Setting The Context
What is the connection between civic engagement, the civic space within which the civic engagement takes place, human rights precepts, and the quest for, as well as the trajectory of human development, that is societal development? Why is the concept and practice of national security that trumps the guarantee and protection of rights harmful to human and societal development?
What is the connection between human security and human development? Is the human security approach, properly understood, mutually exclusive, or mutually reinforcing with the quest for human development as conceptualized in the Sustainable Development Approach, in general, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in particular?
The thrust of my approach is centers around the proposition that: At the heart and core of human development, understood within the context of social justice, is promotion and guarantee of human security; while there can be no human security [that is the security of all humanity, every human, and not just some human], outside of equitable, equal, inclusive, fair, and socially just human and societal development process.
We can add to this proposition, the caveat that, in order for the development process to be truly inclusive, fair, equitable and socially just, it will have to be devoid of exploitation and exploitative processes. What this means is that the processes we undertake in order to meet our needs as human beings, and the relationships we necessarily have to enter into, cultivate, and nurture in the processes of undertaking these activities, between us and nature, that is the environment, on the one hand, amongst ourselves as human beings engaged in those activities, on the other hand, as well as the dynamic of the two processes [between us and nature, and among ourselves], and the two relationship spheres, will have to cease to be exploitative and extractive; they will have to become transformed, and have to become utilisation processes, and relationships of cooperation.
A society built on exploitation, and exploitative processes and relationships, is inherently unjust, and has a natural tendency towards exclusion, and inequality. The outcome is invariably unequal development within and between society, as well as the proliferation of human misery and devastation of the environment. It follows therefore that in order to achieve different outcomes, the outcome of equality, equity, fairness, inclusiveness, and justice for all, we would have to strive to radically alter the way society is presently organised, and radically transform the way we produce to meet our needs [the way we organise production, across the entire spectrum of production, distribution, exchange and consumption]; as well as the nature and character of the relationships we enter into among ourselves and with nature, in order to organise the productive processes required to meet our needs [that is the relations of production, including around the ownership, and deployment of the means of production].
This requires organising and mobilising towards social transformation, and to achieve social justice. This in turn requires the existence of a secure, safe and robust space within which the organising and mobilisation takes place.
For our purpose, Civic engagement encompasses all the range of activities involving the more or less deliberate, more or less conscious interaction between citizens and the governance process, including intended and unintended actions or inactions between citizens and the institutions of the state, that drive the processes and mechanisms of governance.
The social interactions that constitute civic engagement range across a broad spectrum; from routine daily individual and collective actions between and within state and non-state actors in response to, and or aimed at influencing governance processes, through more or less active and more vibrant contestations, to intensified and sustained confrontations between and among the contending social formations and forces in society.
The Civic Space:
From the foregoing the Civic space, can therefore be taken to encapsulate the broad context, and environment within which this range of civic engagements take place, and or occur. It follows thus that civic engagement takes place within a civic space, the nature, character, depth, breadth, scope, scale and quality of which is determined by certain organic, that is changing and evolving parameters.
The degree to which a robust civic space exist is directly dependent on the quality and quantum of the range of interactions that constitute civic engagement in such a context. Another way of saying this is that the status of the civic space at any point in time is predicated on the actual balance of social forces, the acquired and evolving nature of the equilibrium between, among and within the interacting, and contending social formations within the society.
Civic Engagement, Civic Space And Rights Protection:
Core civic space rights – In order for civic engagements to take place, certain core rights are required to be protected, and to be guaranteed – the rights to freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. These rights must be guaranteed by law.
Without the existence and protection of these rights, and the defiance of subjugation of these rights, it would be near impossible to undertake the activities necessary for civic engagement, including organising, meeting, raising awareness, establishing and running associations, etc.
These rights have through time been codified into international conventions, etc. States that are signatories of these international human rights conventions and other regional treaties containing similar provisions, are thus obliged to respect and protect these rights.
These states are also obligated to protect these rights in domestic law and many of the ratifying States have included protection of these rights in their constitutions as fundamental freedoms. They are obliged not only to respect and promote these rights but also to protect them from infringement by both state and non-state actors.
Nevertheless, regardless of constitutional inclusion, many states do occasionally, or routinely undermine these rights, either through their deliberate actions, or their intentional inactions. Ensuring that these rights are not only recognised, included in constitutions and laws, and respected and guaranteed, requires the active vigilance of citizens.
Given the foregoing, a progressive Constitution supported by a sound legislative framework that is upheld by a responsive and independent law enforcement machinery, in the context of active agency of citizens is key to enabling and preserving civic space.
Core Civic Space Rights:
Freedom Of Association: The right to freely associate includes the right of every person without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, sexual orientation or other status, to organise and establish an organisation as well as to freely join one or choose not to participate in one. Individuals may operate civil society organisations and participate in their activities without fear or unwarranted interference.
Freedom of association also encompasses the right to establish branches, recruit staff, raise funds freely, to fair taxation levels and to affiliate and cooperate with other organisations locally, nationally or internationally. It also includes the right of workers to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests.
Without the ability, the opportunity, and the enablement to freely come together in an organisation, to join and participate in the activities of an organisation or association, it will be near impossible, if not impossible to take conscious collective action, and to amplify voice.
Freedom Of Expression: The right to freedom of expression entails, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
This right is fundamental to the existence of civil society. It includes “the right to access information, critically evaluate and speak out against the policies and actions of state and non-state actors, as well as publicly draw attention to and carry out advocacy actions to promote shared concerns, without fear of retribution from any quarter. Civil society organisations are also assured the freedom to carry out investigations and document their findings under this right.”
Without freedom of expression, we are unable to articulate and disseminate our thoughts and views, to raise awareness about issues we are concerned about, to document and disseminate information about injustice, or to even participate in governance and influence policy processes. It will also be near impossible to network, build alliances or coalitions, and take wider informed and collective action. Not only will it be impossible to build individual organisations, it will be difficult to build relationships with other organisations, and with one’s constituency and target, as well.
Freedom Of Assembly: The right to freely assemble “assures civil society the freedom to exercise legitimate dissent through peaceful forms of protests as well as organise meetings and hold demonstrations to forward matters of common interest.” International law places the same limitations on the restriction of this right as in the case of freedom of association.
Moreover, International Standards limit the use of force by the authorities in managing public assemblies. For Example, see the International Right To Protest Principles, which affirms the Obligation of the State to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Right To Protest [A set of voluntary principles developed by Article 19 in 2016].
As with the two previous rights/freedoms, it will be difficult if not impossible to organise, to establish, run and operate an organisation/association, and to articulate and disseminate views about the goals of the organisation, and the issues the organisation have been established to pursue, if members of the organisation are unable to hold meetings among themselves, as well as between themselves and others, including engaging with other citizens, and even with government institutions. The ability to come together within a specific space is central to taking collective action.
It can be seen from the foregoing that these three freedoms are mutually reinforcing and mutually interdependent, the one cannot exist without the others. The suppression and or violation of one of these freedoms renders the remaining two freedoms redundant and ineffective, to the extent of that suppression and or violation.
At this point, it is also very important to reiterate the centrality of these three freedoms to the existence, viability and nurturing of the human society, given that in order for us to meet out basic needs, we have to enter into relationships with one another and with our environment.
Without the freedoms of association [right to associate], expression [right to express oneself], and assembly [right to assemble]; it will be impossible to take collective, that is social, action; and our existence as social beings will quite rightly be imperiled.