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The Sur International Journal on Human Rights Reclaiming civic space: Insights and learnings from and for activists

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    Jordan Koletic





    Call for Papers for a special 26th edition of
    The Sur International Journal on Human Rights
    Reclaiming civic space: Insights and learnings from and for activists


    Conectas Human Rights and the Fund for Global Human Rights invites contributions in the form of articles, case studies and institutional reflections – with preference given to activist voices from the Global South – for the 26th edition of the Sur International Journal on Human Rights, to be published in December 2017. The special edition will focus on the responses to the crackdown on civil society currently seen – to different degrees – around the world.

    The objective of the Sur International Journal on Human Rights, published by Conectas, is to influence the global human rights agenda by producing, fostering and disseminating innovative research and ideas, primarily from the Global South, on human rights practice.

    Sur is an open access journal, edited in English, Spanish and Portuguese and has an online ( and print readership of over 20,000 people in more than 100 countries.

    Reclaiming civic space: Insights and learnings from and for activists

    Reports and research on the global crackdown on civil society (often referred to as the “shrinking” or “closing” of civic space) tend to focus on how it is manifested and its impacts – for example, details about yet another set of laws that restrict the financing of non-governmental organisations or the unlawful arrest of an individual or group of human rights activists.

    There is, however, still too little documented about how civil society – and more specifically the human rights movement – is responding to this trend. There is even less material that assesses the effectiveness of these responses and which might inform future strategies by human rights activists and international actors. Moreover, most reports, studies, articles, blogs etc. are the work of international actors studying national contexts or groups/activists as objects of research. Where activists themselves produce analysis, it is often to provide data to inform these reports, or to feature as case studies in them.

    Conectas and the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR) aim to address this imbalance and produce a special issue of the Sur – International Journal on Human Rights. We are seeking contributions, primarily from the Global South, that fall within the following topic areas:

    1. What are the root causes of restrictions on civic space?

    The current geo-political contexts present broad and different challenges for human rights activists. Restrictions that frame activists as “foreign agents” in Russia, the disappearance of activists in China, detention of journalists in Egypt and the assassination of human rights defenders in Honduras are well known examples. However, there exists many more less well known – but equally concerning – examples of the crackdown.The use of terrorism charges against Mapuche indigenous activists in Chile, attempts to control dissent on social media in Nigeria, presidential threats to human rights defenders in the Philippines and a crackdown to create an illiberal society in Hungary to name but a few. These are often lumped together as examples of “closing” or “shrinking” civic space. Yet such terms fail to address the nuances of the local contexts nor the complex web of actors and interests at the root of this crackdown.

    • How is the crackdown determined by, and how does it shape, local contexts and responses?
    • Is there cross-fertilisation of ideas and coordination between countries or actors that are reducing civic space?
    • How do growing restrictions, negative discourses and inconsistent policies on human rights and civic freedoms in the Global North exacerbate pressure on civic space in the Global South?


    2. How is the human rights movement reclaiming civic space?

    The threat outlined in section one (above) is eliciting various responses from the human rights movement. Activists and practitioners are innovating in terms of with whom they build alliances. Similarly, there is increased emphasis on making links with organisations or movements removed from the traditional human rights sphere (so called cross-sectionality). Constituency-building is seen by some as key to preventing, mitigating or responding to restrictions on civil society.

    • What are the most successful alliances and counter narratives that have been used to mobilise public opinion and to influence authorities?
    • Are there examples of contexts where constituency building is in fact counter intuitive and where trying to do so has resulted in setbacks?
    • International and national solidarity has long been used as a tool to fight various setbacks, including restrictions on civic space. How successful is this tactic and are there examples of where focussing attention on individual human rights defenders has done more harm than good?

    3. How to sustain the human rights movement in the face of these threats?

    Restrictions on cross-border philanthropy, and the insecurity and fear created by repression, have put increasing stress on the financial resilience, sustainability and well-being of human rights organisations and activists.

    • How have organisations and activists innovated in order to gain alternative, including local, sources of funding?
    • What does resilience in the context of a sustained crackdown mean for activists and how is it achieved? Are concepts of sustainability, security and well-being too narrowly defined and inadequately supported?
    • How are long-term strategies, such as movement-building, reconciled with the urgency and demand for rapid response to emerging and ongoing crackdowns?

    With this in mind, Sur Journal is now accepting contributions (in Portuguese, English or Spanish) between 7,000 – 20,000 characters including spaces in the following formats:

    • ESSAYS

    In-depth analysis of any of the questions raised above, with a preference for essays dealing with issues of transnational significance and/or bringing a comparative perspective from different countries.


    Texts on the implementation of civil society mobilisation, advocacy strategies, counter narratives and other responses and which analyse the impact of these strategies.


    Shorter pieces about sustainability, security and well-being, and alternative methods of funding in the face of the crackdown on civil society.



    For more information, please visit:

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