Nongovernmental civil society organizations (NGOs), particularly democracy and human rights groups, contribute essential education, networking, mobilization, and communication efforts to help their fellow citizens prepare for and undertake their countries’ transitions to democracy, and to help meet the challenges of consolidating and deepening democracy where transitions have occurred. The problem is that an increasing number of non-democratic governments have passed new legislation, or have taken other measures, to close civil society space, making it difficult, and in some cases near impossible, for democracy and human rights organizations to carry out their work. Many new “NGO laws,” restrictions on the press and access to the Internet, and barriers to free expression and assembly, violate long-standing, widely-accepted principles, rooted in international law, that ought to inform proper government-civil society relations in a democracy. The presentations and discussion will focus on the ways in which civil society space is being closed and the ways in which the international community can respond.
Art Kaufman is Senior Director of the World Movement for Democracy, a global network of activists, practitioners, scholars and others engaged in advancing democracy, which has its secretariat at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington, DC. He is responsible for planning and conducting the World Movement’s global assemblies, including, to date, in São Paulo, Brazil (2000), in Durban, South Africa (2004), in Istanbul, Turkey (2006), in Kyiv, Ukraine (2008), and in Jakarta, Indonesia (2010). Dr. Kaufman and his staff are also responsible for helping World Movement participants develop regional networks, such as the African Democracy Forum, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, and the World Forum for Democratization in Asia, and functional networks focused on democracy research, local governance, youth engagement, and women’s political participation, among others. Dr. Kaufman also oversees World Movement projects, such as the Defending Civil Society project, launched in late 2007 to respond to efforts by an increasing number of governments to close civil society space for democracy and human rights work. From 1995 to 2000, he served as Senior Program Officer at NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. He previously served as Vice President for Programs at the Executive Council on Foreign Diplomacy where he organized senior-level discussion programs on international economic, trade, and environmental issues. He is coeditor of Constitution Makers on Constitution Making: The Experience of Eight Nations and Forging Unity Out of Diversity: The Approaches of Eight Nations, both based on major international conferences held at the Supreme Court of the United States. He earned his doctorate in Government from Georgetown University in 1992.
Carlos Ponce is the general coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, a network of over 210 leading civil society organizations across the Americas, which is affiliated with the World Movement for Democracy. An expert on human rights, civil society, and democracy in Latin America, he is a member of the World Movement Steering Committee and a lecturer at Tufts University. In his native Venezuela, Dr. Ponce successfully founded and led the Justice and Development Consortium—a nongovernmental organization that develops justice-reform and conflict-resolution programs at the local level—and advised the student movement in the country. He is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) where he is studying the ways in which civil society organizations can more strategically defend democracy in Latin America. A member of the International Steering Committee of the Nongovernmental Process of the Community of Democracies, he previously worked as executive secretary of Venezuela’s National Human Rights Commission and as an advisor to the Venezuelan Congress.