Search

 

Cablegate: Fourth Parallel Forum Launches New Era of Hope For

VZCZCXRO2922
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHYN #2313/01 3501304
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 161304Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8631
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0100
RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU 0008
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 0277
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0039
RUEHKH/AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM 0006
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0011
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 0008
RUSBPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 0036

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SANAA 002313

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NEA FOR DAS KENT PATTON
NEA/ARP FOR NATASHA FRANCESCHI,
NEA/PI FOR KENNETH GROSS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID KDEM KMPI PGOV PREL YM
SUBJECT: FOURTH PARALLEL FORUM LAUNCHES NEW ERA OF HOPE FOR
CIVIL SOCIETY IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

1. SUMMARY: Over 300 people, representing over 200 civil
society groups, met at the Fourth Civil Society Parallel
Forum in Sana'a on November 30-December 2 in order to tackle
the issues of freedom of expression, the legal environment
for NGOs, education, women empowerment, youth political
participation and the private sector's role in promoting
democratic reform. Six workshop groups devised concrete
action plans in order to address these issues and also
elected representatives to the upcoming Forum for the Future.
The Parallel Forum published a report which described the
"state of emergency" facing freedom of expression and the
legal environment for civil society in the Middle East.
Despite the serious obstacles which face civil society in
promoting democratic reform, many participants hailed the
Fourth Civil Society Parallel Forum as "a real revolution and
new road" for civil society in the region. END SUMMARY.

2. Yemen hosted the Fourth Civil Society Parallel Forum to
the Forum for the Future on November 30-December 2. The
event was co-chaired by Germany and was funded by the U.S.
State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative and the
British and Dutch Governments. The Parallel Forum was
organized by a coalition of 28 Yemeni Civil Society
Organizations (CSOs) and attracted over 300 representatives
from the government, private sector, civil society
organizations, media, unions and syndicates from every
country of the broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA),
including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

3. According to Ezzadine al-Asbahi, the General Director of
the Yemeni Human Rights Information Training Center and main
organizer of the event, the main purpose of the Parallel
Forum was twofold: 1) to create alliances and bridges
between the government, private sector, and non-government
organizations to advance democratic reform and freedom of
expression, and 2) to identify tasks and action plans (not
just issue recommendations). The 300 participants were
divided into six workshop groups, which were given the task
of coming up with action plans in different areas: a)
Freedom of Expression and Opinion; b) Legal Environment for
the Operation of Civil Society; c) Education and the Labor
Market; d) Women and Political Empowerment; e) Youth and
Political Participation; and f) the Role of Private Sector in
Advancing Democratic Reforms. Each workshop group also
elected four representatives to participate in the upcoming
Forum for the Future. (Note: The Parallel Forum finalized
the list of Civil Society Delegation members, who will attend
official meetings at the upcoming Forum for the Future. The
delegation consists of 56 members: 24 were selected by the
workshop groups, another 30 were chosen by the Democracy
Assistance Dialogue (DAD) Group and 2 were organizers of
previous Parallel Civil Society Fora. End note.)

STRENGTHENING CIVIL SOCIETY AND DEMOCRATIC REFORM
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. The workshop groups came up with the following
recommendations/action plans:

5. The "Freedom of Expression" Group lamented the
deterioration in freedom of expression throughout the MENA
because no official mechanism for monitoring freedom of
expression had been set up after the Third Parallel Forum (in
Jordan in November 2006) and noted that there has been a lack
of external pressure on MENA governments to respect freedom
of expression. The group declared a "state of emergency" in
the monitoring of official violations against freedom of
expression not only by the governments, but also by extremist
religious groups and big businessmen. The group recommended:
a) civil society organizations should prepare "shadow
reports" in response to government-published reports on human
rights; b) the independence of the judiciary should be
strengthened; c) they should organize fora on international
laws/conventions on the "freedom of expression;" d) the
governments' monopoly of the media should be ended and
independent media organizations should be established; e)
civil society organizations should be given the right to own
media organizations; f) governments should have specific
points of contact for members of the media; and g) defense

SANAA 00002313 002 OF 003


mechanisms should be established in order to protect
journalists.

6. The "Legal Environment for the Operation of Civil
Society" Group demanded a) the cancellation of licensing
procedures for civil society organizations (CSOs) and their
replacement with a notification system; b) the cancellation
of government powers to dissolve NGOs, unions and
professional organizations; c) the cancellation of the
restrictions on "freedom of assembly" and punitive actions
connected to "freedom of assembly;" d) the promotion of
private sector support of CSOs; e) the guaranteeing that NGO
laws comply with international standards, coupled with reform
of non-compliant laws; f) the forging of alliances between
local and regional organizations on CSO legislative issues;
g) technical assistance and capacity-building measures for
CSOs on non-profit law and legislative reform issues; and h)
greater coordination with the Arab League and the U.N. Human
Rights Commission Rapporteur.

7. The "Education and the Labor Market" Group advocated for
a) the holding of a workshop on special issues related to
education and regulatory reform; b) conducting a study on the
labor force in the MENA region; c) providing free education
and training courses for the poor; d) involving more women in
the literacy process; e) private sector sponsoring and
funding talented students involved in scientific research;
and f) the G-8 and international NGO financing projects to
collect CSO statistics on education and the labor market.

8. The "Women and Empowerment" Group called for the adoption
of a quota system in which women would hold 30 percent of
positions in political parties and government offices. They
also proposed publishing an annual report on the "Political
Empowerment of Arab Women." The group devised an action
plan: On March 8, 2008, they would officially launch the
Arab Network for the Political Empowerment of Women Committee
in Cairo, Egypt on the occasion of International Women's Day.
They would then conduct public awareness campaigns between
March-November 2008 and would publish the first "Report on
the Political Empowerment of Arab Women" in December 2008.

9. The "Youth and Political Participation" Group told the
Parallel Forum that problems with youth stem from the
restrictive social environment, the voting age, the lack of
alignment between skills taught in schools and the labor
market, the mass media not adopting objective strategies and
the lack of government involvement in youth development
issues. The group recommended: a) increasing the
participation of youth organizations in the political
process; b) educating/training youth in how to participate in
the political process; and c) canceling all laws which impede
CSOs and youth organizations. The group plans to organize a
workshop during the first half of 2008 on the relationship of
youth and the labor market, followed by training courses and
another workshop.

10. The "Role of the Private Sector in Advancing Democratic
Reforms" Group indicated that the "private sector not only
includes millionaires, but also small and medium-sized
enterprises (SMEs)." The group recommended a) ensuring the
independence of business associations and chambers of
commerce from government interference; b) the passing of
strong anti-corruption legislation; and c) education,
training and capacity-building in harmonization of business
skills with the labor market, attracting investment and
discouraging capital flight.

REPORT CRITICIZES LACK OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
--------------------------------------------- --

11. At the end of the Parallel Forum, a report was issued on
the "State of Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa"
which concluded that there are many unjustifiable
restrictions on the freedom of association and expression
which are embedded within legislation in the MENA countries.
The Parallel Forum report also contended that it will be
impossible to achieve any meaningful democratic
transformation in the MENA countries without partnership with

SANAA 00002313 003 OF 003


NGOs, other political stakeholders and a free and diverse
media. The report called for legislative reforms which are
harmonious with international standards for freedoms of
association, expression and opinion. According to the
report, the legal status of NGOs represents one of the
cornerstones for the success of reform initiatives within
MENA countries. The Parallel Forum report will be
distributed at the upcoming Forum for the Future. A copy of
the report may be obtained from the main desk at NEA/PI or
from AmEmbassy Sanaa.

A NEW HOPE . . .
----------------

12. Many participants, including those who often criticize
such meetings, were very pleased with the outcome of the
Parallel Forum. The spokesperson for the "Private Sector"
group remarked, "When somebody asked me if there was hope for
civil society and democratic reform, I responded 'Yes, there
is hope.' Reform requires capacity and willingness, which
have both been demonstrated at the Parallel Forum."
According to Ezzadine al-Asbahi, this Forum differed from the
other three for two reasons. First, there was open
democratic dialogue. Second, representatives from
government, the private sector and NGOs worked together as
partners on difficult issues, whereas in the past, there was
a lack of cooperation. He added that the Fourth Parallel
Forum not only concentrated on recommendations, but also
issued concrete action plans.

AND A NEW ROAD
--------------

13. Nevertheless, the task ahead for civil society promoting
democratic reform will be a challenging one. Al-Asbahi noted
that "We have reached the start, not the end of the road.
This will be the beginning of serious work and a hardship for
us. CSO representatives at the Forum, when they return to
their home countries, should promote coalition building with
CSOs, the private sector and the government. They should
task their governments to take this 'partnership' seriously.
This is a task for all of us."

COMMENT
-------

14. The Fourth Parallel Forum was a success because its
agenda was driven by internal civil society organizations in
the Middle East and North Africa, not by external donors.
According to one Embassy contact, it represented a "new phase
and a real revolution for civil society in MENA" since it not
only outlined problems and priorities, but came up with
concrete solutions and action plans. Stronger coalitions
between the government, private sector and non-government
organizations may provide strong momentum for promoting
further democratic reform in the region. End comment.

15. This report has been cleared by NEA/DAS Kent Patton.

16. Minimize considered for Sudan.
SECHE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

UN SDG: UN Appoints Twenty Eminent Thinkers To Shed New Light On The World’s Greatest Challenges

New York, 21 January 2021 – Twenty prominent personalities, globally renowned for their intellectual leadership in economic and social fields, will form the second United Nations High-level Advisory Board (HLAB) on Economic and Social Affairs, the ... More>>

UN: As COVID Deaths Pass Two Million Worldwide, Guterres Warns Against Self-Defeating ‘Vaccinationalism'

With more than two million lives now lost worldwide to COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General appealed on Friday for countries to work together and help each other to end the pandemic and save lives. In a video statement , Secretary-General António Guterres ... More>>

UN: Violent Attempt At US Capitol To ‘overturn’ Election, Shocking And Incendiary

A group of independent UN rights experts released ... More>>

UN: Guterres To Seek Second Five-year Term
António Guterres will be seeking a second five-year term as UN Secretary-General, which would begin in January 2022.... More>>