Since its creation in 1977, the DRL Bureau has been in the business of protecting and bolstering civil society. We tackled that issue with renewed vigor when Secretary Clinton made it a priority of the Department in her landmark speech on civil society in July 2010.
One way that DRL is supporting the Secretary’s civil society agenda is through the Lifeline: Embattled NGOs Assistance Fund, which is designed to quickly meet the emergency needs of NGOs when they get into trouble as a result of their work. For example, if NGO members are arrested on trumped up charges, we can provide funds for bail and legal representation; if an NGO is evicted without valid grounds from its offices, we can help that NGO get set up again with new office space. Lifeline also provides small amounts of funding to NGOs that want to raise awareness of the difficult, often hostile environments in which they operate and to address barriers to their fundamental freedoms of assembly and association.
Lifeline is funded by nearly $5 million in contributions from 13 governments spanning five continents: Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. And it is being implemented by a consortium of NGOs based from Johannesburg to Bangkok to Prague. All 13 governments have also committed to acting together to protect and support civil society through Lifeline’s SOS Warning Platform. SOS will alert donor governments when an NGO gets into trouble or when there is growing repression of civil society in a given country. The donors will then consult and act, publicly or privately and as appropriate.
Over the next 15 months, the donors and NGO Consortium will spread the word about Lifeline so that as many NGOs as possible know about the Fund and can access it when they need help. The donors will also work to grow the Fund by recruiting more public and private donors.