Social Movements, Civil Resistance & Human Rights

It has been a great honour for me to receive International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) fellowship award 2015 for developing a curriculum unit titled “Community Organizing & Mobilization for Successful Civil Resistance”. I have developed this curriculum unit to complement the course titled “Power and Social Movement” that I teach at Centennial College, Ontraio.

 While working in Asia and North America for 15 years as an educator and social worker, I realized the importance of civil resistance to fight oppression, discrimination, corruption and autocracy. Social justice and human rights principles and values have been adopted in the mandates of both community and international organizations across the world. As a result, a large number of projects and campaigns were funded and executed to secure human rights, promote good governance, and to protect the rights of the marginalized people. Sadly, the campaigns and projects have not achieved the expected results. Lack of stakeholders and community participation, weak planning and execution of campaigns, lack of community engagement in decision making etc. were the major reasons for failing. While teaching Power and Social Movement, I have recognised that understanding the principles and methods of nonviolent civil resistance, tools and techniques for effective community organizing and mobilization, community journalism, and project management are important areas that social service and community workers should study. Today I am going to discuss on social movement and civil resistance and its importance for securing human rights, promoting democratic values and good governance.

Plainland Adivashi Movement

Caption: Long March for Separate land commission for plain land indigenous people of Bangladesh is an example of recent nonviolent movement. Photo source: Facebook, 2015.


  • Basic concepts of social movement, nonviolent conflict & civil resistanceMedia Briefing
  • Principles  and characteristics  of nonviolent civil resistance
  • Importance of social movements and civil resistance for promoting democracy and  human rights

Social Movement

Social Movement is a powerful way for common people to successfully create positive social change, especially when the formal means of democratic political participation is not working and obstinate powerful elites prevail (Moyer et al., 2001). Moyer et al suggest that social movements promote participatory democracy and it raises expectations that people should be involved in the decision making process in all aspects of public life. Social Movements need to be nonviolent and must be based on universal values such as justice, democracy, civil and human rights, security and freedom.

Civil Resistance

Civil resistance is synonymous with nonviolent conflict/resistance which is usually organized by civil society to achieve a political objective. In nonviolent conflict or civil resistance, at least one party uses nonviolent action to resist oppression. Randle opines that “Civil resistance is a method of collective political struggles based on the insight that governments depend in the last analysis on the cooperation, or at least the compliance, of the majority of the population, and the loyalty of  the military, police and civil service” (1994, p. 9).

Nonviolent strategy and tactics

According to Chenoweth and Stephan (2011), civil resistance usually understand as the form of mass protests in the streets, and nonviolent resistance is likely to take the form of stay-aways, sit-ins, occupations, economic boycotts. Civil resistance conducted inside a particular country may be combined with other forms of nonviolent actions. According to Randle, the goals of civil resistance can be reformist, such as the removal of a particular injustice, or the amendment of a particular law (1994).

Moyer et al. suggest that the practice of nonviolent conflict, following in the paths of Gandhi and King, provides social movements with the ideal opportunity because it is based on universal human values and principles –love, empathy, cooperation, and caring (2001). Since 1900, over one hundred major nonviolent movements took place across the world and its frequency and success has been increased over time. The average nonviolent campaign has over 200,000 members-about 150,000 more active participants than the average violent campaign. People tend to participate in nonviolent resistance as it has low risk and adjust with their job and daily life. During 2000 -2006, a number of violent and nonviolent movements took place across the world. Among these, only 12% violent movement were successful, on the other hand, 70% nonviolent civil resistance were successful (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011). While mentioning the importance, Chenoweth and Stephan argue that:

“Nonviolent civil resistance works, both in terms of achieving campaigns strategic objectives and in terms of promoting the long-term well-being of the societies in which the campaigns have been waged. Violent insurgency, on the other hand, has a dismal record on both counts” (2011, p. 222).

Idle No More

Idle No More is an example of social movement and civil resistance that uses nonviolent strategy and tactics. You may watch a video on Idle No More campaign at Photo source:

Importance of nonviolent resistance

Civil resistance has a great impact on the democratization and securing good governance. In this regard, Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) mentioned some instances and these are: sustained and systematic nonviolent resistance have removed autocratic regimes from power in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), and Ukraine (2004-2005), after rigged elections; and forced Nepal’s monarch to make major constitutional concessions (2006). In 2011, popular nonviolent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt removed decades–old regimes from power. Chenoweth and Stephan argue that:

“…successful nonviolent resistance movements create much more durable and internally peaceful democracies than transitions provoked by violent insurgencies. On the whole, nonviolent resistance campaigns are more effective in getting results and, once they have succeeded, more likely to establish democratic regimes with lower probability of a relapse into civil war” (2011, p.10).

I hope the above academic discussion on nonviolent movement may create your interest to further study on civil resistance. You may visit ICNC website ( for various resources.

Please share with us your ideas, thoughts and stories on nonviolent movement. Today I have shared my understanding on civil resistance from more academic point of views. In my future posts, I will share my stories!

Thank you for your time. Let us continue working together with our communities for a safer and peaceful world.

Happy New year 2016.

Mahbub Hasan (Ph.D)

Educator and Lifelong Learner

Faculty, Community Services Department. Centennial College, Ontario

Twitter: @drmhasan



Reference and Suggested readings/resources:

Chenoweth, E., Stephan, M, J. (2011). Why Civil Resistance Works. The Strategic Logic of
Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press.

Moyer, B. et al. (2001). Doing Democracy. The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements. Gabriola Island: New Society.

Nonviolent conflict. Basic Concept. Retrieved from

Nonviolent conflict. Movements and Campaigns. Retrieved from

Nonviolent conflict. What it is? Retrieved from

Randle, M. (1994). Civil Resistance. London: Fontana Press

About Author:

Dr. Mahbub Hasan