NFN held a Dialogue Program titled, "Space and Freedom of CSOs in Nepal" on 11th December 2017, at its office premises at Buddhanagar, Kathmandu. The event was convened as part of the 9th Human Rights National Magna Meet 2074 (2017) to mark the 69th International Human Rights Day. Given the context that CSOs in Nepal are experiencing hardships in regard to their operation and their space is being shrunk; NFN felt a need to open up and facilitate this kind of dialogue among civil society actors from the perspective of citizens rights to form associations, and freedom of opinions and expressions which are the inherent canons of human rights and democratic regime. In the same vein, the event was accomplished in interactive mode of operandi that NFN believes has set a foundation generating important knowledge and action points on what were the underlying loopholes in creating enabling environment for CSOs, and what really needs to be done ahead for the same, in Nepal.
The following is a summary of key points excerpted from the remarks by speakers, followed by floor discussion:
- The Nepalese state, to a great extent, has recognized the role and space of CSOs as enshrined in its major policy documents such as the Constitution, development policies and plans. However, the problem lies in the bureaucratic state of mind of the state actors, including of the political parties that their implementation remains a major constraint. The subsidiary legal and policy measures are endorsed with the intent to curtail the rights and freedom of CSOs which must be tackled.
- Three key reasons viz. (i) bureaucratic mindset of the state, (ii) drawbacks of CSOs themselves and (iii) in many cases, the roles performed by INGOs, were discussed in detail as the factors hindering to the establishment of enabling environment for CSOs in the country.
- It was discussed and argued that the CSOs should be able to foresee the challenges ahead that would not merely instigate difficulties in their operation, but may invite a circumstance of non-existence. Because, the resource is being shrunk and shifted; and the development discourse is being led by the think tank groups recommending the dominant role of the state.
- Quite a number of tempting thoughts like – who are CSOs? Are CSOs political or civil actors? Are CSOs the development actors or rights championer and the watchdog of the state and market hegemonies? Are NGOs who receive foreign donations the civil society? Why are the stakeholders other than CSOs themselves, including the public, so much harsh critique of the NGOs in Nepal? What should be the roles of Nepalese CSOs in the changing socio-political avenues, more so in the context of recent political development where the leftist alliance has secured a landslide victory in the lately held House of the Representatives and Provincial level polls?, among others, were discussed critically – and the opinions were different as obvious.
- On the part of CSOs weaknesses, participants became reflexive of the actual number of CSOs in operation – registered and renewed at the SWC and NGO Federation of Nepal; extreme politicization of NGOs; NGOs being overtly developmentalist; degrading image in the eyes of media and public as dollar harvesters, ineffective role as the watchdog and policy advisers; including many others. At the same, it was also opined and reflected that CSOs are more likely to have an extended scope in the changed governance structure of the state. The participants emphasized on the need to foster and expand enabling environment for CSOs so that they would be able to effectively function at all three layers of the state, i.e. local, provincial and national levels. Meanwhile, the participants also shared their stories of difficulties and hardships in operating NGOs they represented.
- The common, yet pertinent suggestion to NFN was that the participants and speakers urged NFN to take lead with bold decisions and actions towards fostering enabling environment for CSOs and embrace CSOs from all walks of civic life as far as possible in the campaign. They advised NFN to initiate visible influential interventions for creating enabling environment – that is legal, political and operational, for CSOs in the back support of leading CSOs from all over the country.