Everything seemed to be going so well in Central America. But opposing forces are threatening to counter the positive steps that have been made. What is going on in the region, and what role does the Netherlands play? Come along to the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam for the Big Central America Debate on 1 November. Interesting speakers from the Netherlands and abroad will discuss the issues at stake (Register here).
Since the 1990s, the Central American region has seen many positive economic, political and social developments. Civil wars have come to an end, and dictatorships have, one by one, made way for democracies. There have been pioneering developments in the fight against corruption and tackling impunity that have served as an example for other countries facing the same problems around the world.
Indeed, in various Central American countries, political culture has been slowly but surely opening up, with new movements and a new generation of politicians leading the way. The power of youth is growing. You see young people heading demonstrations against corruption and the old political culture. You see them in trade unions, at the forefront of social organizations and in the media.
But the forces that oppose change are also strong, and they threaten to undo all these positive developments. In Guatemala and Honduras, the murders of human rights activists and agricultural leaders are increasing. Nicaragua – peaceful until recently – is seeing the violent suppression of mass protests against President Ortega, and the country is deeply polarized. And, in Guatemala, President Morales has announced by presidential decree that he wants to put a stop to the work of the UN’s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in the short term.
The role of the international community
All this in a context in which ever more donors committed to human rights are withdrawing or, at least, facing increasing difficulties in their work. One example: the Guatemalan Government recently asked the Swedish Ambassador, Anders Kompass, to leave, bringing Guatemala’s ties with Sweden – one of the largest donors in the region – under pressure.
The other big donor has traditionally been the Netherlands. In the 1980s, in particular, there was a flourishing solidarity movement between the Netherlands and Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Dutch cooperation also addresses issues in the field of human rights and impunity. For example, the Netherlands was one of the co-founders of the CICIG in Guatemala and played an important role in enabling the trial of serious crimes committed during Guatemala’s civil war, including genocide. The Netherlands also supports training for young political leaders and new political movements and organizations to help them work towards a democracy in which the voices of women, young people and indigenous people are heard.
The level of cooperation between the Netherlands and Central America has, however, become increasingly low in recent years due to budget cuts and other choices within Dutch policy-making. Central America seems to be fading from view. Despite this, with recent developments in Guatemala and Nicaragua, and certainly now that new developments are underway around the murder of four Dutch journalists in El Salvador in 1982, the interest in Central America appears to be on the rise again.
Faced with this complex political context, a number of organizations have joined forces to hold a public debate on 1 November at the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Moderated by Dutch journalist Frénk van der Linden The debate will focus on developments in the Central America and Dutch relations with the region.
18.30 Doors open
19.00 Opening words
Part 1: Developments in the region (English)
19.10-19.25 Introduction by Enrique Gasteazorro (General Manager of Confidencial – Nicaragua’s biggest independent media channel)
188.8.131.52. Introduction by Anders Kompass (Ambassador of Sweden in Guatemala)
19.40-19.45 Video message from the region
184.108.40.206 Debate: Developments in the region – positive developments under threat.
With: Enrique Gasteazorro, Anders Kompass, Barbara Hogeboom (Director of CEDLA – the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation) and Heleen Schrooyen (NIMD Sr. Programme Manager for Latin America)
20.15- 20.45 Break
Part 2: The Netherlands and Central America (Dutch)
21.00-21 30 Debate: the Netherlands and Central America: Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
Today the development community marks the International Day of Non-Violence. Sharing the date with the birthday of prominent pacifist campaigner Mahatma Gandhi, campaigners from across the world get together to support education and public awareness on non-violence.
Violence can take many forms, whether physical, psychological, exclusionary or something else. The causes behind it are just as diverse, as ethnic, religious, political and nationalist frictions are just some of the reasons groups engage in violence. However, one thing stands true for almost every scenario; the ordinary citizen, no matter which side they fall on, can expect to receive little more than fear and instability as a result.
How to understand violence in modern society and ensure peace prevails is a question no individual, government or institution can answer alone. As cultures change and old rivalries are put to rest, new ones can arise all too easily. Groups that were once targeted by violence can become perpetrators themselves, sometimes even within the same generation. Yet one portion of society has faced several forms of violence consistently – the female half of the world.
According to UN women, it is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experience either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. Progress on ending gender-based violence has been too slow, with countless people slipping through the net of development simply because of their gender.
This is why NIMD works so closely with women’s groups and female representatives. Political violence against women is inexorably linked to wider violence against women, and it is this violence which stops women from exercising their rights. We believe effective politics is the key to unlocking development, and opening the door to women is crucial in making politics work for the people. Today, gender plays a central role in our planning and is a key dimension of every programme we implement.
It was with this mindset that NIMD and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) worked together to produce a list of 21 actionable reforms covering political violence against women, the role of gender stereotypes and how women can enter politics as equals to men. This was designed during a three-day conference discussing women’s political rights in Tunisia, attended by politicians and practitioners from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
For example, they agreed political finance needs to be made more transparent, which will allow an equal financial footing for female leaders. Electoral management bodies need extra support to critique failing gender policies in parties. Indeed, political parties themselves must ensure women enjoy the same security as men by championing female candidates and educating their members on the destructiveness of stereotypes. NIMD has several recommendations on this in our Roadmap to Inclusive Political Parties, which is available on our website.
NIMD spoke to several prominent female representatives at the conference and asked what society must do to ensure women’s voices are heard – take a look at the video below to hear what they said.
What is needed next is for governments and civil society organizations to embrace this pro-women agenda in its fullest. As our work supporting democracy continues worldwide, we are determined to give every group a voice in its country’s affairs.
Today, this International Non-Violence Day, why not look at the conference’s recommendations and ask yourself: ‘how can I be part of building a safe democratic future, for men and women alike?’
Top image copyright: Carol Leigh Scarlot Harlot – Flickr
When interparty relationships become strained, dialogue often is the most effective medicine. In September 2018, Kenya’s first ever State of the Nation workshop was held by NIMD’s implementing partner, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Kenya (CMD-Kenya). The meeting was called to develop the post-election democratic agenda for Kenya, as recent political events had shaken trust in the system. Representatives from more than 20 political parties attended as they sought to boost trust in Kenyan elections and enhance the strength of their democracy.
Those familiar with Kenya’s political situation will be aware of the fallout from the 2017 elections; political violence, fraught relations between government and opposition, and the eventual court-ordered election re-run. The opposition boycotted the re-run and leaders on both sides refused to attend talks for months. Despite major progress since then, including reconciliation between government and opposition leaders, Kenya’s political future is not certain. This is especially true in regard to the election aftermath and the strength of multiparty democracy.
It was against this backdrop that CMD-Kenya organized the State of the Nation workshop. The first meeting of its kind, the workshop was designed to develop the post-election national democratic agenda as a fundamental aspect of strengthening Kenya’s democratic landscape. A wide spectrum of political views and communities were represented, with senior leaders in attendance from 21 political parties that have at least five elected representatives at the County level or/and one elected MP.
The forum sought to identify and crystallize the national democratic agenda, the role of reconciliation and reforms, and the how political parties and CMD-Kenya can support the pursuit of this national democratic agenda. The same agenda will be shared with other civic actors with a view to developing a common position for moving forward as a country.
This event follows the first ever first National Dialogue Conference (NDC 1) convened by the Dialogue Reference Group (DRG), held at Ufungamano House, Nairobi, on 11-13 September 2018. More than 600 delegates from across Kenya attended the event, including activists and leaders from religious groups, local communities, gender equality organizations, youth groups and the disabled community, as well as representatives from civil society, the business community and trade unions. Spanning two days, the workshop aimed to initiate a widely inclusive dialogue process that would address political and governance crises within the country.
The final report from the dialogue reference group is a far-reaching action plan for improving Kenyan democracy, which identifies specific targets for reform. Covering the economy, corruption, constitutional reforms, electoral management, law enforcement, devolution, national cohesion, and dialogue implementation, the agenda provides precise and actionable suggestions for pro-democratic change. CMD-Kenya was an active participant in the dialogue, and they will reinforce areas of the agenda relevant to their mandate. Civic actors and political parties will gather to discuss this agenda, along with their aspirations for Kenya’s democratization, at a special meeting to be convened by CMD-Kenya on 28 September.
In Guatemala, NIMD has been providing training and empowerment for women, with a special focus on young and indigenous women, through a series of camps.
Through the training, we hope build on the knowledge and skills of the participants and motivate them to exercise their human rights in Guatemala. The ultimate aim of the project is to increase the participation of women in decision-making spaces.
To carry out this project, our Guatemala office has teamed up with three Guatemalan organizations: MOLOJ, Alas de Mariposa y Convergencia Cívico-Política de Mujeres.
The four organizations share a deep conviction that the Guatemalan political system and its decision-making mechanisms must be more inclusive and, ultimately, more representative of Guatemalan society.
In Guatemala, the daily practices of machismo, racism and discrimination are still major barriers – deeply entrenched in history – to the political participation of women, and especially young or indigenous women. As a result, full respect of human rights is still far from reality.
When women do have a shot at entering politics, it is important that they know their human rights, laws, and the State’s administrative, planning and implementation systems.
Faced with this reality the camps are being rolled out in four locations, to train and empower 100 women. These participants include young and indigenous leaders, political party members, local government representatives and leaders of women’s organizations.
The course will cover human rights, political participation, political parties and political marketing, as well as providing a space for the participants to share their own experiences. The course content has been certified by the Institute of Women and the San Carlos de Guatemala University, Guatemala’s state university.
We hope that, through their involvement in the camps, many of the participants will feel motivated to enter politics, perhaps even running in future electoral campaigns. For those who choose this path, NIMD strives to provide continuing support to help them break down the barriers they may face.
“Your vote matters!”
So goes the chorus of democratic institutions, NGOs, parties and others across the world. But it seems that more and more people view this with a large dollop of scepticism. After all, the wealthiest and most well-connected appear to be doing awfully well out of the status quo. Even the economic crisis of 2008 did little to deprive them of their privileged position, and little has changed since then.
In recent years, democracies and their institutions have had to contend with new narratives and movements, labelled as ‘populism’. These groups have arisen on the left and right of politics in nations across the world. Such movements claim to be the sole representative for the ordinary person in the street, fighting an elite that is presented as corrupt beyond reproach. By nature, populism deals in a polarizing discourse of absolutes that has a ‘with us or against us’ mentality.
As these populist narratives have gained traction, some voters now shun typical democratic institutions such as parties and legislatures. Corruption and inequality has eroded public faith in these bodies as true advocates of their interests. New governments have been elected and leaders have changed, but many feel nothing has changed. New forms of political engagement are on the rise and populist electoral victories have shocked the establishment.
The question is, what does populism mean for the stability of democratic society itself?
The Global Agenda is not a plan for attacking populism or populist groups themselves. Instead, it is a framework for defending democracy; championing its successes and accepting its flaws. It is a toolkit for remedying inaccessible institutions, opaque parties and public disillusionment with democratic principles such as pluralism. By addressing the underlying causes of the populist surge, the Global Agenda seeks to open democracy up to those who may otherwise resort to populism or total political disengagement.
As we commemorate International Day of Peace 2018, it’s essential to reflect on the causes of conflict and suffering that still plague peoples’ lives in the 21st century. If peace is to really last, leaders must learn from history – unless they intend to repeat its mistakes.
One nation that has suffered from internal violence for far too long is Honduras, where violent illicit networks undermine day-to-day political actions and threaten the lives of many Hondurans.
The below account is from Miguel A. Cálix Martínez, Executive Director for NIMD’s country office in Honduras. Through accounts from his field researchers, Miguel explains just how destabilizing criminal activities in Honduras can be – not only for citizens in their day-to-day lives, but for the nation in its long-term development.
“It is not possible to go further with this,” said our researcher, JS (protected source), in a very low voice. After four months of researching illicit networks in Honduras, JS’ research reached a premature end when he called for a meeting with me and said: “I finish here. I will send the preliminary report to you from a different e-mail address, with a different name. I won’t ask for more payments. If you need me to send the first payment back, I will, without any hesitation. I don’t want to know more about this issue.”
Taken aback, I asked him what was happening. “You provided me with good informants and they took me to others who knew more and more” he replied. “I don’t want to give you details”, he said, “but you need to know this: the more I dug, the less I wanted to know”. “I am a researcher – this is what I love to do, but I was not prepared for what I found,” he added, speaking softly throughout the conversation.
Uncovering the virus within
It all started a few months before when I received an email from NIMD’s headquarters, asking if we could contribute to research on the influence and impact of illicit networks in politics in Latin America. Honduras was a suitable case study because of the increased drug trafficking in the region and the evidence of illicit networks in the country.
In Honduras, drug lords and criminal networks had spread their influence over time and started to secretly co-opt political, financial and social institutions. The problem was growing and cases of corrupt politicians, public officials (primarily from the justice and security sectors) and people who had inexplicably become wealthy overnight – allegedly through illegal activities – slowly began to attract public concern.
I realized that the impact of this on politics, and political parties in particular, would run counter to everything that NIMD was attempting to achieve with Honduran political parties. If this influence were allowed to persist and increase, criminal networks would hold sway in political parties, dictating policy choices favourable to their own networks rather than party members or the citizens. This would decrease the already diminishing trust that citizens had in political parties, driving down participation in them and politics in general. As a result democratic governance itself would come under threat. Hence dealing with the issue was a fundamental challenge for any democracy-support organization and the research that JS was conducting was vital.
Despite operating in the shadows, the influence of these networks had been denounced and discussed in the country by experts on public security and organized crime. According to some foreign investigators and journalists, most of their local sources spoke openly about organized criminal activities. But when the issue of how organized crime had penetrated the political landscape came up, they always asked their interviewers to switch off the recorders and talked only ‘off-the-record’. Such was the fear of punishment for talking about this.
So I needed to find an experienced social investigator, eager to dig carefully into the issue. I found one in JS. “It is an interesting subject,” he had said at our first work meeting, “…and little explored, unfortunately, for reasons we both know” he had said as he winked at me knowingly.
During the first weeks of the research I helped JS to schedule meetings with sources and find official documentation. And up until our meeting that day I felt like we were making good progress.
A threat to security and governance
Sitting in his office, I found myself surprised at his resignation. JS did not sound paranoid to me – simply honest. He continued: “I visited a source who welcomed me and gave me some good information. I felt that I was getting a great story and wrote page after page, enthusiastically. Before I left, the informant stopped me at the door and asked me to be careful in quoting the information. He then revealed that he had given the same advice to someone who had not heeded his warnings. Taking my arm, he had added: ‘Please, don’t do what Alfredo did’. Alfredo Landaverde, a local expert on the issue and a well-known public figure, was shot and killed, after exposing the existence of broad networks of local authorities, police and the judiciary involved in illicit activities.
JS finished by saying: “Read the research thoroughly and if you decide to publish it later, please don’t quote me”. Looking at me, he said: “I no longer feel safe to pursue the research”. Later as I sat in my office and read the document JS had sent me, I had to agree with him. The research provided information on drugs and illicit networks, together with names and events. Their influence reached high levels of the Government, Parliament and the Judiciary – very close to the formal economic and political power in Honduras. I closed the document, wishing I had never opened it.
It was not difficult to convince the coordinating team that we could not finish the research. They understood and respected JS’ decision. However, the lessons learned from this investigation were included in the final publication because it demonstrated that working with this issue threatens security and lives, and undermines democratic governance and development in Honduras.
Research on eradicating the scourge
The efforts JS made were not in vain. Six months after the sudden end of the research (August 2013), JS was invited to share his experience with the other researchers who had conducted similar studies. Here, his experiences were collected for future initiatives in order to avoid the risks in interventions aimed at addressing the influence of illegal networks in politics. And three years after JS quit his research, the United States began prosecuting and requesting the extradition of members of the highest political and financial spheres in Honduras: allegedly for laundering money for drug traffickers. JS would not have been surprised, and neither was I.
As a result of the rising public awareness on this issue, a new law to control transparency on the financing of Honduran political parties and campaigns is expected to be drafted by the end of 2016. NIMD is going to contribute to promoting its implementation. (The Financing, Transparency, and Auditing for Political Parties and Candidates Law, was passed by the Honduran Congress in October 2016.)
Furthermore, this issue is more relevant than ever to NIMD’s work. The influence of illicit networks on political institutions in fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS) cannot be ignored by political party assistance providers like NIMD. It became clear that NIMD needs to tackle this invasive threat to democracy in FCAS states. One way would be for NIMD to invest in more research to map the nature, extent and modus operandi of this influence in politics, in order to facilitate the development of strategies to effectively deal with it.
This research could also form the basis for awareness and education campaigns in political parties, legislatures, the public service and the general public. Support for intra-party democracy would possibly be a good entry point: but it would need to be customized to specifically target this practice. Finally, full transparency on the funders of parties would go a long way toward eradicating this scourge.
The meeting is the third in a series of meetings aiming to engage the political parties and civil society organizations in dialogues to discuss national matters. It mainly aimed to discuss the NAP and produce recommendations on what activities and programmes could be implemented within the strategic plans of the civil society organizations and political parties. The NAP follows the government’s commitment to promote human rights, equality and political participation as a means of maintaining the country’s stability and sustainable development.
By taking an inclusive and dialogue-led approach, the recommendations from the meeting can hope to enjoy a broad base of political support across Jordan. With different civil society actors represented alongside so many political parties, a more effective and transparent NAP can be developed. UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16), namely promoting ‘peace, justice and strong institutions’, relies on peaceful cooperation and equal access to human rights; this makes inclusive dialogue such as this an integral part of any nation’s wider development.
The participants highlighted the need to organize specialized focus groups to work on the main pillars included in the NAP, in order to produce specified recommendations. The meeting was held under the patronage of the Minister of Political and Parliamentary Affairs, Minister Musa Maaytah.
The theme for this year’s Democracy Day is “Democracy under Strain: Solutions for a Changing World”, making Ghana’s story a timely reminder for countries around the world where democratic institutions are under threat.
Working alongside IEA Ghana, our implementing partner in the country, NIMD has focused on facilitating interparty dialogue. In the old political reality in Ghana, those who spoke to opposing parties could be seen as traitors to their cause. Opposition parties were in fact illegal up until 1992. Even after being legalized, the party system only came to life in the run-up to elections, with the winners going on to lead and the losers shutting down operations until the next cycle. Political progress was hamstrung by a winner-takes-all attitude that meant there was no trust in the system.
But Ghanaian political actors, with the support of NIMD and IEA Ghana, took decisive action for the sake of their country. Through dialogue and collaboration, they devised a system that maintains peaceful democratic transitions. Political parties themselves moved towards becoming articulate hubs for debate and new policy plans. NIMD’s and IEA Ghana’s interparty dialogue platform helped the opposing political groups come together on a level playing field. A new political culture was able to flourish, one that put democratic values first.
Today, many challenges remain but the impact of the interparty dialogue is clear. The video explores how NIMD and IEA Ghana worked together towards change, and features interviews with many of Ghana’s key political actors and activists who were there when it happened.
Why is youth involvement so important for enhancing security? Young people comprise a large portion of society in North Africa and the Middle East, with 15-30 year-olds making up a quarter of the population. However they are for the most part excluded from formal political processes, only having a limited say in how their nations’ affairs are handled. As a result these citizens are at one remove from the very bodies tasked with defending their rights. With political inclusion comes accountability, trust and dialogue; without it comes inequality.
The session was chaired by NIMD Programme Manager Reem Judeh. The panel was made up of NIMD Technical Advisor, Wael Abu Anzeh; Institute for Palestine Studies Senior Fellow, Mouin Rabbani; and InterPeace Director and Lead Author of the Youth, Peace and Security Progress Study, Graeme Simpson. These specialists shared their perspectives on youth participation from a Jordanian, regional and international standpoint.
About the Annual Conference
The Annual Conference of the Knowledge Platform for Security and the Rule of Law took place in the Hague on Thursday 13 September. Participants from around the world came together for workshops, debates and discussions on best practice in securing global stability and building effective policies to reduce inequality.
NIMD, in conjunction with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), provided training for more than 60 of the 70 registered political parties in Ethiopia, on dialogue and conflict resolution. The delegates were senior party representatives of both national and regional parties and included members of the governing EPRDF alliance as well opposition political parties. The training took place in Adama from 27-28 August and again from 30-31 August 2018. This was the first of many activities planned for political parties after NIMD and NEBE signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year.
For any nation to enjoy sustainable development, a political culture that harnesses dialogue between opposing sides is key. It allows disagreements to be resolved openly, encourages peaceful compromise and prevents any escalation into adversarial politics. This in turn helps governments be efficient representative bodies with whom citizens be open about both their aspirations for the country. By uniting so many of Ethiopia’s parties through dialogue, the path to sustainable development is clearer for all to see.
The chair of NEBE, Ambassador Samia Gutu, opened the proceedings for the first round of training and underlined the importance of political parties enhancing their capacity to resolve conflict and engage in dialogue at this exciting and critical juncture in the country’s history. She further called for a closer partnership between NEBE and the political parties and asked them to elect four people from among their number to work with NEBE on suggestions for the reform of NEBE.
The trainer, Eugene van Kemenade, engaged the delegates in a lively and interactive training style that constantly required them to practice the concepts and techniques that they were learning. While the training provided techniques for conflict resolution, it also emphasised the primacy of dialogue over all other modalities in seeking to resolve conflict peacefully.
At the conclusion of the training, delegates were appreciative of the skills learned and expressed an interest in taking what they had learned to their parties in order to share the skills; they asked NIMD to hold such trainings regularly. They were also appreciative of the fact that the training had provided the space for the different political parties to meet and converse with each other.