation in the current talks with the Taliban. According to one activist , Mary Akrami, ‘w e should be at the negotiating table. But we need the support of the international community to get there. We sent a letter to the US Government and when President Karzai went to Washington they put pressure on him. As a result, he announced an increase to 20 per cent. No- one was listening to us until the international community got involved.’ 17  In Afghanistan and elsewhere, until truly accountable institutions exist, such international influence to support civil society will continue to be vital. Sadly, that international aid and influence has often been lacking. It took almost ten years before donors  –  the UK, Denmark, Norway and Sweden  –  set up a US$30 million fund to Strengthen Civil Society in Afghanistan. 18  And the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, set up in 2002, administered by the World Bank, and funded by a wide range of donors, still gives no role to CSOs to monitor donors ’ performance.     4 Afghan CSOs on the international stage Since 2008, international actors have allowed Afghan CSOs some voice in the major international conferences on the country  –  in The Hague, Bonn and Tokyo. But the CSOs have usually had only minutes to speak, and it is difficult to determine their influence on the final decisions. The 2012 Tokyo framework recognised the role of CSOs in strengthening accountability and governance more than ever before, but much more must be done to give Afghan CSOs an adequate voice in their future. In 2011, donors agreed a ‘New Deal’ for fragile states, at the High -Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, with the intent of creating an ‘enabling’ environment for CSOs. But progress in strengthening civil society continues to be mixed. Yemeni CSOs, for example, had no real access to the international conferences on their country in 2012. 2 Oxfam’s position on civil society in fragile and conflict-affected states Before anything else, international partners must learn from the failures and successes of the past. Oxfam is conducting a programme, Within and Without the State , funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), to promote dialogue between citizens, civil society and the state, 19  with principal case studies in Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as broader research on effective aid in Contested Spaces , focused on Afghanistan, Colombia and Sudan. One overarching lesson is the need for rigorous, iterative analysis on the state’s political economy and conflict,  driven by the reality on the ground, not the donor’ s security interests. Without that, it is impossible to judge who and how to support, and any international action is destined to be flawed. Beyond that, our experience suggests 6 key lessons that we hope are relevant for every international partner that can use its influence or funds to strengthen civil society: Lesson 1: Influencing the state to build and protect civil society ‘space’ , and genuinely engage CSOs in how the state and private sector take relevant decisions, including peace processes International partners should help influence the state and private sector in at least two directions, to: ã  Give civil society the freedom to fulfil its role through, for example, removing undue controls or restrictive media laws; and ã  Engage civil society in every relevant public decision-making process, including peacebuilding, finding durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced people, and the government’s budget priorities . More consistently than ever before, they should encourage states to respect and promote the universal right to information, and allow CSOs a full part in helping to design, monitor and evaluate a wide range of government services, its strategy to reduce poverty, to uphold human rights, and the country’s transformation towards effective and representative governance.  This should include pressing for women and women’s organisations involvement in peace processes, as in the example from Afghanistan above. And in many countries, it should include intense diplomatic pressure against legislation or practices that (in contravention of international human rights standards) restricts the role of civil society.
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