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Invitation to the conference: Claiming Civic Space Together

The 4th and 5th of March, IWGIA participates in the conference "Claiming Civic Space Together" in Copenhagen, and you are invited too.

Date: Monday, 4th March - Tuesday, 5th March 2019

Venue: GAME, Enghavevej 82D, 2450 Copenhagen SV, Denmark - Sign up here >>

Global Focus and members are excited to invite civil society actors, governments and the private sector from around the world to the two-day international conference: “Claiming Civic Space Together – Joint strategies to ensure development and humanitarian action” on 4-5 March 2019 in Copenhagen.

The aim of the conference is to bring together civil society from different parts of the world that experience different forms of civic space restrictions, as well as private sector actors and governments, to decide on tangible strategies to protect and enhance civic space globally.

Thematic tracks, linking civic space to various aspects of the SDG agenda, will be a point of departure, however, the key element is to find strategies and solutions across themes, areas and sectors to ensure civic space globally and acknowledge the importance of civic space to carry out development and humanitarian work worldwide.

Thematic workshops:

#MediaToo: Shrinking Space for Independent Media and Freedom of Expression – How the use of new online technologies are closing the space for independent media & freedom of expression – and how we respond
How to Engage with Religious Actors Role in Building and Defending Civic Space
Private Sector and Civic Space
Gender and LGBTIQ+ Specific Challenges and Responses
Children and Young People as Civic Actors
Civic Space for Environmental and Indigenous Human Rights Defenders (IWGIA participates in this track)
Role of National Human Rights Institutes
Civic Space in Humanitarian Action

Read the whole invitation to the event here >>

Civic Space for Environmental and Indigenous Human Rights Defenders

Organizers of the thematic session:

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Forest of the World (Verdens Skove) and WWF Denmark


Shrinking civic space and restrictions towards the enjoyment of fundamental civic freedoms are on a continuous global rise, and some of the groups facing the worst consequences are environmental and indigenous human rights defenders.

In 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michael Forst, issued a
special report on the situation of environmental human rights defenders to raise alarm against the trend of increasing violence against this group. Forst identified indigenous peoples as being particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. Often the lands of indigenous communities contain lucrative natural resources being exploited in manners which violate indigenous peoples’ rights. Indigenous communities are often located in remote areas far from protection networks and support systems. Consequently, violations are less prone to be discovered. Political marginalisation of indigenous peoples, racism and disrespect for their traditional use of natural resources, lack of secure land rights and the criminalisation of their traditional livelihoods add to the vulnerability.

The worrying trend of attacks against and criminalisation of indigenous and environmental human rights defenders who defend their rights to their land, territories and natural resources has also been documented by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Vicky Tauli Corpuz, in her report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018 . It is reported that for 2017 alone there were 312 killings of human rights defenders in 27 countries - and that 67 per cent of these were engaged in the defence of land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights. The situation and challenges of indigenous human rights defenders were thoroughly debated in an international conference “Defending the Defenders” organized by IWGIA in Copenhagen in September 2018 that produced an Outcome Document with 9 major recommendations.

The many attacks on environmental and indigenous rights defenders - including illegal surveillance, closing down of organizations, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearance by state security and paramilitary forces, travel bans, threats, dispossession and killings - reflect a shrinking democratic space and shrinking space for civil society.

Objectives of the session:

At the session, we will hear first-hand stories from brave environmental and indigenous human rights defenders who have risked everything to defend their land and rights. You can learn about their challenges and participate in discussions on how we together as civil society, government representatives, human rights defenders and private sector can strengthen our collaboration in support of environmental and human rights defenders around the world.

The session will jointly identify key issues of concern, most urgent actions needed and forward- looking strategies to be included in the overall conclusions and joint action commitments by the “Claiming Civic Space Together” conference.

• Environmental and indigenous human rights defenders
• Civil society
• Government representatives
• Business representatives


- Environmental and indigenous human rights defender from Nicaragua. She has for many years fought for environmental rights of local communities in Nicaragua – and has for the past 5 years been an ally of the country’s indigenous peoples. She has witnessed how the forest disappears while settlers and cattle farmers illegally move in - and how indigenous peoples’ collective rights are violated and their territories invaded. As an ecologist, an educator and a human rights defender, she has dedicated her working life to protect the natural beauty of southern Nicaragua and a dignified life of people living there.

- Edward Porokwa, Tanzania. Edward Porokwa is a Maasai from Tanzania and the director of PINGOs Forum, which is an umbrella organization for indigenous peoples’ organizations in Tanzania. He is a lawyer and has worked on indigenous peoples’ rights issues at local, national and international levels for the past 15 year. Having been at the forefront of the indigenous peoples’ struggle in Tanzania for many years he has witnessed how indigenous peoples are being dispossessed of their lands, their rights violated and the space for civil society action shrinking.

- Mette Thygesen. Head of Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and former Ambassador in Ethiopia.

- Anton Thorsen, Senior Advisor on Forestry and Monitoring & Evaluation, WWF.

- Brian Sundstrup, Chief Consultant and Owner, Operative.
Specialty: Business development and cross-sector partnerships

The first two speakers will give a personal account of the situation in their countries and how it is to be an environmental and indigenous human rights defender in very closed regimes where civic space is limited to a minimum – and reflect on how international actors (civil society, governments, private sector) can support them and their cause.

Mette Thygesen, Brian Sundstrup and Anton Thorsen will provide brief perspectives on how the Danish government, the private sector and civil society can respond in situations of shrinking civic space and how they can support rights defenders at risk.


Facilitator: Johanne Mygind, Journalist and writer
Rapporteur: Julie Koch, Director of IWGIA

Part 1: Presentations (60 min)

9.15 – 9.25: Welcome and introduction: Setting the stage; why are we talking about civic freedoms and environmental and indigenous human rights defenders? What are the internal rules applicable for this workshop?

9.25 – 9.40: Presentation by Edward Porokwa, Tanzania

9.40 – 10.00: Presentation by speaker from Nicaragua (including translation time)

10.00 – 10.15: Short presentations from Mette Thygesen, Brian Sundstrup and Anthon Thorsen

10.15 – 10.45: Coffee break (30 min)

Part 2: Focus on solutions - Reflecting on how to best support Human Rights Defenders at risk (75 min)

10.45 – 10.55: Introduction to the session and group work

10.55 – 12.00: Group and plenum discussions. Small group and plenum discussion on each of the 3 topics: What happens if we do not act? Urgent actions needed? Best strategies?

Part 3: Recap & closing (15 min)
12.00 – 12.15: Consolidation of what to report back in the conference

Tags: Global governance, Human rights



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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