While many rights groups have raised concern over the global decline in democracy, we have not had a compete, global picture of the levels of respect for civic space – that is the rights to organize, protest and speak out – until now.
This week, CIVICUS released such a comprehensive picture, and it is a disturbing one. The CIVICUS Monitor shows that just three percent of people live in countries with ‘open’ civic space, where the rights to organize, protest and speak out are fully respected and protected. In fact, the CIVICUS Monitor finds that as many as six billion people live in countries where civic space is either ‘closed,’ ‘repressed’ or ‘obstructed.’
Human rights watchers are, by now, used to bleak diagnoses of the state of our world. However, the fact remains that seven decades after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, there are at present only 26 of 195 countries which fully protect these rights. This should be a serious wake up call for all of us involved in human rights promotion and civil society support.
The crisis of shrinking civic space and curtailment of fundamental freedoms is of a truly global nature and is not just an issue in long-standing authoritarian regimes. For example, Canada and the USA – two of democracy’s biggest champions on the global stage – both fail to meet the standards of having ‘open’ civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor data and research partner reports. In fact, the USA has been placed, along with four other countries (Cameroon, Macedonia, Myanmar and Turkey), on the Monitor’s Watch List, indicating a higher level of concern for civic space in these particular countries. Meanwhile, another supposed bastion of democracy, the European Union is only home to 14 ‘open’ countries out of its 28 (soon to be 27) Member States.
The crisis in other parts of the world, particularly East Africa and the Middle East, is much more severe. Activists undertaking pro-democracy or human rights activities face life-altering or life-ending consequences because of their work. Unlawful detentions, use of excessive force during protests and attacks on journalists are regimes most utilized means of silencing dissent, according to Monitor data.
These initial findings are just the beginning. The CIVICUS Monitor and its 20 research partner organizations continue to closely track global, regional and country trajectories to spotlight and raise awareness of the crisis facing civil society. As a research, information and advocacy tool, it can help citizens, civil society and the international community in the fight to protect and promote the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration.
CIVICUS is a member of the World Movement for Democracy.