We are working in 12 Arab countries with 9 national networks (with an extended membership of 250 CSOs from different backgrounds) and 23 NGO members.
Civil Society Organizations contribute to the developmental process and to achieving social change through democratic, peaceful, plural, and innovative methods. In addition to being tools for social solidarity, provision of services, and mobilization of communities to engage in the developmental process, they also work on empowering these communities to demand their rights in order to improve their living conditions and build a democratic and just state.
The Development Effectiveness process considers civil society to be one of the stakeholders, along with national and local governments, the private sector, and parliaments, being an effective and influential partner in the process. Recognizing the importance of this role, in addition to the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities entailed, CSOs aim to fulfill the necessary conditions to enhance their participation and maximize their influence in the developmental and political process. This is achieved through stressing the adherence to self-accountability standards in their developmental practices and their pursuit to “civil society effectiveness in development.”
The principle of mutual accountability, one of the five foundations of the Paris Declaration on Development Effectiveness (2005), cannot be one-sided. Thus, if CSOs are concerned about the accountability of other stakeholders, they must begin to set their own principles and standards and adhere to them.
In 2010, more than 200 organizations from 82 countries, representing various communities and sectors, adopted the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness as a culmination of a three-year process, which involved 3,500 organizations from around the globe.
But despite the discourse that adopts multi-stakeholder partnerships and stresses the growing recognition of the role of civil society, available spaces and participation opportunities are shrinking on the international, regional, and national levels. Laws currently being adopted contain measures that limit the abilities of CSOs, restrict their work, and violate their rights. This is especially true for CSOs working in the field of human rights protection, environmental rights, and gender-based equality.
However, multi-stakeholder partnerships and participation in the developmental and political processes require providing an enabling environment, beginning with laws that allow for the freedom of assembly, organizing, and work. This is not to mention the need for access to information and human and material resources, in addition to guaranteeing freedom of expression and creed to achieve full independence.
Based on the above, CSOs meeting in Cambodia in 2011 adopted mechanisms to follow-up on the commitment to the Istanbul Principles and evaluate the progress in their implementation. This report serves as a part of the evaluation efforts, in the context of the international process for Development Effectiveness, covering six countries.
Ziad Abdel Samad
Executive Director – Arab NGO Network for Development