Civic Participation and Empowerment
8.8 Necessary Condition: Civic Participation and Empowerment
8.8.1 What is civic participation and empowerment? Why is it a necessary condition?
Civic participation and empowerment refer to a condition in which every citizen has the means to actively engage in the public sphere, including political processes.437 Under this condition, civil society is empowered, protected, and accountable; the media are present, professional, and independent of government influence; equal access to information and freedom of expression is upheld; and political parties are able to form freely and are protected. Civil society, the media, and political parties can mitigate the potential for violent conflict by providing legitimate public forums and mechanisms for peaceful debate.438 Through these means, the population can also peacefully participate in politics, provide a check on the government, and influence government policy. Without opportunities for civic engagement, motivations for violence may be more likely to increase, as the population seeks to ensure their voice is heard and their needs are met. Civic participation and empowerment also require respect for fundamental civil and political rights439 of minority groups, including the perception that these rights can be freely exercised without fear of retribution.440
8.8.2 Guidance for Civic Participation and Empowerment
Civil society occupies the political space between the individual and government. It is a public sphere where citizens and voluntary organizations can engage freely outside of the government, family, and the private sector.441 Civil society organizations can include a wide range of nongovernmental organizations, advocacy groups, charities, faith-based organizations, civic education organizations, business and professional associations, or community groups, among many others.442 These organizations embody an active citizenry that reflects the values of those it represents, based on cultural, ethical, political, or other such considerations. They often serve as a link between the state and population, helping to influence and monitor government decisions; mobilize the population and educate them on their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities to influence government policies and lobby for reform; assist in public service delivery; and facilitate intergroup dialogue and other means for social reconciliation.443 The important role of a vibrant civil society in S&R environments is widely accepted.
8.8.4 Leverage existing capacities in developing civil society.444 Understand that many forms of civil society will have existed prior to or during the conflict, filling the vacuum of service delivery that the state failed to provide. Many of these civil society groups or networks emerge in refugee camps and other environments where communities are forced to reorganize themselves as a means of survival. Often, these organizations may not resemble westernized civil society structures and may include community councils, church groups, community social networks, or other traditional structures that seek to strengthen social bonds in response to conflict. While there may be a tendency to favor partnerships with more familiar NGO structures, do not neglect these traditional groups and the resources they bring to the table.445 To leverage existing capacity, conduct rigorous assessments and analyses of the diverse landscape of organizations that are already present and identify those with the potential to play a positive role, as well as those that have played a negative role.446 Understanding the historical relationship between the state and population is also an important step in maximizing the potential of civil society in ensuring lasting peace and promoting good governance, among other peacebuilding objectives.
8.8.5 Establish a legal and regulatory framework to protect CSOs and ensure they are allowed to form and operate freely.447 Because some of these organizations may be unfamiliar forces in societies emerging from conflict, they may need special protections. Establishing legal and regulatory frameworks for the formation and operation of CSOs ensures they have a basis in law. Laws should guarantee the right of association, expression, information, and participation; and regulations should address rules for financing, tax status, and registration.448 Legal standing can enhance the contribution of CSOs to society by legitimizing their activities, decreasing potential public mistrust in them, and ensuring their accountability.449 No statutory or regulatory framework, however, should encroach upon the independence or freedoms of these organizations, which is paramount to their effectiveness. Civil society activists should not be threatened or harmed and should not be imprisoned without reason.450 They should be able to freely assemble and file complaints against the government for abuses.
8.8.6 Foster ownership of host nation CSOs by providing necessary support to boost capacity. Societies emerging from conflict often experience a sudden expansion in CSOs, as the space for civic engagement opens up. This mushrooming of organizations may include both an influx of international CSOs and the emergence of new local organizations, in addition to those that existed before or during the conflict. International CSOs should be careful not to supplant or undermine local resources.451 Focus on empowering domestic organizations whose sustainability will be vital to lasting peace and development. Many local organizations may lack the necessary skills and resources to perform their functions, and will likely be hampered by weak membership bases and a lack of national visibility. The lack of sustainable funding is another recurring challenge for new local CSOs, so assist them with budget management and administration through skills training and mentoring programs.452 Consider innovative funding approaches that have been used before, such as granting tax-exemptions for donations to CSOs or creating a foundation where funds are invested to provide a continuous source of funding over the long term. Top-down approaches in developing civil society can encourage dependency, rather than empowering local actors to drive their own agendas and seek out innovative sources of funding and support.453 See also Sections 7.8.8 and 7.8.14 for the role of civil society in justice.
8.8.7 Promote inclusivity in developing CSOs. If they are not diversified, civil society organizations can be perceived as exclusionary. Emphasize inclusivity in CSOs to ensure that their work fully represents the interests and values of what may be a very diverse population. In societies where divisions run deep, encourage CSOs to build bridges across social groups and avoid reinforcing divisions based on identity. Pay close attention to marginalized groups, particularly women, given their demonstrated potential for contributing to lasting peace. The civic engagement of women may help ensure, for example, that there is support for laws that address women’s issues. These laws may include protecting women from domestic violence, safeguarding their inheritance rights if their husbands die, and ensuring their rights in customary marriage, which is important for rural women.454 Assess diversity of CSOs by examining the funding sources, member demographics, and the range of issues or interests represented.455
8.8.8 Foster and support community-based development to broaden civic participation and enhance opportunities for developing leadership in civil society.456 Communit-based development involves partnering with the host nation population to design and implement programs aimed at meeting the needs of communities.457 Such programs have an inherent and profound benefit for civil society development because they cultivate local leadership and broaden civic participation in political processes. They also teach people basic organizational and management skills, such as resource management, budgeting and accounting, and project evaluation.
8.8.9 Promote accountability of CSOs through regulatory oversight mechanisms. The boom in CSOs after violent conflict can serve as an entry point for organizations controlled by those who oppose the peace process or seek to manipulate the population. Other CSOs may form simply to take advantage of robust flow of donor funds. Promote accountability of these organizations by establishing CSO registration proce dures and encouraging development of important corporate governance mechanisms— boards of directors, audits, and bylaws—to ensure that CSOs operate within the law and with respect for human rights.458
8.8.10 Approach: Independent Media and Access to Information
An independent media sector includes print, broadcast, or Web-based outlets that serve the public interest by disseminating information to the population about social, economic, and political developments. Journalists in the media sector typically include publishers, editors, producers, and reporters. In societies emerging from conflict, the primary function of the media is to report on the actions of the government and provide a public forum through which the population can debate issues peacefully and voice its concerns about the government. Without a functioning media sector that is free from censorship, the population cannot fully participate in political processes, exercise their civic rights and responsibilities, or express their needs to political officials. Access to information is a basic human right and entails that information is available in a format and language that is usable and understood by the population.
8.8.11 Nurture and sustain a media sector that is pluralistic, transparent, sustainable, and independent. These characteristics are vital if the media sector is to perform its key function of ensuring government accountability for its actions by keeping the population abreast of key political developments. A pluralistic media sector includes a diverse array of voices with competing perspectives, including marginalized populations such as women and minorities. A transparent media sector prizes truth and credibility in the reporting of information. A sustainable media sector is one that comprises local staff with the capacity to generate and manage revenue needed to finance its operations. Assessing fully the media landscape and the enabling environment in which it operates is a necessary first step in developing a sustainable media sector.459 An independent media is free from government control or political influence and enjoys the freedom of speech. Assess the media’s independence and capacity to oversee government actions by examining the extent of editorial criticism against the government, the number of opposition media outlets that exist, and the severity of cases involving government efforts to threaten journalists or censor information.460
8.8.12 Consider creating media monitoring mechanisms to prevent incendiary or hate speech from destabilizing the country. During violent conflict, warring parties may have dominated major media outlets as a means for disseminating propaganda, delivering hate messages, or reinforcing societal divisions. Consider establishing an outlet for the UN or other UN Security Council-mandated mission, that can counter these messages and communicate the peacebuilding objectives of the mission. The mission-owned outlet may be used to raise awareness about public information such as where the population can access essential services, how to vote, and what rights the population has, among others. Another mechanism for preventing media abuses can involve creating an independent regulatory commission that sets standards, monitors media abuses, and addresses complaints.461 A commission should operate with fairness and transparency, within a clearly defined set of rules. While cracking down on spoilers, also be sure to identify and promote the voices of moderate organizations and individuals.
8.8.13 Ensure that media outlets are representative of and accessible to the population. The ability to access information on political processes, basic rights, and public services is recognized by the United Nations as a human right.462 In planning for new media outlets, maximize the population’s access to information by carefully assessing the demographics of the country. Large rural populations may be illiterate, which may render print outlets ineffective. Limited access to television sets may also mean radios are a more appropriate medium for information. Also consider the languages in which information is published to ensure that all segments of the population have a means for consuming the information. Create a diverse array of outlets that includes the voices of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups. A pluralistic market can elevate competing views while diluting incendiary ones.
8.8.14 Define media broadly but distinguish carefully between media sector development and strategic communications. Adopt an expansive definition of media sector support to include both information and communications technology (ICT) thereby spanning traditional media (radio, tv, print), new media (text messaging, internet) as well as telecommunications. However, conflating strategic communications and media development diminishes the efficacy of both. The former is about controlling the message; the latter about developing a media sector (radio, tv, print, internet, telecom) that is valued by the body politic and pluralistic. This is not to say that the media sector is unable to engage in social marketing types of messages, but that those messages need to be clearly labeled as such (originating sponsor/funder) for credibility and usefulness.
8.8.15 Develop a strong legal framework to protect the rights of journalists. During conflict, many journalists are persecuted, kidnapped, or murdered for their views and activities by the government or by opposition groups. Other serious offenses against media may involve ransacking of offices; denial of registration or funding; libel suits and other forms of harassment; and death threats targeted at reporters, editors, and owners. To safeguard the greatest possible freedoms for the press, a strong legal framework for media is needed to clearly define media freedoms and prevent the government or other groups in society from unlawfully censoring information. Laws, however, are worthless without an effective judiciary that is willing and capable of administering justice to violators of the law.
8.8.16 Encourage the development of journalism training and education programs to promote journalistic standards and potential for long-term success. Professional training and education programs should underscore journalistic concepts such as truth, impartiality, and public service. Before and during violent conflict, many journalists will have worked in isolation under an authoritarian regime and may not have been exposed to international standards for journalism. Journalism education should go beyond ethnical principles to include comprehensive education on critical business concepts that are key to sustainability of outlets—competition in the media market, management of sales and advertisement activities, and administrative capacities.
8.8.17 Complement education programs by creating professional associations for journalists to connect host nation actors with the international media network. Establishing associations can help cultivate leadership and promote accountability and compliance with journalistic standards in professional integrity and ethics. Promulgating widely accepted standards can help to control inflammatory rhetoric in the media. Engaging in a wider network of foreign journalists helps domestic journalists avoid isolation and provides greater support for those who continue to face persecution or manipulation by the state or other opposition groups. Domestic journalists as well as the general population should have access to international media, including foreign newspapers, magazines, and broadcast stations, along with unfiltered access to the Internet.463
8.8.18 Approach: Inclusive and Participatory Political Parties
3e right to participate in the political arena is a central element of stable governance. Political parties are the basis for participatory governance and serve as the vehicles through which groups with political differences can compete non-violently for power. Through these groups, political opponents can engage each other in a constructive way, forging relationships across party lines and establishing lines of communication.464 Political parties are responsible for developing positions on key public issues and cultivating candidates who compete for elected office during election season.465 They also help to facilitate and stimulate public debate and structure political competition and participation.466
8.8.19 In developing political parties, foster inclusivity but prioritize the commitment to peace.467 Engaging as many warring parties and potential spoilers as possible in the political process may help develop a lasting peace. But while inclusivity is ideal, it is most important that participating parties be fully committed to peace. Be wary of criminals, human rights abusers, or former leaders, who may seek to legitimize themselves through elections only to abuse their positions for personal gain. Carefully assess each group’s record of past crimes, the level of popular support, and their commitment to peace when deciding cases where certain individuals may have to be prohibited from engaging in the political process. Continue to monitor abuses during the campaign process to minimize violent or unethical practices through election commissions or other CSOs. Emphasize issue-based politics, rather than politics based solely on ethnicity, religion, or other potentially divisive lines, which can increase the potential for conflict.
8.8.20 Pay special attention to engaging women, minority ethnic groups, and other marginalized populations in the development of political parties. In societies emerging from conflict, certain groups may have historically been excluded from forming political parties or otherwise participating in the political process. Take special care to ensure that all groups have access to the political process and can promote candidates to run for office. Ensuring representation of marginalized groups is a fundamental aspect of ensuring broad-based public involvement and support for political processes. Recognize and empower women in these activities, as they often make up the strongest constituency for peace.468 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes and mandates the participation of women in the political process.469 Consult and inform women’s organizations about political processes, support women’s participation in government administration, and provide training and resources aimed at developing female leadership.470 Depending on the situation, quotas or other such mechanisms may be an effective way to help correct power imbalances and ensure full participation of marginalized groups.471
8.8.21 Provide political parties with necessary training and support, but ensure neutrality in delivering that support.472 Many political parties will have limited know-how in civic processes. Assist parties in strengthening their voter bases by training them to be responsive to the needs of their constituencies. Help smaller parties increase their impact by building coalitions across society. Ensure equal access to media outlets, opportunities for campaigning, and training forums to inform party members about their roles and responsibilities. Financial support is also critical for the viability of political parties. While some states may be prohibited from providing direct assistance to political parties, create public financing laws or an international fund through which political parties can legitimately access financial support. But keep in mind that the neutrality of international actors and the existence of equitable access to support are critical to perceptions of legitimacy and the appearance of a balanced playing field.473 Regulate the flow of money in the political sphere by means such as limiting campaign and party contributions, banning donations from foreign nationals, placing spending limits on campaigns, creating time limits for the campaign period, ensuring public disclosure of expenditures, and providing some public campaign financing to limit dependence on donors.474