Beyond the Lock down, a future beckons. Are you ready?
Article 3 of the UN’s Universal declaration of human rights states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. Pandemics such as the Covid-19 outbreak heavily impact our right to ‘life and physical security’ and therefore to fight them, governments around the globe are obliged and even entitled to take radical steps to stop such and protect their citizens. Temporarily this may limit our other rights such as the right to liberty and security in the broader sense of the declaration, nonetheless whilst lifting these rights authorities should be aware that this can only be temporary and that the balance between the rights should be restored as soon as reasonably possible.
There is a risk though that authorities will use the pandemic as an occasion to strengthen their grab onto power instead of as an emergency to address the disease. In Hungary for example, President Orban was enabled by his parliament on the 30th of March to rule by decree endlessly, whilst further limiting the freedom of the press to publish about the Covid-19 crisis.
President Ilham Aliyev of already quite totalitarian Azerbaijan sought to attack the opposition on the 19th of March motivating a crackdown on what he called the 5th column in the country. President Duterte of the Philippines, known for his hard approach on drugs addiction, went even a step further and bluntly suggested that everybody who defied the curfew should be shot. On 26th March 2020, the President of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu announced that it is illegal for media to publish on the coronavirus without authorization by the National Disaster Management Office. The leader of Turkmenistan simply even prohibited speaking about the coronavirus to stop the pandemic.
Epidemy of shrinking civic-space
Rulers with totalitarian ambitions will indeed use the health-crisis to further strengthen their powers. But in countries where civic rights are more guaranteed and leaders don’t have such ambitions, the introduction of emergency rule in the face of the health crisis have a strong impact on civic-space. Many people in the world are at the moment strongly limited in their right for free movement even within their own country and neighborhood. To stop the pandemic meetings are forbidden and protesting becomes practically impossible. To manage the information that reaches citizens, governments take unorthodox steps to guarantee that citizens receive the right kind of information. Mass-surveillance programs are set up to isolate people that are sick and track their behavior and movements. In a drive to better organize the health-care response, rights of CSOs can be reduced. In a reaction to the pandemic, a stronger central state may arise and local authorities may find themselves as well deprived of part of their roles. Furthermore, authorities may start looking for extra finances to fill the budgetary gaps caused by the pandemic. No matter how understandable these actions are we are at risk that they remain in place even after the pandemic.
CSOs in a post-pandemic world
It is to be expected that worldwide the situation for CSOs after the pandemic will be less favorable. Social and environmental CSOs will find limited possibilities to get the facts about the work of the authorities and find themselves highly invigilated due to new regulations on gathering and distributing information. Service providing CSOs may have lost control over schools and health-clinics and other facilities. Local development CSOs may find themselves unable to sustain their activities due to a long period in which they were unable to raise funds and the organization of local gatherings was impossible. International funds may find new borders in transferring money to local CSOs and could be forced to stop their operations in the aftermath of the pandemic. Many of the installed emergency rules may remain in place for a long time and will be not rolled back quickly.
Restore trust and well-being
In this context raising local funds and mobilizing popular support for CSOs is both challenging and urgent. Local resources restore the independence of CSOs in the aftermath of the pandemic and reduce their dependency on foreign funds. In this time CSOs have to convince governments that restoring the space for citizens to undertake action and to alleviate social needs is an important way of sustainably restoring the well-being of the population. Moreover, facts can only exist in a world where public space is open to debate about the meaning of these facts. CSOs have to prepare during lockdown for a challenging world in which skills for local fundraising and restoring the partnership with local communities and local authorities become the main challenge to be dealt with. In this time the online courses of the Change the Game Academy offer you the possibility to learn how to face these challenges without the need to leave your house.
Click here to register for our online courses: https://www.changethegameacademy.org/wp-login.php?action=register
*The Author is Ernstjan Stroes, a Programme Manager at Wilde Ganzen Foundation