Defiant and undeterred: Looking back at a year of extraordinary civic activism

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

Lysa John portraitWe are ending the year as we began – with awe for how civil society and citizens have been unstoppable despite widespread and often brutal backlash by governments, and with a stronger resolve to do more - much more - to reinforce struggles for human rights and social justice across countries and communities.
From Khartoum to Hong Kong, across Chile, Lebanon and Malta, we have seen large-scale civic protests against governance failures. In other parts of the world, people have organised in unprecedented numbers, including through mobilisations such as the Global Climate Strike which saw over 7 million people in 150 countries, to call for fundamental changes in global governance and corporate accountability.
What the protests have in common is anger and frustration with political and economic systems that are failing to uphold rights and meet needs. As we have observed in our State of Civil Society Report, most protests started small - often addressing specific, local issues - but quickly grew to ask more profound questions of governance, democracy and human rights. Furthermore, people have unfailingly devised new methods to organise and demand change despite severe restrictions on the right to protest.
Our latest report, People Power Under Attack 2019, draws on 536 updates on fundamental rights from across the world. In a short span of one year, we recorded instances of detention of protesters, disruptions of protest, or the use of excessive force to prevent people from fully exercising their right to peaceful assembly in 96 countries across the world. The CIVICUS Monitor has documented the detention of protesters and excessive use of force to disperse and disrupt protests in countries with closed or repressed ratings such as Egypt, Honduras, Iraq and Zimbabwe, but also in countries where people typically have been able to exercise their freedoms without major hindrance, such as Belgium, Canada, France and Panama.
Our refreshed ratings for 2019 reveal that just 3% of the world’s population are now living in countries where their fundamental rights are in general protected and respected – last year it was 4%. Two significant democracies - Nigeria and India – are only one step away from the worst end of the CIVICUS Monitor rating spectrum. This has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of people who now live in contexts, i.e. 40% of the world’s population as opposed to 19% last year. We invite you to take a closer look at the latest findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, and let us know how we can strengthen efforts to protect and expand civic freedoms in your country and region. Two other CIVICUS publications released last month are excellent resources to inform civil society related analyses and strategies. Our report, Against the Wave, assesses the impact of the rise of anti-rights groups on civil society, while our thematic paper, We Will Not Be Silenced, takes stock of the growing restrictions that climate activists face across the world.

In line with rise of movements for dynamic accountability across the world, we have spent a fair amount of time this year reviewing how effective our efforts at CIVICUS have in relation to the outcomes that we are committed to achieve as part of our Strategic Plan for 2017-22. Many of you will recall that the current Plan was developed with wide ranging inputs and participation from the breadth of the Alliance.

Since August this year, we have had the opportunity to bring various stakeholders, including the Board, CIVICUS staff and members of the Alliance, together to take stock of the progress we have made so far and provide recommendation for the outcomes that we need to prioritise in the final two years of our Strategic Plan period. This includes our ‘Annual Constituency Survey’ and the Annual General Meeting which have been an all-important source of feedback on the things we are doing well and what we need to be doing more of in this context.

The CIVICUS Board and staff have also combined efforts to create a strategic reporting framework aimed at optimising learning and accountability outcomes across the Alliance. Our refreshed reporting guidelines now include monthly updates to our members, quarterly trend analysis reports from our online database, and opportunities to engage with critical learning questions outlined in our Accountability Framework. More broadly, the ‘Resilient Roots’ initiative has allowed us to contribute to new metrics that prioritise outcomes related to long-term accountability and resilience in restricted civic space contexts. Work progressed in this period through AGNA, the Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (Spanish - French) and the Innovation for Change platforms are other examples of how a collaborative approach to strengthening civil society legitimacy and impact is informing our core work.

We look forward to sharing more about the outcomes of our mid-term strategy review in January, and anticipate that the recommendations generated will enable increased opportunities for solidarity and joint action across the Alliance. We now have twice as many CIVICUS members as we did last year, a significant number of whom are young change-makers. Our increased reach of 8500+ members across 165 countries provides us with an incredible opportunity to strengthen civil society legitimacy and impact. In doing so, we must continue to challenge ourselves to integrate diversity and democratise resources in ways that directly benefit those on the front lines of the fight for human rights and social justice. We must be able to decisively demonstrate how our actions and investments are making a difference to the communities in the world’s most restrictive and marginalised contexts.

In 2020, we must look beyond institutional mandates to firmly locate ourselves in a wider trajectory for change that connects and inspires transformative action across the world.

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS