How civil society withstands government crackdowns


Civil society groups are demonstrating a capacity to withstand government crackdowns through innovation, mutual learning and forging new partnerships, says a prominent analyst. A recent New York conference of over 200 philanthropists and activists, entitled “Map, Resist, Support,” emphasized the need to help human rights defenders broaden their constituencies and invest in building movements. The funders’ meeting highlighted three essential principles for supporting peaceful change, writes USIP’s Maria J. Stephan:

  • Learning from other sectors and movements is critical to improve the knowledge, skills, and effectiveness of human rights activists. The leader of a U.S.-based immigrant rights group described how a land-reform movement in Chile taught them about combining nonviolent resistance with work inside government institutions to maximize effectiveness. Donors should support efforts to establish safe places for activists to meet, and they should invest in peer connections and initiatives that build solidarity across movements and geographies. A recent survey of over 1,100 activists from 10 closed and semi-closed countries highlighted the value of investing in community organizers and their ability to learn from each other.
  • Investing in community-based approaches to civilian protection allows human rights activists to resist and persist. In recent years, collusion between governments and influential civilian institutions—notably organized crime and private corporations—has increased harassment, threats, attacks and killings of human rights defenders and communities. The assassination of Honduran human rights and environmental activist Berta Caceras in March 2016 was a tragic example….
  • Funding long-term, flexible partnership models with fewer restrictions for NGOs, grassroots groups and movements allows them to develop proactive strategies and respond quickly to changes. Donor funding of short-term projects with fixed timelines, specific and pre-ordained results and time-consuming paperwork has weakened civic groups’ ability to connect with local constituencies.



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