News: Statement: Civil society crackdown undermines Equatorial Guinea’s ongoing efforts to re-join EITI

Source: PWYP

Statement on Equatorial Guinea – Suspension of CEID – Statement

PWYP is extremely concerned about the suspension of a leading independent civil society organisation, Centro de Estudios e Iniciativas para el Desarrollo (CEID), in Equatorial Guinea by the Minister of Interior who is also the country’s first Vice Prime Minister. Under an order issued by the Minister of Interior, CEID must halt all activities until further notice, including its important actions towards supporting the country’s attempts to re-join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Guaranteeing a civic space in which CSOs can operate freely is a requirement that needs to be met by any aspiring EITI country. Hence, the government’s decision to suspend CEID is incompatible with Equatorial Guinea’s ambition to re-join the initiative.

The Ministry of Interior and Local Corporations, which is the regulatory body for civil society organisations in Equatorial Guinea, has recently decided to suspend CEID based what the Ministry has described as comments inciting young people to violence and civil disobedience at a Youth Forum at the end of January in Bata. Inconsistent and unsubstantiated, these accusations are illustrative of the government’s constant crackdown on independent voices in the run-up to the Presidential elections, planned for April 2016. In Equatorial Guinea, CSOs must be registered with the Ministry to operate legally, so the suspension means that CEID is no longer properly registered, making its operations illegal. In order to comply with the suspension order, CEID has to cease all its activities and close down its office space, which has been the only meeting space available for civil society actors in Bata, the largest city in the country.

In an already restrictive environment as the one in Equatorial Guinea, this incident will have serious implications for civil society at large. Through training and by actively facilitating the establishment of coordination networks, CEID has played a crucial role in supporting independent local civil society actors. In early 2015, CEID was elected as the civil society representative to the multi-stakeholder group (MSG) which is the coordinating body of the EITI in Equatorial Guinea.

CEID’s suspension will therefore particularly affect the country’s ongoing efforts to re-join the EITI. After having been delisted from the initiative in 2010 amid concerns about the government’s failure to facilitate genuine civil society participation in the national EITI process, Equatorial Guinea announced mid-2014 that it intended to seek admission again. Since then, and under the leadership of the Minister of Mines, the government has been working with various actors to prepare the steps necessary to seek readmission. Building on its expertise from having been involved previously in the EITI, CEID has been spearheading civil society’s engagement in these preparation activities. This has included raising awareness about the EITI among wider civil society in Equatorial Guinea, organising a series of capacity building workshops over the course of 2015, assisting with the elections of civil society representatives to the local multi-stakeholder group and coordinating civil society positions on matters relating to the EITI. Without their legal registration, CEID will have to withdraw from all those activities, depriving the government of a key civil society interlocutor, confirming wider concerns about civil society actors’ ability to participate freely in the EITI in Equatorial Guinea. CEID’s suspension goes directly against the EITI Standard which requires any country wanting to become a member to work constructively and openly with the private sector and with civil society actors, ensuring that they benefit from an adequate enabling environment. Under these circumstances, Equatorial Guinea’s eligibility for EITI membership is highly problematic.

PWYP urges the Ministry of Interior to lift CEID’s suspension without delay as a first step towards welcoming civil society as equal partner to the negotiating table. PWYP further asks that the Minister of Mines, in his capacity as Head of the EITI multi-stakeholder group, implements reforms to remove all obstacles to civil society’s full, active and effective participation in the EITI, in line with the Civil Society Protocol adopted by the EITI in 2015 which defines how EITI rules on civil society participation are to be interpreted, including for countries seeking admission to the initiative.

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