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Popular organizations under increasing pressure

In recent years, we have seen an increasing tendency for humanitarian organizations and their employees to be systematically prevented from conducting political or organizational work.

(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)

Earlier this year, the leader of one of the Norwegian People's Aid's partner organizations was killed by paramilitaries and forced to go underground and hide. The organization works to defend land rights and reclaim land. Restricting people's ability to express their opinion, disagree with the decisions of the authorities, or be active in organizations is a phenomenon that is constantly spreading. In English, the phenomenon is called "shrinking space" and by this is meant the ever-limited opportunity to take up space in society to fight for the interests or rights of marginalized groups. 

The phenomenon can take many forms and have varying degrees of seriousness, but common to all of them is that organizations or individuals are systematically prevented from conducting political or organizational work. Civil society is exposed to everything from laws that prevent funding, intricate rules for registering organizations, criminalizing protests and raiding property, to more serious attacks such as abduction, imprisonment without law and judgment, torture, threats, persecution and murder. Only this year, Norwegian People's Aid partners have experienced a number of activist killings. Those who work with political rights and democratization are very vulnerable. 

Anti-terror laws prevent democratization

Working against terrorism is a frequently used explanation for why states adopt anti-terrorism laws that discipline and control organizations that until recently have been considered legitimate civil society actors. Such laws have been adopted in a number of countries – from the United States, France and the United Kingdom to Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. Middle Eastern countries take the lead in strict anti-terrorism laws. 

Working against terrorism is a frequently used explanation of why states adopt anti-terrorism laws that discipline and control organizations. 

According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, between 2012 and 2015 adopted 120 restrictive laws in 60 countries. One third of these laws restricted international funding, half covered the legal framework for civil society organizations and one fifth laid restrictions on freedom of assembly. The tricks are copied from one country to another. 

Until a few years ago, we believed that the international trend was towards more democratic elections, more participation and more respect for people's rights, but this trend has reversed. There are, of course, many reasons for this. Our experience indicates that as the economic differences in a country increase or are kept high, the contradictions and levels of conflict between the rulers and the people also increase. The latter does not feel that the authorities serve the community, but the interests of their own or foreign companies, and the protests are increasing. Restrictive laws, criminalization and direct attacks then become an effective means of clearing opposition and maintaining power. 

Political equivalent required

The core of the growing conflicts between popular organizations and holders of power is the distribution of resources. When power is concentrated on few actors and there is an absence of mechanisms for redistributing power, there is a great risk that the resources in society will be unevenly distributed. Therefore, strong organizations that represent groups in the community that are far from the center of power are needed. Through mobilization, visibility and pressure, civil society is an invaluable force to counteract inequality in society. 

Only this year, Norwegian People's Aid partners have experienced a number of activist killings.

It is because of the organizations' potential power and power that they are seen as an enemy. Therefore, it is effective to create disputes and to attack individuals. 

Norwegian People's Aid believes that we cannot leave it to organizations or individuals to defend themselves against this. The attack is too systematic and massive. A strong political equivalent is required. The EU has begun to address the aggravation of civil society. A number of mechanisms are already in place. All the time Norway considers civil society
actors as necessary actors of change, it is high time that we also have a clear strategy to support the people's struggle for democracy.

generalsekretaer@npaid.org
Westhrin is Secretary General of Norwegian People's Aid.

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