Civil Society, Social Movements and the Development Process


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A couple of years ago civil society organizations were enjoying a good reputation in the international forum and this was due to their significant contributions to health, education, etc. But in the latter part of the 19th century, with the end of the conflict and the invention of the internet it led to the rise of the empowerment of these civil societies. They were associated with social justice as showcased in the US Civil Rights Movement. Rutzen does mention how the interlinking of technology and civic empowerment due to which UN made a Millennium Declaration for Human Rights.

After the 9/11 attacks, the spirit of the world began to change. They were now focussed on human rights and the contributions of society. To counter this terrorism the then U.S President George W. Bush launched the ‘War on Terror’. He also launched the Freedom Agenda which asked for support from the society as a component. This meant that the CSO’s were associated with both terrorism and the freedom agenda which became a reason for concern in the international community.

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Rutzen spoke about two models that emerged out of this:

1. Lateral Model: In this CSO’s are allowed to function in the political system but they are supposed to away from any political activities.

2. Co-Opt Model: In this model the government works with the CSO’s and functions with them in a cooperative manner.

This trend gained momentum and it was to improve the performance of foreign aid. This all led to the contraction of civil society. The Arab Spring of 2010 set off a second wave of constraints. The governments around the world began to take notice of these movements this led to the civil society being restricted with the hope that no similar uprising would occur on their soil. Since 2012 more than 120 laws have constrained the freedom of association or assembly has been proposed or enacted in 60 countries.  Of these only half can be called framework legislation. Many legal and regulatory measures were used by the government to curtail international funding.

Many measures had been taken to curtail international funding to preserve the integrity of the CSO’s. These measures were taken so that the state becomes more self-sufficient ,to not only seek any form of help from the international organizations. Rutzen also says that by doing so will prevent any form of money laundering.

The justifications that governments use for enacting restrictions on CSO’s fall into four broad categories: 

1. Protecting the state sovereignty: Some governments invoke state sovereignty. The purpose of this law is to ensure that the foreign organizations representing outside interests should not interfere in the domestic issues. Some of the states have mentioned that foreigners try to interfere in domestic areas which lead to destabilization of the country or try to change the regime.

2. Transparency and accountability: Another defense regularly summoned by governments to control and limit the progression of outside assets is the significance of maintaining the uprightness of CSOs by advancing straightforwardness and responsibility through government guidelines.

3. Aid effectiveness and coordination: The idea behind the host country ownership that has been interpreted as host-government ownership and has exploited the aid effectiveness campaign.  In the recent case of Sri Lanka, the Finance and Planning Ministry issued a public notice that the CSO’s are to receive international funding and the reason behind this is that the international funding is undermining the national development projects.

4. National Security, Counterterrorism and Anti-Money Laundering: The national security is very much involved and it aims to justify imposing restrictions on international funding which includes danger from cross border like China.

The international norms provide a framework for the protection of civil society. Along with that it also allows the national governments to put restrictions under certain and specific circumstances. Moreover, according to international law mentions that the law must be accessible and arrangements should be done. The basic idea behind this is that a person should be aware of whether or his intended conduct would be a violation of the law. These terms are undefined and reasonably argued that they failed the requirement.

Recent studies have shown the pressures on international funding and the subsequent political environments. In most countries where the elections are taken place in a free and fair manner, international funding restrictions are not imposed by civil society. This all makes sense as this means where the election is rigged those countries do not wish to have international funding as the well-known CSO’s would lead to the defeat in the polls.

This shows that civil society does play an important role not only in government but also in the implementation of the law in the world. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many countries began defending the civil society. But they are doing it with their own agenda in mind. So can this be called the reason for the rise of civil society in recent times?

The rise of civil society can be seen both in the analytical and normative dimension. The analytic definitions stress the importance of forms: social organizations and networks, the third sector. The cognitive definitions stress the importance of norms, social values, and attributes such as co-operation and belief. Over the last 150 years, political and economic progress in some parts of the world and rising poverty and inequality have encouraged civil society to take on the influence and they are supposed to be celebrated in spite of any conflicts. This is the power of civil society across the world and their encounter with the states and the trade markets that make it a society that is civil and fair in all that it does. 

To understand the decline of civil society, we are supposed to see the historical rise of civil society. Civil society is the central form of rule and focuses on the identity of the citizen and also on the organization of the labour. Instead of disciplining the people it seeks to control them as a flexible identity. There are regional variations which are responsible for its decline such as the government control of the society and having an authoritarian rule.

The article talks about the strengths of civil society over the years and how it has kept the regime under one rule and given each person his or her identity. The weakness is that it has not spoken about the how the civil societies can be controlled in order to be in a world where the CSO’s are not blamed for all the issues the world faces and also tells about how changes can be made in order to shoulder their responsibilities. Rutzen has discussed about international frameworks like global norms, restrictions on international funding and boundaries and bilateral relations. This article also talks about how the civil society has seen so many problems due to their involvement in different matters and how it is coming back in..

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