Georgia: Danger Averted, for Now

Cedit: Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images

By Andrew Firmin
LONDON, Mar 17 2023 (IPS)

Georgian civil society can breathe a sigh of relief. A proposed repressive law that would have severely worsened the space for activism has been shelved – for now. But the need for vigilance remains.

Russia-style law

A proposed ‘foreign agents’ law would have required civil society organisations (CSOs) and media outlets in Georgia receiving over 20 per cent of funding from outside the country to register as a ‘foreign agent’. Non-compliance would have been punishable with fines and even jail sentences.

The law’s proponents, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, claimed it was modelled on one passed in the USA in 1938. The US law was introduced to check the insidious spread of Nazi propaganda in the run-up to the Second World War, and wasn’t targeted at CSOs.

For civil society it was clear the source of inspiration was much more recent and closer to home: Russia’s 2012 law, since extended several times, which allows the state to declare a ‘foreign agent’ any person or organisation it judges to be under foreign influence. The law has been used extensively to stigmatise civil society and independent media. It’s been imitated by other repressive states looking for ways to stifle civil society.

In Georgia, as in Russia, the ‘foreign agent’ terminology is deeply suggestive of espionage and treachery. Any organisation it’s applied to can expect to be instantly viewed with suspicion. This meant the law would stigmatise CSOs and media organisations.

Alarmingly, the proposed law was no isolated event: the government has been ramping up the rhetoric about groups ‘opposing the interests of the country’ and the need to save Georgia from foreign influence.

The initial proposal for the law came from a populist political faction, People’s Power, that split from the ruling party, Georgian Dream, but works in coalition with it. People’s Power has a track record of criticising foreign funding, particularly from the USA, which it claims undermines Georgia’s sovereignty, and has accused CSOs and the main opposition party of being US agents.

CSOs insist they already adhere to high standards of accountability and transparency, making any further regulations unnecessary. They point to the vital role civil society has played over the years in establishing democracy in Georgia, providing essential services the state fails to offer and helping to introduce important human rights protections.

This work necessarily requires financial support, and since there are few resources within Georgia, that means foreign funding, including from the European Union (EU) and other international bodies – sources the government is also happy to receive funding from.

The power of protest

The scale of the reaction took the government by surprise. Many states around the world have enacted repressive civil society laws, and it’s often hard to get the public to take an interest. But the issue cut through because of the larger concerns many people have about Russian influence, heightened by the war on Ukraine.

Russia is an ever-present issue in Georgian politics. The two countries went to war in 2008, and two breakaway parts of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – claim autonomy and receive heavy Russian support. Georgian Dream, founded by billionaire business tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, has an official policy of pragmatism towards Russia while also cultivating links with the EU – but opponents accuse it and People’s Power of being too close to Russia.

Many see the country’s future as lying within a democratic Europe and fear returning to Russia’s domination. This made the proposed law about a fundamental question of national identity.

That’s why, when parliament started discussing the bill in early March, thousands gathered over several nights, many waving Georgian and EU flags and chanting ‘no to the Russian law’.

When the bill passed its hurried first reading it sparked some violent clashes. Some people threw stones and the police responded disproportionately with teargas, stun grenades, pepper spray and water cannon. But people kept protesting and the government feared the situation could spiral out of its control. So, at least for the time being, it backed down.

What next?

The immediate threat may have passed, but it isn’t game over. The government hasn’t said the law was a bad idea, merely that it failed to explain it properly to the public and withdrew it to reduce confrontation.

Georgia was one of three countries that applied to join the EU following the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the other two, Moldova and Ukraine, were quickly granted EU candidate status, Georgia wasn’t.

The EU cited the need for both economic and political reforms. This includes measures to reduce corruption, organised crime and oligarchic influence, improve the protection of human rights and enable civil society to play a stronger role in decision-making processes. In introducing the proposed law, the government took steps further away from the EU and made clear it doesn’t trust civil society.

This raises concerns the bill could return in some revised form, or other restrictions on civil society could be introduced. In numerous countries, the kind of verbal attacks on civil society recently made by the government have led to restrictions.

But Garibashvili should be more attentive to the message of the protests. By taking to the streets, people told the government they’re paying attention and disagree with its current direction – and forced it to back down. Civil society has shown its power, and deserves to be listened to rather than treated with suspicion.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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Belarus: A Prison State in Europe

By Andrew Firmin
LONDON, Mar 15 2023 (IPS)

Last October, Ales Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was one of three winners, alongside two human rights organisations: Memorial, in Russia, and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine. The Nobel Committee recognised the three’s ‘outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power’.

But Bialiatski couldn’t travel to Oslo to collect his award. He’d been detained in July 2021 and held in jail since. This month he was found guilty on trumped-up charges of financing political protests and smuggling, and handed a 10-year sentence. His three co-defendants were also given long jail terms. There are many others besides them who’ve been thrown in prison, among them other staff and associates of Viasna, the human rights centre Bialiatski heads.

Crackdown follows stolen election

The origins of the current crackdown lie in the 2020 presidential election. Dictator Alexander Lukashenko has held power since 1994, but in 2020 for once a credible challenger slipped through the net to stand against him. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya ran against Lukashenko after her husband, democracy activist Sergei Tikhanovsky, was arrested and prevented from doing so. Her independent, female-fronted campaign caught the public’s imagination, offering the promise of change and uniting many voters.

Lukashenko’s response to this rare threat was to arrest several members of Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign staff, along with multiple opposition candidates and journalists, introduce additional protest restrictions and restrict the internet. When all of that didn’t deter many from voting against him, he blatantly rigged the results.

This bare-faced act of fraud triggered a wave of protests on a scale never seen under Lukashenko. At the peak in August 2020, hundreds of thousands took to the streets. It took a long time for systematic state violence and detentions to wear the protests down.

Everything Lukashenko has done since is to suppress the democracy movement. Hundreds of civil society organisations have been forcibly liquidated or shut themselves down in the face of harassment and threats. Independent media outlets have been labelled as extremist, subjected to raids and effectively banned.

Jails are crammed with inmates: currently it’s estimated Belarus has 1,445 political prisoners, many serving long sentences after trials at biased courts.

Lukashenko’s only ally

Lukashenko’s repression is enabled by an alliance with an even bigger pariah: Vladimir Putin. When the European Union and democratic states applied sanctions in response to Lukashenko’s crackdown, Putin provided a loan that was crucial in helping him ride out the storm.

This marked a break in a long strategy of Lukashenko carefully balancing between Russia and the west. The effect was to bind the two rogue leaders together. That’s continued during Russia’s war on Ukraine. When the invasion started, some of the Russian troops that entered Ukraine did so from Belarus, where they’d been staging so-called military drills in the days before. Belarus-based Russian missile launchers have also been deployed.

Just days after the start of Russia’s invasion, Lukashenko pushed through constitutional changes, sanctioned through a rubber-stamp referendum. Among the changes, the ban on Belarus hosting nuclear weapons was removed.

Last December Putin travelled to Belarus for talks on military cooperation. The two armies took part in expanded military training exercises in January. Following the constitutional changes, Putin promised to supply Belarus with nuclear-capable missiles; Belarus announced these were fully operational last December.

Belarussian soldiers haven’t however been directly involved in combat so far. Putin would like them to be, if only because his forces have sustained much higher-than-expected losses and measures to fill gaps, such as the partial mobilisation of reservists last September, are domestically unpopular. Lukashenko has struck a balance between belligerent talk and moderate action, insisting Belarus will only join the war if Ukraine attacks it.

That may be because Belarus’s enabling of Russia’s aggression has made people only more dissatisfied with Lukashenko. Many Belarussians want no involvement in someone else’s war. Several protests took place in Belarus at the start of the invasion, leading to predictable repression similar to that seen in Russia, with numerous arrests.

Crucially, Belarus’s security forces stuck by Lukashenko at the peak of protests; if they’d defected, the story could have been different. Full involvement in the war would likely see even Lukashenko loyalists turn against him, including in the military. Soldiers might refuse to fight. It would be a dangerous step to take. As Russia’s war drags on, Lukashenko could find himself walking an increasingly difficult tightrope.

Two countries, one struggle

It’s perhaps with this in mind that Lukashenko’s latest repressive move has been to extend the death penalty. State officials and military personnel can now be executed for high treason. This gives Lukashenko a gruesome new tool to punish and deter defections.

As well as worrying about their safety, Belarus’s activists – in exile or in jail – face the challenge of ensuring the cause of Belarussian democracy isn’t lost in the fog of war. They need continuing solidarity and support to make the world understand that their struggle against oppression is part of the same campaign for liberty being waged by Ukrainians, and that any path to peace in the region must also mean democracy in Belarus.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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International Women’s Day, 2023World Parliaments Could Take Another 80 Years to Achieve Gender Parity Among Legislators

Despite advances in gender representation in legislative bodies, the track record of women in the executive branches of government – as heads of state or heads of government — remains low.

By Thalif Deen

For the first time in history, says a new report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), not a single functioning parliament in the world is “male-only”.

Is the increasing number of women in parliaments a singular achievement for gender empowerment? Or is it the result of mandatory legislative quotas for women’s representation in world’s parliaments?

According to the latest IPU report, Women in Parliament 2022, women’s participation in parliament has never been as diverse and representative as it is in many countries today.

The findings are based on the 47 countries that held elections in 2022. In those elections, women took an average 25.8% of seats up for election or appointment. This represents a 2.3 percentage point increase compared to previous renewals in these chambers.

Brazil saw a record 4,829 women who identify as Black running for election (out of 26,778 candidates); in the US, a record number of women of colour (263) stood in the midterm elections; LGBTQI+ representation in Colombia tripled from two to six members of the Congress; and in France, 32 candidates from minority backgrounds were elected to the new National Assembly, an all-time high of 5.8% of the total.

The report said legislated quotas were again a decisive factor in the increases seen in women’s representation.

Thomas Fitzsimons, IPU’s Director of Communications told IPS there are many factors that explain the successes of the countries that have made progress.

For example, he pointed out, technological and operational transformations, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased the potential for parliaments to become more gender-sensitive and family-friendly.

“The influence of gender issues on election outcomes, with increased awareness of discrimination and gender-based violence, as well as alliances with other social movements, also helped drive strong results for women in some of the parliamentary elections,” he noted.

“But if we had to choose one primary factor, it would be legislated quotas. Legislated quotas enshrined in the constitution and/or electoral laws require that a minimum number of candidates are women (or of the under-represented sex),” he said.

Chambers with legislated quotas or combined with voluntary party quotas produced a significantly higher share of women than those without in the 2022 elections (30.9% versus 21.2%).

“As for the future, we need to accelerate the momentum which is still too slow. At current rates of growth, it will take another 80 years before we reach parity,” Fitzsimons declared.

Antonia Kirkland Global Lead — Legal Equality and Access to Equality Now, told IPS it is encouraging to see IPU’s data revealing that more women than ever are in political decision-making roles globally, and there has been an overall increase in the number of women in both government and parliamentary posts.

IPU’s data clearly demonstrates that quotas on women’s representation have had a positive, big impact. Countries applying quotas have enjoyed a 9.7% increase in women in parliaments in comparison to countries without, she said.

“However, it is lamentable that women are still so underrepresented at all levels of political decision-making, accounting for only 9.8% of Heads of Government and just over a quarter of MPs. It is also deeply concerning that gender parity in parliaments is at least 80 years away if we continue at the current pace.”

With the World Bank finding that only 14 countries have full legal equality between women and men, and UN Women gaging it will take another 286 years to eliminate gaps in legal protections, duty bearers must create a safe and empowering environment for women to engage in politics that fosters greater legal equality, said Kirkland.

She said more needs to be done to increase women’s political representation by understanding and removing obstacles that impede women’s participation in the public sphere and decision-making.

“To accelerate gender parity in parliaments, we need an end to sex-discriminatory laws in all areas of life which hold women back from engaging in politics in the first place.”

Political parties should highlight the importance and advantages of gender diversity, and implement initiatives that involve women in politics at all stages and within all branches of the political arena.

IPU’s report, she pointed out, shows that a shocking percentage of women in parliament are subjected to gender-based violence and sexual harassment in their own parliaments, on the streets, and in the digital world. Concerted efforts are required to tackle head-on gender-based violence and abuse targeting women politicians both online and offline.

Governments, parliamentarians, the private sector, and civil society need to seize every opportunity – such as the upcoming UN Global Digital Compact – to work together so that women are protected from online abuse. Perpetrates and those who facilitate or provide platforms for such abuse must be held accountable.

“Tackling this problem would result in less self-censorship by parliamentarians, greater interest from girls and young women to serve in government, and ultimately stronger democracies that are both more peaceful and gender-equal, declared Kirkland.

At the regional level, the report said, six countries now have gender parity (or a greater share of women than men) in their lower or single chamber as of 1 January 2023. New Zealand joined last year’s club of five consisting of Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the top of the IPU’s authoritative global ranking of women in parliament.

Other notable gains in women’s representation were recorded in Australia (the strongest outcome of the year with a record 56.6% of seats won by women in the Senate), Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Malta and Slovenia.

High stakes elections in Angola, Kenya and Senegal all saw positive strides for women. Wide divides characterized results in Asia: record numbers of women were elected to the historically male-dominated Senate in Japan but in India, elections to the upper chamber led to women occupying only 15.1% of seats, well below the global and regional averages.

The Pacific saw the highest growth rate in women’s representation out of all the regions, gaining 1.7 percentage points to reach an overall average of 22.6% women in parliament. Every Pacific parliament now has at least one-woman legislator.

In the 15 European chambers that were renewed in 2022, there was little shift in women’s representation, stagnating at 31%.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, seven chambers were renewed in 2022. On average, women were elected to 16.3% of the seats in these chambers, the lowest regional percentage in the world for elections held in the year. Three countries were below 10%: Algeria (upper chamber: 4.3%), Kuwait (6.3%) and Lebanon (6.3%).

Bahrain is an outlier in the region with a record eight women elected to the lower chamber, including many first-time lawmakers. 73 women ran for election to the lower chamber (out of a total of 330 candidates) compared with the 41 women who ran in the last election in 2018. Ten women were also appointed to the 40-member upper chamber.

The IPU is the global organization of national parliaments. It was founded more than 133 years ago as the first multilateral political organization in the world, encouraging cooperation and dialogue between all nations. Today, the IPU comprises 178 national Member Parliaments and 14 regional parliamentary bodies. It promotes democracy and helps parliaments become stronger, younger, gender-balanced and more representative. It also defends the human rights of parliamentarians through a dedicated committee made up of MPs from around the world.

For more information about the IPU, contact Thomas Fitzsimons at e-mail: or or tel: +41(0) 79 854 31 53

IPS UN Bureau Report


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This feature is part of a series to mark International Women’s Day, March 8. Source

Racist Political System Thwarts Candidacy of Mayan Woman in Guatemala

Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas launch their candidacy for the presidency and vice presidency of Guatemala in December 2022, which has been vetoed by the courts, in a maneuver that has drawn criticism from human rights groups at home and abroad. CREDIT: Twitter

Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas launch their candidacy for the presidency and vice presidency of Guatemala in December 2022, which has been vetoed by the courts, in a maneuver that has drawn criticism from human rights groups at home and abroad. CREDIT: Twitter

By Edgardo Ayala
SANTA CATARINA PALOPÓ, Guatemala, Mar 4 2023 (IPS)

Centuries of racism and exclusion suffered by indigenous peoples in Guatemala continue to weigh heavily, as demonstrated by the denial of the registration of a political party that is promoting the presidential candidacy of indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera in the upcoming general elections.

On Mar. 2, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled against Cabrera’s party, the leftist Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), which had appealed a Feb. 15 Supreme Court resolution that left them out of the Jun. 25 elections.“There is a racist system and structure, and we indigenous people have barely managed to start climbing the steps, but with great difficulty and zero opportunities.” — Silvia Menchú

Cabrera’s candidacy and that of her vice-presidential running-mate Jordán Rodas are now hanging by a thread, with their hopes depending on a few last resort legal challenges.

The deadline for the registration of candidates is Mar. 25.


A centuries-old racist system

Guatemala’s political and economic elites “are looking for ways to keep her (Cabrera) from registering; everyone has the right to participate, but they are blocking her,” Sonia Nimacachi, 31, a native of Santa Catarina Palopó, told IPS. The municipality, which has a Cachiquel Mayan indigenous majority, is in the southwestern Guatemalan department of Sololá.

“We would like a person with our roots and culture to become president, I think it would help our people,” added Nimacachi, standing by her street stall in the center of town.

Nimacachi, a Cachiquel Mayan woman, sells “granizadas” or snow cones: crushed ice sweetened with syrup of various flavors, perfect for hot days.

“There is a racist system and structure, and we indigenous people have barely managed to start climbing the steps, but with great difficulty and zero opportunities,” Silvia Menchú, director of the K’ak’a Na’oj (New Knowledge, in Cachiquel) Association for the Development of Women, told IPS.

The organization, based in Santa Catarina Palopó, carries out human rights programs focused on indigenous women.


Santa Catarina Palopó, a picturesque Cachiquel Mayan town located on the shore of Lake Atitlán in the southwestern Guatemalan department of Sololá, is preparing for the upcoming general elections, where voters will choose a new president, vice president, 160 members of Congress, 20 members of the Central American Parliament, as well as 340 mayors. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Santa Catarina Palopó, a picturesque Cachiquel Mayan town located on the shore of Lake Atitlán in the southwestern Guatemalan department of Sololá, is preparing for the upcoming general elections, where voters will choose a new president, vice president, 160 members of Congress, 20 members of the Central American Parliament, as well as 340 mayors. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS


“Racism has prevailed, we are mistreated everywhere by the government and the authorities, we are seen as people with little capacity,” said Menchú, of the Maya Quiché ethnic group.

An alleged illegality attributed to Rodas, the vice-presidential candidate, was the cause for denying the MLP the right to register for the elections.

Analysts and social organizations perceive obscure maneuvering on the part of the powers-that-be, who cannot accept the idea that an indigenous woman is trying to break through the barriers of the country’s rigid, racist political system.

Cabrera is a 51-year-old Mayan Mam woman who is trying for a second time to run in the unequal fight for the presidency of this Central American country of 14.9 million inhabitants.

Of the total population, 43.7 percent identify as indigenous Mayan, Xinca, Garífuna and Afro-descendant peoples, according to the 2018 census.

In the 2019 elections Cabrera came in fourth place, winning 10 percent of the total votes cast.

In the Jun. 25 general elections voters will choose a new president for the period 2024-2028, as well as 160 members of Congress and 20 members of the Central American Parliament, and 340 mayors.

In Guatemala, the ancient Mayan culture was flourishing when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century.

The descendants of that pre-Hispanic civilization still speak 24 different autochthonous languages, most of which are Mayan.

Years of exclusion and neglect of indigenous rural populations led Guatemala to a civil war that lasted 36 years (1960-1996) and left some 250,000 dead or disappeared.


The presidential candidacy of Thelma Cabrera, of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), must be allowed by the Guatemalan authorities, so that the indigenous population is represented in the Jun. 25 elections, says Silvia Menchú, director of the K’ak’a Na’oj (New Knowledge, in Cachiquel) Association for the Development of Women. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The presidential candidacy of Thelma Cabrera, of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), must be allowed by the Guatemalan authorities, so that the indigenous population is represented in the Jun. 25 elections, says Silvia Menchú, director of the K’ak’a Na’oj (New Knowledge, in Cachiquel) Association for the Development of Women. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS


A blatant maneuver

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s (TSE) rejection of the MLP arose from a complaint against Rodas, who served between 2017 and 2022 as head of the Office for the Defense of Human Rights.

In that office, Rodas strongly questioned alleged acts of corruption by the current government of Alejandro Giammattei, who took office in January 2020.

The criminal complaint against the vice-presidential candidate was filed on Jan. 6 by the current head of the Office for the Defense of Human Rights, Alejandro Córdoba.

After Cabrera and Rodas attempted to register as candidates, Córdoba said he had “doubts” about some payments allegedly received by his predecessor in the Office for the Defense of Human Rights.

His “doubts” apparently had to do with some alleged illegality on the part of Rodas, but since Córdoba has not described it in detail, his statements have been nothing but a weak half-hearted accusation.

However, that was enough for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to reject the MLP on Feb. 2, which triggered protests by rural and indigenous people, who blocked roads in at least 12 parts of the country.

According to Guatemalan law, all candidates for popularly elected positions must have a document that attests that they have no pending legal issues.

But analysts have pointed out that this document should only take into account actual legal rulings handed down by courts, and not “doubts” vaguely expressed by some government official.

By vetoing Rodas, the TSE automatically bars his presidential runningmate Cabrera, who may actually be the ultimate target of the maneuver, since she is the one who is trying, once again, to win the votes of the indigenous population.

On Feb. 15, the MLP runningmates filed a provisional injunction with the Supreme Court, so that it would take effect immediately and overrule the TSE’s decision, while the Supreme Court studied and resolved the matter in depth.

But the injunction was rejected, so the MLP appealed the next day to the Constitutional Court, asking it to review the case and order the Supreme Court to admit the provisional injunction, to allow the fight for the registration of Cabrera and Rodas to continue forward.

But the appeal was denied Thursday Mar. 2 by the Constitutional Court.

However, the Supreme Court has not yet issued a final ruling on the injunction, but only a provisional stance. This means that when it is finally issued, if it goes against the MLP, Cabrera and Rodas could once again turn to the Constitutional Court, in a last-ditch effort.

But it seems as if the die is already cast.

In a tweet on Thursday Mar. 2, Rodas wrote: “The constitutional justice system has denied my constitutional right to be elected and denies the population the right to choose freely. We await the Supreme Court ruling on the injunction and the position of the @IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights). Our fight continues.”


Guatemala's political and economic elites are determined to block the candidacy of indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera, says Sonia Nimacachi, a Cachiquel Mayan woman selling snowcones in Santa Catarina Palopó, in the country's southwest. She would vote for Cabrera again, if her candidacy is finally allowed. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Guatemala’s political and economic elites are determined to block the candidacy of indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera, says Sonia Nimacachi, a Cachiquel Mayan woman selling snowcones in Santa Catarina Palopó, in the country’s southwest. She would vote for Cabrera again, if her candidacy is finally allowed. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS


Cabrera’s second attempt

This is Cabrera’s second attempt to run for the presidency. Her first was in the 2019 elections, when she failed to fully capture the indigenous vote.

“I would dare to think that the majority of the indigenous population did not vote for her because of those instilled prejudices: that she is a woman and also indigenous, not a professional, are issues that have nothing to do with the dignity and the quality of a person,” argued Silvia Menchú.

She added that the right-wing parties have been allies of the country’s evangelical churches, through which they keep in submission segments of the indigenous population that end up supporting conservative parties, rather than a candidate who comes from their Mayan culture.

To illustrate, she said that in Santa Catarina Palopó, a town of 6,000 people, there is only one school to cover primary and middle-school education, “but there are about 15 evangelical churches.”

The TSE’s veto of the registration of Cabrera and Rodas puts the credibility of the elections at risk, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) warned on Feb. 27.

In a joint statement, the two organizations said the electoral authority’s rejection of aspiring candidates “is based on dubious grounds, puts political rights at risk, and undermines the credibility of the electoral process.”

“The electoral process is taking place in the context of a decline in the rule of law, in which the institutions responsible for overseeing the elections have little independence or credibility,” they stated.

In addition to Cabrera and Rodas, the TSE also rejected the registration of right-wing candidate Roberto Arzú, because he allegedly began campaigning too early.

HRW and Wola added that “efforts to exclude or prosecute opposition candidates create unequal conditions that could prevent free and fair elections from taking place.”

Meanwhile, the TSE did endorse, on Feb. 4, the presidential candidacy of Zury Ríos, daughter of General Efraín Ríos Montt, who governed de facto between 1982 and 1983.

In 2013 the general was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for the massacre of more than 1,400 indigenous Ixil people in the north of the country.

He was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but the Constitutional Court later revoked the ruling. Ríos Montt died in April 2018.

Article 186 of the Guatemalan constitution prohibits people involved in coups d’état, or their relatives, for running for president.

Meanwhile, snowcone vendor Sonia Nimacachi said in the central square of Santa Catarina Palopó that she still held out hope that Cabrera would be able to register as a candidate.

“If they let her participate, I would vote for her again,” she said, while serving a customer.


How Emerging Economies Are Reshaping the International Financial System

The G20 or Group of Twenty is an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union. It works to address major issues related to the global economy, such as international financial stability, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development.

By Ian Mitchell and Sam Hughes
LONDON, Feb 23 2023 (IPS)

It’s been 25 years since the 1997 Asian financial crisis led to the creation of the G20 forum for finance ministers; and 15 years since this became a leader-level meeting following the global financial crisis. During this period, there has been significant shift in the global finance and economic landscape.

The ascent of several emerging economies has seen their contributions to the multilateral finance system that supports development rise significantly. Our new report collates those contributions over the last decade for the first time. It charts how China’s annual contributions to the UN and multilateral development banks rose twenty-fold from $0.1bn to $2.2bn.

But it also looks collectively at a group of 13 rising economies whose developmental contributions to multilateral finance institutions have risen five-fold to over $6bn over the last decade.

These contributions now make up an eighth of the total; and have seen the creation of two new multilateral finance institutions.

In this piece, we draw out key findings from our analysis, including the balance between funding existing and new institutions like the New Development Bank.

We consider whether continued growth in the 13 emerging actors could generate enough new funding for development over the next quarter century, and even create an institution as large at the World Bank’s fund for low-income countries (IDA).

Despite recent rhetoric around the return to a bipolar world order, this report is evidence that a wide group of countries are already playing major role in the global economic and development system, and will continue to do so in years to come

The transformational effect of economic growth on the multilateral system

In 1990 most people in the world lived in low-income countries; by 2020, this share had fallen dramatically to just seven percent of people. Meanwhile, the share of the global population living in middle-income countries swelled from 30 percent in 1990 to 73 percent in 2020.

Such a transformation implies a greater number of countries with the economic output to contribute internationally: widening and deepening participation in the multilateral system.

And this is just what we’ve seen. Over the decade to 2019, we find a group of emerging actors have significantly increased their contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations.

These include thirteen major economies outside the group of more established providers within the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which tend to receive more attention.

Ten of these emerging actors are G20 members, including the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—but others have grown quickly too: Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Collectively, we refer to these thirteen emerging actors as the “E13.”

Over the decade, the E13’s annual contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations (both core and funding earmarked for particular purposes) have increased almost five-fold, from $1.3bn in 2010 to $6.3bn in 2019 (up 377 percent). And their unrestricted core contributions have risen even more: increasing from $1.0bn to $5.2bn (up 410 percent).

Of these core contributions, we see that those to UN agencies more than quadrupled over the decade, steadily rising from $0.3bn to $1.2bn (up 330 percent). But by far the most striking development in E13 core contributions has come from the creation and capitalisation of two new multilateral organisations: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB).

The role of China

Although China has recently stepped back its bilateral finance efforts, its multilateral contributions increased steadily to 2019; and provided a third (34 percent) of the E13 total over the decade. Our colleagues have examined this in detail, including how China has the second highest aggregate voting share after the US in international finance institutions it supports.

Still, our analysis also highlights the importance of Russia, Brazil and India who each contributed over $3bn over the period and collectively contributed a further third of the total. While China’s multilateral contributions have been concentrated (59 percent) in new institutions it co-founded (see below), other providers have concentrated funding in traditional institutions: for example, Argentina, Chile and Mexico did not support the new institutions while for Saudi Arabia and UAE they were 17 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Creating new multilateral finance organisations

Over the ten-year period we examine, almost half of the E13’s core multilateral contributions were to the two new institutions (AIIB and NDB). After 2016, funding provided to these institutions made up over two-thirds of their contributions. Indeed, in 2016 the first financial contributions to AIIB and NDB causedE13 multilateral development finance to triple in a single year.

The E13 provided an additional $6.0bn of core funds for AIIB and NDB in 2016, without reducing their multilateral contributions through other channels.

Though annual contributions reduced to $3.1bn in 2019, AIIB and NDB still accounted for half of the E13’s multilateral development finance in that year, leaving their contributions at the end of the decade far ahead of the beginning.

Figure 1. E13 core and earmarked contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations (nominal USD billions)

Source: Authors’ analysis

Emerging actors fund a sixth of the UN system

As well as higher absolute contributions (Figure 1), the E13’s role in the multilateral system has also grown in relative terms (Figure 2). As a share of the level of finance provided by the 29 high-income countries in the OECD DAC, the E13’s core multilateral contributions rose from 5 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2019—more than doubling their relative significance.

This was largely due to the effect of AIIB and NDB (clearly seen by the 2016 peak), but we also see that E13 core contributions to the UN system steadily and quickly rose as a share of the DAC level across the decade: from 5 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2019.

Figure 2. E13 core contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations as a share of contributions from DAC countries

Source: Authors’ analysis

A look to 2050—what role might the emerging economies play?

As the economies of the E13 continue to grow, what might this mean for their multilateral contributions in the future? Figure 3 shows how the share of economic output provided as development finance to multilateral organisations (either core or earmarked) tends to increase with higher levels of income per capita.

Though the relationship is steeper for the DAC than the E13, even the E13’s current trajectory implies a significant increase in future multilateral development finance from this group.

Ian Mitchell is Co-Director, Development Cooperation in Europe and Senior Policy Fellow at the Center for Global Development. Sam Hughes is a Research Assistant at the Center for Global Development.

IPS UN Bureau


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Nicaragua: An Opportunity for Democratic Solidarity

By Inés M. Pousadela
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Feb 22 2023 (IPS)

On 9 February, Nicaragua’s dictator, Daniel Ortega, unexpectedly ordered the release of 222 political prisoners, including several former presidential candidates, opposition party leaders, journalists, priests, diplomats, businesspeople and former government supporters branded as enemies for expressing mild public criticism.

Also released were several members and leaders of civil society organisations (CSOs) and social movements, including student activists and environmental, peasant and Indigenous rights defenders. Some had been arrested on trumped-up charges for taking part in mass protests in 2018 and stuck in prison for more than four years.

But the Ortega regime didn’t simply let them go – it put them on a charter flight to the USA and before their plane had even landed permanently stripped them of their Nicaraguan nationality and their civil and political rights. The government made clear it wasn’t recognising their innocence; it was only commuting their sentences.

The rise of a police state

Ever since being re-elected in a blatantly fraudulent election in November 2021, Ortega has sought to make up for his lack of democratic legitimacy by establishing a police state. The regime effectively outlawed all civil society and independent media, closing more than 3,000 CSOs and 55 media outlets. It subverted the judicial system to falsely accuse, convict and imprison hundreds of critics and intimidate everyone else into compliance.

Political prisoners have been treated with purposeful cruelty, as though they’re enemy hostages – kept in isolation, either in the dark or under permanent bright lighting, given insufficient food and refused medical care, subjected to constant interrogations, denied legal counsel and allowed only irregular visits by family members, if at all. Psychological torture has been a constant, and many have been also subjected to physical torture.

The release of some prisoners hasn’t signalled any improvement in conditions or move towards democracy, as made clear by the treatment experienced by one political prisoner, Catholic bishop Rolando Álvarez, who refused to board the plane to the USA.

In retaliation for his refusal to leave the country, his trial date was brought forward and held immediately, in the absence of any procedural safeguards. It predictably resulted in a 26-year sentence. Álvarez was immediately sent to prison, where he remains alongside dozens of others.

Stripped of citizenship

The constitutional amendment stripping the 222 released political prisoners of their citizenship states that ‘traitors to the homeland shall lose the status of Nicaraguan nationals’ – even though the constitution establishes that no national can be deprived of their nationality.

It was an illegal act on top of another illegal act. No one can be deported from their own country: what the regime called a deportation was a banishment, something against both domestic law and international human rights standards.

On 15 February, the regime doubled down: it stripped 94 more people of their nationality. Those newly declared stateless included prominent political dissidents, civil society activists, journalists and the writers Gioconda Belli and Sergio Ramírez, both of whom had held government positions in the 1980s. Most of the 94 were already living in exile. They were declared ‘fugitives from justice’.

Mixed reactions

By rendering 326 people stateless, the Nicaraguan dictatorship fuelled instant international solidarity. On 10 February, the Spanish government offered the 222 just-released prisoners Spanish citizenship – an offer many are bound to accept. On 17 February, more than 500 writers around the world rallied around Belli and Ramírez and denounced the closure of civic space in Nicaragua.

In Argentina, the Roundtable on Human Rights, Democracy and Society sent an open letter to President Alberto Fernández to request he offer Argentinian nationality to all Nicaraguans stripped of theirs.

But Argentina, alongside most of Latin America, has looked the other way. Its silence suggests that democratic consensus across the region is more fragile and superficial than might be hoped, with willingness to condemn rights violations depending on the ideological leanings of those who carry them out.

Currently all the region’s big democracies – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico – have governments that define themselves as left-wing. But only one of their presidents, Chile’s Gabriel Boric, has consistently criticised Nicaragua’s authoritarian turn. In response to the latest developments he tweeted a personal message of solidarity with those affected, calling Ortega a dictator. The rest have either issued mild official statements or simply remained silent.

Now what?

The Nicaraguan government insisted that releasing the prisoners was its own decision. The fact it was accompanied by further violations of released prisoners’ rights was meant as a demonstration of power.

But the move looks like it was made in the expectation of receiving something in return. The Nicaraguan government has long demanded that US sanctions be lifted; at a time when one of its closest ideological allies, Russia, is unable to provide any significant support, Nicaragua needs the USA more than ever. But the US government has always said the release of political prisoners must be the first step towards negotiations.

Given this, the unilateral surrender of people it considers dangerous conspirators to the state it proclaims is its worst enemy doesn’t seem much like a show of force. And if it isn’t, then it’s a valuable advocacy opportunity. The international community must push for the restoration of civic space and the return of free, fair and competitive elections. The first step should be to support the hundreds who’ve been expelled from their own country, as the future builders of democracy in Nicaragua.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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