Category Archives: Call for papers

Call for papers for the 20th issue of Humanitarian Alternatives

For its forthcoming 20th issue, due out in July 2022, the Humanitarian Alternatives review is launching a call for papers for its Focus, provisionally titled “The rights of civil society organisations under threat”. If you are a fieldworker, researcher or observer of the international non-profit and humanitarian community and wish to submit an article proposal on this topic, please send a summary of your argument and a draft plan (2 pages maximum) to the following email address by 4 April 2022:

The final article must be submitted by 7 June 2022. The article should be around 2,200 words (including footnotes). Around six or seven articles will be accepted for this Focus.

For each issue, we also take on article on themes related to humanitarian action other than the one of the Focus; these are published in the “Perspectives”, “Transitions”, “Innovations”, “Ethics”, “Reportage” or “Tribune” sections. We invite you to send us your proposals.

The rights of civil society organisations under threat

A Focus codirected by Philippe Ryfman, specialist in non-governmental and humanitarian issues at the international level, professor and associated honorary researcher at the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne,
and Boris Martin, Editor-in-Chief of
Humanitarian Alternatives

Restrictions on the rights of civil society organisations (CSOs) are too often neglected as a marker of the shift of a political regime towards authoritarianism, or even dictatorship.

Russia is a case in point. When historians write the narrative of the period leading up to the war against Ukraine, they will not fail to mention that ten years before, in 2012, the Duma (the Russian Parliament) had adopted legislation – unique in its kind at the time – which introduced the concept of “foreign agent”, which was applied to certain associative actors. Inspired by the Soviet language, this concept – with its vague and ever-expanding contours – has since been used to describe the Russian CSOs which receive external funding and are therefore suspected of being the accomplices of foreign powers, or even spies.

Over the years, the restrictive provisions have steadily become more severe, culminating with the dissolution of Memorial a few weeks before the invasion of Ukraine. This association, one of the largest in the country, was founded in 1989 by Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. To the considerable work of memory on the crimes of Stalinism which had motivated its creation, it had gradually added the defence of human rights in the contemporary period. Because of its activism, professionalism and reputation, both in Russia and internationally, it was one of the last remaining obstacles to the policy of stifling civil society, which the government of the Russian Federation had been patiently implementing for a decade. In light of subsequent events, its dissolution on 29 December 2021 was likely not a coincidence.

The Russian example, however, is not isolated. From Egypt to North Sudan, from Bangladesh to Venezuela, from Myanmar to India, from Hungary to Israel, from Palestine to Hong Kong (the last region of mainland China where the rights of CSOs remained relatively unhindered), coercive measures have been multiplying against both national associations and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The result is that in many countries, civil society is in decline, and NGOs are on the defensive. This repressive reaction – fuelled by the imitation and use of tools experimented elsewhere (notably with the use of the same “foreign agent” qualification by several governments) – can be analysed as a full-blown “Counter-Revolution”, endowed with a solid ideological corpus and aimed at putting the rights of CSOs under trusteeship, if not eliminating it completely.

It is striking to note that, even in democratic countries, there is a growing temptation to tighten the rules governing associations. Certainly, the intentions may be relevant and the motives legitimate (in the context of the fight against terrorism, money laundering and corruption circuits, or the jihadist influence, etc.), but the risk of adverse effects is real. Thus, in France, after the “offence of solidarity” attributed to activists, the provisions of the so-called “separatism” law of 24 August 2021, have caused deep concern within the associative world, especially because of the considerable power of interpretation now conferred on the Administration by means of the “Contrat d’engagement républicain” (“Republican Engagement Contract”). In Italy, legal proceedings have been launched against associations for rescuing migrants, who were trying to reach Europe, at sea.

By means of various examples from around the world, this new special feature of the Humanitarian Alternatives review aims to document the early symptoms and developments of this Anti-Associative Counter-Revolution. It will be a question of identifying the means and methods at its service, and of asking CSOs about the tools in their possession to respond to these direct or indirect attacks. Finally, it will be necessary to analyse the future role of States where the right of association is respected, in order to continue to guarantee the freedom of association in their area and to defend it on the international scene, in conjunction with the International Organisations (IOs), whose position on the subject will also be examined. At the end of this overview, it will ultimately be a matter of establishing, in this battle (also) launched by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, whether the various parties are ready to abandon conventional discourses to commit to the defence of the rights of CSOs.