Coalition response
November 2020
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#KeepItOn: Organising the global effort to end internet shutdowns

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The #KeepItOn campaign and coalition, hosted by Access Now, unites and organises efforts to end internet shutdowns worldwide.

Members of the #KeepItOn coalition work together to identify, verify and document incidents of internet shutdowns in order to raise awareness of how they violate human rights. The coalition also works to prevent their occurrence through advocacy, capacity-building and litigation. Uniting under the banner of #KeepItOn and now with 220 members worldwide, they have successfully fought internet shutdowns in several national contexts, while raising the profile of the issue at the international level.

Coordinating a holistic response
It is a challenge to ensure that the right resources are in the hands of the right partners in the right place at the right time. Contexts where shutdowns are most prevalent are also settings where civic space is narrower, or closed. Thus, there are fewer civil society organisations operating there who are able to work with a global coalition, or who have the skills needed for a holistic response (policy expertise for understanding the political context and technical expertise for running tests and identifying how the shutdown is implemented). Coordinating these moving parts is challenging – the grassroots grants programme is aimed at developing this infrastructure through capacity-building, in order to mitigate this ongoing challenge.

Be prepared
Coalition members have learned from different contexts to be proactive rather than reactive. Now, rather than waiting for a shutdown to happen and then responding, they try to anticipate the challenges that may arise, for example around upcoming elections, and create strategies depending on the risks that are foreseeable.

The decentralised model has been key to the coalition’s success. Although Access Now is an international organisation, many of its team members don’t have first-hand experience of internet shutdowns. It is vital therefore that those with direct experience of blackouts and restrictions are able to speak for themselves. Access Now has provided guidance and resources and initiated the development of the coalition, with the aim of being inclusive and raising up the true diversity of experiences. More support is needed from ICSOs to support those communities on the ground who are most affected by restrictions.

High-level figures and international and regional bodies have denounced internet shutdowns as a result of the coalition’s advocacy efforts, for example:

  • In 2016 the UN passed the resolution on the Promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet, condemning internet shutdowns, and urging states to refrain from ordering such measures. This was further maintained in 2018. Meanwhile, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights passed a resolution in 2016 condemning the use of shutdowns by state parties during elections and protests.
  • In 2017, 30 governments coordinated by the Freedom Online Coalition declared their commitment to fight internet shutdowns, in a statement issued at Access Now’s RightsCon meeting in Brussels.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteurs have condemned internet shutdowns, and have cited data collected by the coalition in their annual reports to UN bodies. Such reports include the 2019 Human Rights Council Report on Freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the digital age, and the 2020 Human Rights Council Report on Disease pandemics and freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Recent litigation wins against internet shutdowns have been recorded in Togo and Indonesia.

This has created important international and regional support and accountability, and is an important step in ensuring that shutdowns do not become the new normal.

Report Date | November 2020     Type | Coalition response     Region | Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

ICSO mechanism
October 2019
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Islamic Relief Worldwide: Building a Reputational Risk Management Strategy in the face of Islamophobia-motivated attacks

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Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) is an independent humanitarian and development organisation. They have an active presence in over 40 countries across the globe, and strive to make the world a better and fairer place for millions of the three billion people still living in poverty.

IRW has often faced disproportionate hostility and scrutiny because of its Islamic faith and framing. However, it faced a new level of threat in 2014 when it was designated as a terrorist organisation or front – first by Israel, and then by the United Arab Emirates. It responded to these designations swiftly and as robustly as possible, but the organisation felt that it was constantly on the back foot during this fight. Three years after the designations, prompted by fresh reputational risks, IRW decided to adopt a more proactive approach, and invested in developing a new strategy to manage reputational risk.

Some of the tools needed to either repel or prepare for threats are expensive, such as legal or lobbyist fees. They’re effective mechanisms, but expensive, and so need to be included in budgets.

Staff time
Often, the people best-positioned to deal with these issues are in demanding, senior roles – to find time to deal with these issues can be difficult. The new role of Senior Communications Advisor at the International Secretariat has been vital in helping to underpin their strategy, doing the legwork that the crisis management team requires. It also means that the rest of the communications team can continue with their business as usual, rather than spending all of their time on reputational risk management.

Engage with the truly influential
Engage with the truly influential, and not necessarily with your opponents. Fighting back on every false allegation or vilifying comment gives those attacks oxygen and draws more people to the debate. Time is better invested in targeting those actors your opponents are trying to influence, to make your case there.

Make friends while the sun shines
It’s important to identify your key stakeholders and invest in building relationships with them. Ensuring that you have transparent, close relationships with those groups means that you can seek their support, and where appropriate their endorsement, in the face of an emergency.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Risk analysis and scenario planning are key.

Say who you are
In response to reputational attacks, do not to get dragged into publicly arguing about what you are not. Instead, re-double your efforts to talk about who you are and what you do. Invest the time and resources required to tell your story and represent yourself in order to protect against misrepresentation.

It’s important to acknowledge where issues are bigger than ‘communications’ alone, and your strategy must recognize areas where the work needed goes far beyond what you can achieve in isolation.

For example, due to continuing bank de-risking, IRW’s Head of Governance has undertaken outreach work on the issue. He is on a tri-sector committee convened by the Treasury in the UK, which brings together government representatives, banks and leading civil society organisations to discuss and analyse the ongoing uncertainty of financial services for locations of greatest need, as only a joint approach can address this issue.

  • Islamic Relief Worldwide is better prepared for any threats to its reputation and operations, and therefore more resilient. Since the designations in 2014 which were made by two influential nations, IRW has continued to grow as an organisation. That in itself is a success, and an endorsement of its actions on this front.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | ICSO mechanism     Region | Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

ICSO mechanism
October 2019
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Greenpeace International: Developing resilience to SLAPP suits through joint action

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Greenpeace uses non-violent, creative action to pave the way towards a greener, more peaceful world, and to confront the systems that threaten our environment. It is a global network of 27 independent national and regional Greenpeace organisations, and Greenpeace International is the coordinating body for this network.

Risk-taking is part of Greenpeace’s identity and therefore central to their usual risk-management processes. However, over the last decade, a series of emergencies in different national contexts has highlighted that work was needed to ensure all local offices were aligned in their approach to ‘smart risk-taking’. This case study focuses on a uniquely proactive response from the Greenpeace offices, in relation to the threat and damage of Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in the USA and beyond.

Communicating civil litigation
How to communicate civil litigation in an interesting and engaging way? Not many people know about SLAPP suits, and so basic awareness raising has been difficult for this technical, legal issue.

Incentivising commitment
When Greenpeace International and GPUSA were conducting the initial outreach work with US CSOs, there was interest from others and a desire to know more, but it was hard to incentivise commitment without a more formalised structure in place. Transitioning from an informal support network to a formal structure is difficult and takes time.

Differences between coalition members
Members of a coalition have many differences. There are different risk appetites, different priorities and agendas, and different appetites for ‘political’ work or stances, all of which makes joint planning and action challenging.

Coordination is key
Although the initial conference in 2018 was helpful in terms of brainstorming and building connections, the work was slow to progress until a coordinator was brought on. The project itself was ambitious, due to its multiple functions (legal, communications, campaigns). The governance structure worked well, but the key element was a coordinator who could spot links and ensure things were done.

Enabling easier participation
It’s important early on in the life of a coalition to establish mechanisms and structures that facilitate contributions from members, for example templates for sign-ons (advocacy campaigns). Member representatives are often busy with day-to-day work, so building structures that make their participation quick and straightforward makes for easier collaboration.

Greenpeace International helped incubate Protect the Protest for 12 months, and then withdrew, leaving their Greenpeace USA office as an active member. A separate anti-SLAPP coalition has been established in France – ‘On ne se taira pas’ (We will not be silenced) – to which the Greenpeace France legal counsel has contributed. Through these collective actions and their strategies, Greenpeace as a whole is much better prepared to deal with future SLAPP suits. They are now looking to take their experience and expertise and develop similar networks in other regions, thereby continuing to strengthen their own resilience to this tactic, and that of wider civil society.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | ICSO mechanism     Region | Americas , Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

ICSO mechanism
October 2019
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ActionAid and ActionAid Uganda: How to scenario-plan for attacks and the narrowing of civic space

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ActionAid is a global justice federation working to achieve social justice, gender equality, and poverty eradication. Presently in 46 countries, ActionAid works to strengthen capacity and agency of people living in poverty and exclusion, especially women and young people to assert their rights.

ActionAid was early in identifying the closing space issue in 2013 and invested time and resources as a federation to research the problem, developing ways to build resilience and resist external threats. ActionAid Uganda, a member of the federation’s working group on this issue, would soon put the organisation’s early efforts to the test when their offices were directly attacked by the government in 2017. Their experience and the lessons learned have fed back into the federation’s thinking and strategising on this topic, and they are now sharing that learning with other national offices, and supporting the development of a Rapid Response mechanism.

Collective resilience
Simultaneous attacks were carried out on peers and partners of ActionAid. These partners were not as resilient as ActionAid Uganda, and whilst ActionAid were able to manoeuvre through the crisis, there remained an element of risk or exposure because of these partners. ActionAid Uganda managed to support one organisation in retaining their office space, however, given that their own accounts were frozen, they did not have the resources to do more. There was a collective gap in resources and resilience.

Long-term impact
ActionAid Uganda underestimated the medium to long-term impact of the government’s propaganda against them. Some citizens still think that their accounts are frozen and some donors still feel sceptical of their work. They needed to do more in terms of counter-engagement and communications beyond the initial attacks to reverse that impact.

Staff insecurity
Following the office raid, some staff no longer felt comfortable engaging with sensitive issues for fear of the backlash they might personally experience. Even though psychosocial support was provided, more was needed to build staff resilience.

Since the attacks, several civil society actors have been compelled to tread more carefully and civic engagement has become more subdued. ActionAid Uganda has had to consider how they can provide assurance and courage to others in the sector, to build sector-wide resilience.

Remaining uncertainty
The case brought against ActionAid Uganda was never resolved and the police never released a report. Although the accounts were unfrozen following political and legal engagement, the unresolved case means the office has a level of uncertainty hanging over its existence. Could they have “exploited the opportunity in the crisis” and pushed back more at the time of the attack, to resolve the case and regain more civic space?

How can you ensure, when in an emergency, that the office can remain operational, a response to the external threat can be mounted, and the governance or programmatic work for which the group is mandated can also continue? While ActionAid Uganda had healthy reserves as per federation policies, this was just about enough for the three months.

Always keep your house in order
Raids or inspections are mostly impromptu, and authorities seek immediate access to various documents and reports. Ensuring that these are readily available avoids potential additional scrutiny or suspicion.

Understand all processes
All staff and all board members must understand all processes. Questioning of organisational representatives in different locations must produce a consistent picture of how the organisation operates, in order to avoid contradictions that may further raise suspicions.

Legal response
A rapid legal response is necessary.

Relationship with the media
A positive relationship with the media is essential. In order to reduce reputational damage and have a platform for underlining an organisation’s legitimacy and value, links to media or social media platforms are important.

Be relevant to civil society
It is vital that an organisation be relevant to civil society and to local and national citizens. If it is, then there will hopefully be a show of solidarity that demonstrates its relevance and value.

Be transparent about operations and mission, and defend the organisation’s values.

  • The organisation’s bank accounts were unfrozen.
  • The amendment on land acquisition was eventually shelved, pending ‘further consultation’. However, the amendment concerning the President’s age passed, and has recently been upheld by the Supreme Court but the civic resistance movement continues to grow.
  • ActionAid Uganda saw the importance of civic space as an issue and have since integrated this into their programmatic work. For example, they now run a Sida-funded programme that coordinates the response to shrinking political space. Through this they developed a response mechanism that covers documentation, analysis, strengthening resilience and extra-legal support, and which helps to bring actors together.
  • They are now budgeting for the defence of rights and activists in an intentional way, for example by setting aside resources to enable them to respond to actors facing threats from the state.

Outcomes outside Uganda

  • The experience of ActionAid Uganda helped to inform an internal Learning Paper which has been shared across the federation. Lessons from the national level have fed back into the federation-wide discussion.
  • ActionAid Uganda is supporting other offices to develop scenarios and planning, based on their experiences.
  • Work is ongoing on strengthening federation resilience. For example, a Rapid Response mechanism is in development. ActionAid Uganda has supported mapping work and analysis of potential structures, looking at how this tool could monitor civic space and make predictions for the federation.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | ICSO mechanism     Region | Africa , Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

Coalition response
October 2019
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Vuka!: Building an international coalition to coordinate and enable civil society’s response to closing space

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Vuka! is a broad coalition of approximately 160 international, regional and national civil society organisations, working to incubate new forms of resistance and organisation.

Its Secretariat is housed within CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) and maintains a 19-member Steering Group.

With its large membership, multiple action teams and multi-country focus, Vuka! is something of a ‘meta-coalition’. With its Country Coordination Calls, Vuka! manages country-level responses to closing space.

Opening civic space
Coordinated action to respond to an opening rather than a narrowing of civic space, have proved more difficult to carry out. Among ICSOs, there is rarely a coordinated response to ‘opening space’. Civil society is skilled and experienced at fighting restrictions, but when there is sudden access to resources and space, what should support from ICSOs look like? It’s proven more challenging to determine what actions can be agreed upon on ’opening’ country calls.

Tension between depth and breadth
Coalitions often struggle with a natural tension between depth and breadth. Should the network dedicate their time to fewer countries and do deeper work there, or respond to a larger number of countries what would benefit from increased coordination?

When asking people to dedicate time to information sharing and collective discussion, you must first build trust and prove the value of engaging. Part of that is about not dominating the conversation, and making rather than taking space. Those stewarding or coordinating a coalition shouldn’t be in competition with members. The secure platform developed for Vuka! has been invaluable in helping to create that trust.

Coordinator role is key
Someone needs to be able to synthesise the information shared in order to properly identify potential next steps.

Resources and mechanisms
The collating of information and identifying of solutions needs to be backed up by resources and mechanisms to enable those ideas to reach fruition.

  • Because of the diversity of Vuka’s membership, allies with different expertise and networks can push information out to different stakeholders. The advocacy statements and campaigns have greater reach because members disseminate the information to their constituents and key influencers.
  • In closed settings, avenues for dissent are restricted and opportunities to engage with international or regional bodies are limited. So, including the UN or other Commissions on the calls to enable their engagement with national organisations has proved very helpful.
  • As well as the initiatives that have been formally spun out to other Vuka! action teams, many organic, bi-lateral connections and projects have been initiated thanks to these calls. The calls have acted as a platform for bridge-building between civil society actors who otherwise might not have worked together.
  • The secure, tailor-made platform that is used alongside the calls has allowed members to feel more confident in candidly sharing sensitive information about their strategies and activities, meaning that international civil society responses in national contexts can be mapped and analysed, in order to find gaps or opportunities for joint action.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | Coalition response     Region | Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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