New Report: Civic Space in the Americas

People’s rights to organise, speak out and take action are being extensively violated in a large number of countries in the Americas. This is according to new research by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), the Charity and Security Network, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD) and the Rendir Cuentas initiative. Our findings are based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor, a new research collaboration to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

Keeping up the pressure: enhancing the sustainability of protest movements

The report explores key factors that contribute to or undermine the sustainability of contemporary protest movements. The research examines these issues in three countries: Bahrain, Chile and Uganda, drawing from a series of surveys of and interviews with leaders of contemporary protest movements.

The report’s key findings show that in the face of domestic restrictions on dissent there is a lack of adequate support for the right to protest from a range of international stakeholders, including other protest movements, foreign states, United Nation bodies and international civil society organisations. This study concludes that such support is essential for enhancing the sustainability of national protest movements.

Additional key findings include:

  • Irrespective of their state’s overall level of respect for core civil society freedoms, the states covered by the research are failing to facilitate the right to peaceful assembly.
  • The major ways in which states undermine the sustainability of protest movements are the excessive use of force, the arbitrary arrest of protesters and the imposition of legal restrictions on the freedom of assembly. 

  • As networking with domestic civil society allies, including with unions, faith groups and other civil society groups, is important for enhancing the sustainability of protest movements in each country, domestic CSOs should play a larger role in mobilizing support for protest movements. 

  • The sustainability of protest movements would be enhanced if legal and extra-legal restrictions on the right to the freedom of assembly are removed or eased.
  • Protest movement leaders believe that they and their movements have capacity development needs that are currently not being.

Download the full report in English 

People power under attack: findings from the CIVICUS Monitor

According to new findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, just three percent of  people live in countries where space for civic activism - or civic space- is truly open. The first ever analysis of civic space covering all UN Member States shows people in 106 countries face serious threats when organising, speaking out and taking peaceful action to improve their societies. These rights are guaranteed by most national constitutions and enshrined in international  law. 

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Addressing Civic Space Restrictions in Uganda: What Role for the UPR?

This policy action brief, prepared by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), examines a range of restrictions on civil society’s fundamental rights recently experienced in Uganda. In particular, these have included a series of break-ins on the premises of civil society organisations (CSOs), in which CSO information has been stolen; attacks on the media, which have included physical attacks on journalists and the closure of private radio stations; the introduction of restrictive legislation, including on CSO operations, the media and the freedom of assembly; and increased restriction of peaceful assemblies, including through the use of excessive force to break up protests.



On 21 November 2016, CIVICUS together with Amnesty  International, Defence  for  Children  International,  KidsRights and World Vision convened a side event- Widening Space by Young Human Rights Defenders. The event allowed young human rights defenders to share their local realities and the ways in which they contribute to the protection and promotion of human rights, in their communities and globally. This report summarises key insights, discussions, and outcomes from the event. 

Read the report in English


If citizens are to have strong opportunities to take part in the making of decisions that affect their lives, there needs to be space for civil society to function, flourish and play a full range of roles. The space for civil society – civic space – rests on the realisation of three fundamental rights: the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. If these three rights are respected, citizens can exercise dissent, propose solutions and contribute meaningfully to democratic governance.

The importance of civic space is recognised in international law, which compels governments to respect, facilitate and protect the three fundamental civil society rights. The role of civil society has also been recognised in a number of recent landmark international agreements, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, this survey of civic space in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) offers compelling evidence that civil society rights are not being realised. On the positive side, core freedoms of association, assembly and expression are constitutionally recognised in most LAC countries, and mechanisms for civil society participation are increasingly being institutionalised in the region. But against this, legal and administrative barriers to the creation, functioning, communication and resourcing of civil society organisations (CSOs) have either been maintained or  recently introduced in numerous LAC countries. These constrain the freedom of association.

Alongside legal and administrative barriers, restrictions on the effective exercise of  the  freedom  of  association  take  various  forms, including  increased  scrutiny and surveillance; moves to close CSOs forcibly; smear campaigns; arrests, imprisonment, and miscarriages of justice; and the intimidation and targeted assassination of activists and human rights defenders (HRDs). Such measures disproportionally affect the work of CSOs, HRDs and journalists that engage in advocacy,  seek to hold governments to account, and work to expose poor governance and realise the rights of excluded people.

Many LAC countries have also witnessed an increase in the state’s coercive power to maintain public order, which impinges on the freedom of peaceful assembly. Laws have been passed or proposed in several countries that privilege the free circulation of traffic over the right of people to join together in public space to express dissent, and that allow for the more authoritarian policing of protests. 
More often than not, protests have been violently suppressed. This has come in response to an upsurge of citizens’ protests in response to entrenched issues of inequality, corruption and abuses of political power.Further, despite a continuing trend  towards  the adoption  of legislation on the right  to  access  information,  conditions  for  the  exercise  of  the  freedom  of  expression have deteriorated in several LAC countries. Judicial persecution and violence against journalists, as well as against CSOs and activists using the media, are among the most troubling limitations on the freedom of expression. Related issues that impact on the space for expression include conflicts between governments and critical media, and increasing concentration of media ownership.

Finally, two pressing and connected issues further affect the quality of civic space in LAC: government corruption and the influence of predatory business interests. A key concern here is the existence in many LAC countries of extensive corruption networks that link business interests, public officials and elements of the security forces, particularly at the local level. These structures of corruption cause widespread violations of the human rights of communities affected by their activities, and of CSOs and activists that work to uphold the rights of those communities. Affected populations include those whose livelihoods and environments are threatened by the advance of extractive industries, agribusiness and large-scale construction projects.


Download the report: English | Spanish 

Against all odds: The perils of fighting for natural resource

Many countries worldwide rely on the exploitation of natural resources as an important source of economic activity and public income. Yet when people in those countries legitimately want a say in the stewardship of their collective natural endowment, they often experience pushback from political and corporate entities seeking to defend their own interests. In response, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Publish What You Pay coalition have collaborated on this report to highlight the vital work being done by activists and their organisations for natural resource justice. In doing so, we want to acknowledge the courage and resilience of those who fight tirelessly for the equitable management of natural wealth. We want to make their stories known and create even stronger webs of solidarity.

This work comes at a price for activists, including members of CIVICUS and the PWYP movement. For many of them, harassment has become a constant companion. Authoritarian and corrupt elements in states and the private sector have attempted to silence those questioning the unscrupulous exploitation of natural resources. Their methods include arbitrary arrests, illegal surveillance, disproportionate fines, various forms of intimidation and threats, unjustified travel bans, unwarranted raids on offices and violent attacks.

This report shows that shrinking civic space is a reality in most, if not all, resource-rich countries, from Australia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Azerbaijan to Canada. In shining the spotlight on the grave human rights violations taking place in some of the world’s most remote locations, we believe this report can be useful to those engaged in struggles for justice and equity around the world. These include UN and regional special experts, multilateral institutions, development banks, academic institutions, the media, and civil society activists and organisations. We are seeking out allies in sympathetic governments and private sector entities willing to work with initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Open Government Partnership.

Download the report: English | Spanish

CIVICUS Monitor Findings Report

Data from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that 3.2 billion people live in countries where civic space (which is made up by the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly) is repressed or closed.


Of the 104 countries for which we have verified ratings, 16 countries are rated closed, 32 repressed, 21 obstructed, 26 narrowed and nine open. Of the closed countries, seven are in Africa, five in the Middle East, three in Asia and one in the Americas. Of the repressed countries, 14 are in Africa, seven in Asia, four each in Europe and the Americas and three in the Middle East.1 Of the obstructed countries, seven are in Asia, five in the Americas, four each in Africa and Europe and one in the Middle East. Of the narrowed countries, ten each are in Europe and the Americas, four in Africa and two in Asia. All nine of the open countries for which we have verified ratings are in Europe. 1 The list of countries included in each of these regional classifications 



Civic Space in Europe Survey

Recent  years  have  witnessed  increased  challenges  to  the  core  democratic  values  upheld  in  many 
parts  of  the  world,  protest  movements  have  gathered  in  many  countries  to  call  for  greater 
accountability of governments. 

At the same time a number of governments have appeared to regard civil society organisations and 
active  citizens  as  unhelpful  and  have  at  times  suggested  that  the  basic  freedoms  of  association, 
assembly and expression should be limited  in favour of vaguely defined ‘national interests’; in other 
cases there have been direct calls for limits to the right to campaign, which would undermine the 
basic freedoms that lie at the heart of democracy in Europe.

So  we  set  out  to  understand  a  core  issue:   do  civil  society  organisations  feel  that  their  rights  are 
being eroded? 

This survey set out to draw out some initial perceptions of civil society leaders in Europe as part of a 
wider global process to understand and analyse the changes that are taking place in many countries. 
It is intended to highlight some key trends but does not aim to provide a fully comprehensive picture 
of the situation in every country at this stage.


Burundi on a Downward Spiral: Prevalence of Violence and Impunity

BurundiThe current crisis in Burundi has given rise to the worst violations of human rights since the country’s brutal civil war of 1993 to 2005.The Burundian government has wantonly targeted representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) and real and perceived members of the political opposition. Extrajudicial killings and assassinations of those who are critical of the actions of the government have become commonplace.

While highlighting the extensive violations of civil society freedoms in Burundi, this Policy Action Brief also makes several recommendations on steps to create an enabling environment for civil society.

Read the full brief here

Core Civil Society Rights Violated in 109 Countries - Civil Society Watch Report

CSW ReportCoverThe latest CIVICUS monitoring shows that in 2015 one or more of the core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were seriously violated in at least 109 countries. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS has documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries over the course of 2015.

The list shows that instead of heeding calls to reverse the trend of closing civil society space, more and more states are failing their commitments under international law and reneging on their duty to protect and enable civil society. Several non-state actors also stand accused of seriously violating civil society freedoms.

CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report 2016 - Map


CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report 2016

Countries which significantly violated fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly or expression in 2015 are highlighted in blue on the map.


In this discussion paper, based on interviews with 12 innovative foundations based in the global south, CIVICUS examines the question of how philanthropists in the global south could better support the activities of human rights and social justice CSOs. This paper has found that there is a nascent local culture of institutionalised philanthropy for human rights and social justice causes in the global south, but so far it is not sufficiently developed to bridge the gap left by reducing support from foreign donor agencies and increased government restrictions on the receipt of funding.

Enhancing the Effectiveness of the UN Universal Periodic Review: Civil Society Perspective

In a new report released today, “Enhancing the effectiveness of the UN Universal Periodic Review: A civil society perspective,” CIVICUS examines the experiences of civil society groups from across the world in engaging with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The report, based on interviews with civil society leaders operating in diverse regions of the globe, provides a number of substantive recommendations to strengthen the UPR process to support the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society to promote and protect human rights.

Attacks on Civil Society Undermining Democracy and Development in Kenya

This Policy Action Brief, co-authored by CIVICUS and the National kenyaCoalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya, presents an overview of the challenging environment for civil society in Kenya, particularly since the March 2013 elections which brought the Jubilee Coalition government in power. It assesses the Jubilee Coalition’s tenure in office and notes that many analysts have mixed feelings about the government’s handling of political and economic challenges and that civil society in Kenya is deeply disturbed by official attitudes toward the non-profit sector.  The brief makes several recommendations on steps to create an enabling environment for civil society.

Civic Participation and Activism in Armenia: A Civil Society Index – Rapid Assessment

By Counterpart International Armenia

Download the report in English

Civic engagement, participation and individual and collective activism form one of the core components of civil society as this describes the formal and informal activities undertaken by individuals to advance shared interests at different levels, from shared associational and social activity to the advancement of political interests. The level of ‘active citizenship’, whether it takes place within or outside CSOs, is therefore a crucial defining factor of civil society.  The Civil Society Index- Rapid Assessment (CSI-RA) in Armenia, conducted by Counterpart International Armenia, focuses on civic participation and activism as currently very important and under-researched aspects of Armenian civil society.


Counterpart International has also put together a policy action brief based on the results of the CSI-RA. Read the brief titled "Armenian Civil Society: Consolidated but Detached from Broader Public".

Enabling Environment National Assessment – Mexico Country Report

By CEMEFI – Centro Mexicano para la Filantropía

Download the report in English or Spanish
The Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA’s), a research tool jointly developed by CIVICUS and ICNL, aims to assess the legal, regulatory and policy environment for civil society at the national level. These national assessments are meant to be locally-driven, rooted in primary data collected at the grassroots level, and validated by a consensus based, multi-stakeholder process. Ultimately, the EENAs are intended to operate as springboards for local actors to improve the legal and enabling environments for CSOs.  By empowering local partners to successfully advocate for the rights of CSOs, the EENAs will facilitate the strengthening of civil society and the improving of CSO-government relations.
The EENA is part of the Civic Space Initiative implemented by CIVICUS in partnership with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, ARTICLE19, and the World Movement for Democracy, with support from the Government of Sweden.

Enabling Environment National Assessment – India Country Report

by Voluntary Action Network India

Download the report in English or Hindi

The Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA’s), a research tool jointly developed by CIVICUS and ICNL, aims to assess the legal, regulatory and policy environment for civil society at the national level. These national assessments are meant to be locally-driven, rooted in primary data collected at the grassroots level, and validated by a consensus based, multi-stakeholder process. Ultimately, the EENAs are intended to operate as springboards for local actors to improve the legal and enabling environments for CSOs.  By empowering local partners to successfully advocate for the rights of CSOs, the EENAs will facilitate the strengthening of civil society and the improving of CSO-government relations.
The EENA is part of the Civic Space Initiative implemented by CIVICUS in partnership with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, ARTICLE19, and the World Movement for Democracy, with support from the Government of Sweden.

CIVICUS - FACTS Report “Stories of innovative democracy at local level: enhancing participation, activism and social change across the world”


FACTScoverThe special issue of the FACTS Report titled, “Stories of innovative democracy at local level: enhancing participation, activism and social change across the world”, compiles ideas, stories, project evaluations and research from CIVICUS members and partners and beyond. From participatory budgeting (Lisbon, Nigeria, India, China) to local development initiatives (Niger), distribution of public services (Madagascar, India) and improving the dialogue between government authorities with citizens (Oregon, France, Argentina), these 14 articles tackle key issues for democracy such as government transparency and accountability, to make government institutions more receptive to citizens’ voices and demands.

“From Europe to Latin America, from Asia to Africa, and across the Arab world, the news is full of examples of disconnect between governments and citizens. Public institutions are not meeting—or are no longer meeting— the needs and expectations of the population.

Framework Conditions for Civil Society in Austria: A Civil Society Index-Rapid Assessment Report

English | German

AustriaCSIRAA vibrant civil society contributes significantly to a living democracy, social cohesion and social innovation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) provide important services. Especially in times of crisis, they can help to improve living conditions for many people.

Appropriate framework conditions are a prerequisite if the potentials of civil society are to be developed and exploited in an effective way. While this has been known to scholars and experts for some time, politicians are now becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities which may arise from creating favourable conditions for civil society.

The Civil Society Index – Rapid Assessment (CSI–RA), therefore, examines the general climate and framework conditions for civil society initiatives and organizations in Austria. Using the internationally tested CSI-RA tool, supporting as well as limiting factors were identified and assessed from the point of view of experts and social stakeholders. The ultimate aim of this report is to provide a basis for the creation of a beneficial environment for Austrian civil society.

Enabling Environment National Assessment – Lebanon Country Report

By Arab NGO Network for Development

Download the report in English or Arabic

The Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA’s), a research tool jointly developed by CIVICUS and ICNL, aims to assess the legal, regulatory and policy environment for civil society at the national level. These national assessments are meant to be locally-driven, rooted in primary data collected at the grassroots level, and validated by a consensus based, multi-stakeholder process. Ultimately, the EENAs are intended to operate as springboards for local actors to improve the legal and enabling environments for CSOs.  By empowering local partners to successfully advocate for the rights of CSOs, the EENAs will facilitate the strengthening of civil society and the improving of CSO-government relations.
The EENA is part of the Civic Space Initiative implemented by CIVICUS in partnership with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, ARTICLE19, and the World Movement for Democracy, with support from the Government of Sweden.

Civil Society in Cambodia: Existing Under a Shadow

 Civil Society in Cambodia coverAs part of its work to monitor civic space, from time to time CIVICUS produces Policy Action Briefs on countries where civil society is under increasing and or dire threat. As part of this work, we have produced a Policy Action Brief on Cambodia which highlights the following:

•Increasing attacks on protestors

•Intimidation and harassment of civil society members 

•Drawing up of restrictive legislation to quell dissenting voices

The Brief is particularly relevant as Cambodia has recently completed its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council while rejecting some recommendations to protect civil society freedoms. 

Public dissatisfaction at the manipulation of democracy by members of the ruling political elite has led to a brutal response by the Cambodian state. The brief also sheds light on attacks on human rights activists, environmental and land rights defenders in Cambodia. Finally, it highlights the multiple challenges that the country’s vibrant civil society faces and makes several recommendations in the wake of the increasingly disenabling environment for civil society and citizen participation in the country. 


Civil Society Index- Rapid Assessment (CSI-RA) - West Africa Reports

The CIVICUS Civil Society Index‐Rapid Assessment (CSI‐RA) project in West Africa was initiated in 2013 with financial support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and CIVICUS, and in partnership with the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI). The ultimate goal of the project was to generate local knowledge by civil society and develop actionable recommendations that can promote civil society’s role and capacity to foster democracy and citizen’s participation in BeninGhana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
It engaged civil society partners in these countries in developing and implementing a self‐assessment tool that contributes to evidence‐based civil society strengthening at the country level. Because the CSI-RA offers a more flexible methodology that is designed to be highly adaptable to any context, including sub-national, sectoral or thematic contexts; the different country partners chose, in consultation with a wide range of CSOs, different areas of assessment depending on their needs and prioritization.

Executive Summary: Citizen action to the fore: a second wave of protest

Executive Summary (English)
Resumen Ejecutivo (en Español)
Résumé (Francais)

A predictable backlash against dissent  |  Privileging of the private sector  |  A global governance system fit for purpose  |  Recommendations 

Globally, there is a crisis in governance. This is playing out on the streets at national and local levels. Increasing numbers of people are protesting to express their frustration at the failure of power holders to act in the best interests of citizens.

Our State of Civil Society Report published in 2012 analysed the wave of public protest that was then sweeping many parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Europe and North America. Our 2013 report, on the theme of the enabling environment for civil society, noted multiple deficiencies in the conditions for civil society and for the expression of public dissent, drawing attention to state pushback against protest, particularly in the MENA region. In the last 12 months, we have seen a second wave of mass protest, this time in new, often unexpected locations.

Recent protest hotspots have included Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela and several countries in South and Southeast Asia such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. Each of these mobilisations of dissent has had different local inspirations and varying trajectories of success, but they share some striking commonalities. These include the mushrooming of protest from an initially local grievance, such as a hike in transport fares or the proposed loss of a green space, to broader issues – of dissatisfaction with people’s lack of voice, the behaviour of political and economic elites, corruption and inequality. Often this growth of protest was inadvertently encouraged by a heavy-handed state response to largely peaceful dissent. Another commonality was in tactics, which saw substantial use of mobile technology and social media; creative, attention-grabbing techniques and viral memes; the nonviolent occupation of public space; and loose organisational structures with an absence of hierarchy and a commitment to participatory democracy. These borrowed directly from the tactics of earlier protests and saw similar currents of international sharing and cross-border solidarity.

What recent protests tell us is that the anger that fuelled earlier protests is here to stay, because the issues remain salient. It is also significant that many recent protests have taken place in relatively mature, formal democracies and in countries that have made progress on economic indicators. Protests were not necessarily driven by the poorest and most marginalised people. This suggests that people want more than the formal right to participate in elections and want to see more than a growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And they are making new channels for their demands. Protesters see established politics as not addressing the issues they care about. In doing so, they have identified a democratic deficit. Traditional party politics are therefore being rejected as being complicit in the status quo and inadequate in the opportunities they offer for voice; thus, new civic and political arenas are being formed.

It should also be noted that some of this anger and rejection of existing politics also takes extremist forms, while mainstream civil society organisations (CSOs) can face challenges in connecting with new protest movements and proving their relevance to these communities. 

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A backlash against dissent

In the face of contemporary waves of protest, many governments feel threatened and have stepped up their efforts to close down civic space, through a combination of dubious legislation, the demonization of protest movements and direct harassment of civil society activists and their organisations. In doing so, they have often times breached the letter and spirit of international law, further eroding public trust in the morality of the state whose response to crises is expected to be just and ethical.

The list of offenders is a long and egregious one. In most MENA countries, particularly Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, the pushback has been strong and brutal, testing the hope generated by the peoples’ uprisings of 2011. Two other geographical regions show particular concentrations of heavy state action against civil society: the countries of the former Soviet Union and Sub-Saharan Africa. A further marked trend in the past 12 months has been backlash against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activism, seen in both these regions.

There is a tendency for repressive legislation to be borrowed and adapted from one country to another just as advocacy and protest tactics are being replicated by civil society. As discussed in the full report, a particular focus is on restricting the right of CSOs to receive funding from foreign sources, an essential means of support for CSOs working in politically difficult contexts. Other laws recently adopted in multiple contexts seek to proscribe what is considered permissible CSO activity, limit peaceful assembly and protest, and make CSO registration inordinately complex.

In more politically repressed contexts, the fact that new media has offered tools to find ways around censorship and the restriction of protest has made it a new target for government attacks. Meanwhile, individuals who blow the whistle on international surveillance tactics have been subject to malicious prosecution. The complicity of private sector interests in internet surveillance is a troubling part of this picture.

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Privileging of the private sector

A rising area of concern for civil society is the role of the private sector in governance. Part of the dissatisfaction being expressed through protest is with the lack of public control over large corporations, as well as the tight overlap and collusion between economic and political elites. Sometimes these are hard to distinguish: politicians may have extensive business interests, while the economically powerful may move into politics as a way of protecting their wealth. Political decisions are taken that benefit economic elite interests. Compared to their own lack of voice, protesters see that private sector interests enjoy privileged access to decision-makers. They see states abdicating their responsibilities by outsourcing basic services and selling elements of the public sphere to private interests, diluting accountability as a consequence. Further, large transnational corporations transcend the regulation attempts of national jurisdictions. Many of the worst acts of repression against civil society are against activists seeking environmental justice and protection of land rights, who position themselves in opposition to powerful construction, agribusiness and extractive industries.

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A global governance system fit for purpose? 

One hope we might hold out for the institutions of global governance is that they can offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. If democratic deficits at the national level arise partly out of the experience of economic globalisation, which hands power to unaccountable corporations, then it should be logical that global opportunities also exist to redress this. In an ever more complex governance environment, where large problems are acknowledged to cross national borders, the international level of decision-making is starting to matter more. Global institutions need to be more attuned to this reality.

And to some extent, international governance institutions play a positive role: the UN Human Rights Council and regional human rights bodies, such as those in Africa and the Americas, are valued by civil society as arenas in which important issues of civil society rights can be raised and international support can be won, despite the areas where civil society feels their processes could be improved. The UN has helped propagate global norms that can then be applied to, and become the focus for, civil society advocacy at the national level. International connections offer an important source of solidarity and support for civil society activists who are under threat.

However, a number of powerful, connected civil society critiques about the institutions of global and regional governance are being made. The international governance system is complex and characterised by gaps; for example, it is strong on enforcing trade agreements, but weak on enforcing environmental agreements. Many of these institutions have not kept up with dramatic geopolitical changes in recent decades that have seen the rise of new powers from the global South, the expansion of civil society and changing citizens’ expectations of participation. They are out of date, reflecting a post-Second World War order that has long passed in reality, but which prevails in the control of key political and financial institutions, notably the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These remain skewed towards the interests of a handful of states that have in effect been able to lock in the power imbalances that they enjoy.

They have been able to do this because international institutions do not have a high level of autonomy from the most powerful states; these governments pay the bills and their representatives sit in the key decision-making structures. This means that national interests too often prevail and that international institutions provide a battleground in which the strategic imperatives of states are asserted and contested. The failure of the international community to mount a coherent response to end the suffering of civilians in the Syrian conflict is the current clearest indictment of an international order that was supposedly established to transcend the inability of states to act in the best interests of humanity. Instead, the system has become deadlocked, captured by vested geopolitical interests.

It is for this reason that suggestions that the international order can be reformed by redressing power imbalances between states in the governance of international institutions – for example, by bringing more states into the UN Security Council – are inadequate. The challenge that international institutions are deformed by state interests will not necessarily be addressed by involving more states, which will carry their vested interests in with them.

A further civil society concern is that large transnational corporations are seeing the development arena as an opportunity for profit. International financial institutions are promoting public-private partnerships, at international and national levels, and also pushing market liberalisation onto economically fragile countries as a condition of support, which has the effect of increasing access for large corporations to activities previously carried out by governments. At the global level, private sector involvement is often justified by the argument that it makes international governance more efficient and flexible. Many international organisations, not least to address the funding gap between their aspirations and their resources, are targeting private sector support and are encouraged by states to do so. But this does not come without a cost: the privatised sphere generally has less scope for accountability than the public sphere; it also excludes those who cannot afford to pay for services, further exacerbating inequality. Moreover, private involvement in the implementation of state responsibilities often bleeds into influence on policy, favouring elite over majority interests.

Comparatively, CSOs and citizens have far less access and influence. In global governance, there is insufficient opportunity for voices that rise above the interests of national governments and the private sector to prevail. CIVICUS’ Scorecard exercise to assess civil society engagement with international organisations reveals considerable discontent with the way international governance institutions engage with civil society. Consultations with civil society are assessed to be largely superficial, often appearing to be box-ticking exercises. Many CSOs feel that, while they are asked to help implement programmes, they are not given sufficient scope to shape policy. It is often hard to show real influence having resulted from international institutions’ engagement with civil society. The member states of international bodies are often able to override input from CSOs. The terms of engagement are determined by international institutions and states, and CSOs are excluded from the key decision-making arenas. CSOs also assess that international institutions are too selective in choosing who they engage with and need to improve their outreach to be exposed to a wider, more diverse range of civil society.

At the same time, CSOs themselves come into criticism for sometimes acting as gatekeepers. Larger and better resourced CSOs that have traditionally enjoyed privileged access to international institutions are often blamed for being preoccupied with retaining their status rather than broadening civil society participation. This includes a tendency for CSOs based in the global North, where the overwhelming majority of international institutions are based, to have the most voice. Civil society is also criticised for being parochial and focussing on individual issues, rather than working together, and for failing to put forward implementable solutions. There remains a glaring lack of global, mass-based, citizen-led movements in international decision-making arenas that can offer counterbalances to an international order based around the interests of states and large corporations.

International governance currently offers a double democratic deficit: large numbers of people are dissatisfied with the subversion of democracy by elites at the national level, and an international governance system that is accessible to a select few offers little possibility to address citizens’ concerns. The current arrangements of international governance are not open and transparent. International institutions remain mysterious to citizens and fail to engage directly with them. When they act, they are not seen to be responsive to the expectations of voice and participation that people are demanding on the streets in different parts of the world.

Just as states that go through the formal motions of democracy without addressing inequality and marginalisation in society have fallen into discredit, international governance institutions with limited scope for people’s participation risk becoming irrelevant. The challenge for international institutions is that they are seen to be doing little to foster positive change about the issues that people are expressing their anger about – the widening gap between the top and bottom echelons of society, lack of voice and subversion of democracy, elite power – or worse, that in promoting market oriented policies, they can be identified as contributing to these problems.

The current system that privileges states and corporations over people is unacceptable. The key test of meaningful global governance reform would therefore be whether opportunities for access by, and accountability towards, a wide range of citizens and their associations are assured.

As the world debates a post-2015 sustainable development agenda, it is critical that national governments and international institutions inspire actions that empower the marginalised and collectively address the challenge posed by economic and political systems that concentrate power and prosperity in the hands of a few.

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Recommendations for governments and intergovernmental organisations:

There is a need to move away from the state-centric model of international governance towards a citizen-oriented model. Radical new forms of representation and oversight, such as citizens’ panels and assemblies that have real power, should be explored. Current institutions should be audited and tested on their ability to respond to and achieve progress on issues identified by people rather than just governments. International governance institutions need to make their decision-making processes more open and democratic. This needs to be done on two levels. It should include the promotion of equality between states and the removal of arbitrary veto powers that some states hold. Additionally, it should also include efforts to create greater parity between official and civil society delegations and more opportunities for civil society to give input and exercise accountability. As part of this, attempts to involve civil society should actively broaden the involvement of various segments within the sector, and address imbalances in access between Northern and Southern civil society actors.

Information on the work and mandates of international governance institutions should proactively be made available to enable greater civil society involvement and scrutiny of decisions and their implementation. New media, including mobile and social media, should also be used to help demystify international institutions, and to encourage participation and the exercise of social accountability. In addition, there should be regular interactions by the leadership of intergovernmental organisations with civil society and the media, as well as the creation of accessible databases of statistical and other information on their work.

In order to strengthen civil society participation, greater local outreach should be offered and dedicated spaces for civil society participation should be established, with civil society helping to define and govern these. Additionally, funds should be earmarked to enable broad civil society participation, and accreditation procedures should be simplified.

International organisations should prioritise making the environment for civil society more enabling – at the local, national, regional and global levels – in law and in practice. Efforts should be made from the local to the global levels to ensure practical realisation of civil society rights enshrined in various international treaties and agreements.


Recommendations for civil society:

CSOs that are concerned with issues of social justice and civic change should make the influencing of global governance institutions a programmatic priority. This necessitates enhancing civil society’s knowledge and understanding of the impact of global decision making on their local conditions, including through information sharing and peer learning. Additionally, the creation of linkages with new protest movements – and building of coalitions and networks that enable the sharing of resources and the connection of diverse parts of civil society, particularly South-North and national-local connections – should be prioritised.

The larger, better resourced CSOs that have an established presence in key intergovernmental organisations should take the initiative to democratise the space they hold and involve a wider range of civil society groups in engaging international governance institutions, including by sharing their organisational accreditation and financial resources.

Strategic relationships should be forged with states that are more sympathetic towards global governance reform. Relations also need to be built with academia and the media to ensure that civil society advocacy is grounded in expert analysis and wins wide public support. Strengthening these relationships will ensure that the role of international organisations, the challenges of private sector privilege and the centrality of global governance reform to the issues that people are concerned about can be made more clear, and tangible paths for engagement and influence can be identified.

CIVICUS commits itself to working with its members and partners to implement the above recommendations. In the coming weeks and months, we will redouble our efforts to build more lateral relationships within civil society and create pathways for greater citizen involvement in and the monitoring of global governance processes.

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download the 2014 State of Civil Society Report

Executive Summary

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Executive Summary (English)
Resumen Ejecutivo (en Español)
Résumé (Francais)


State of Civil Society 2014: Reimagining Global Governance (full report)
Full report

The Year That Was

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A year in civil society - citizen action to the fore


Summary of Expert Perspectives

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Towards a democratic multilateralism: civil society perspectives on the state of global governance


Civil Society Perspectives on Global Governance

Section 1: The great challenges of the 21st century

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Old problems, invisible problems, new actors: Conceiving and mis-conceiving our urban century
Sheela Patel
Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres and Shack/Slum Dwellers International

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Escaping the global resource curse
Gavin Hayman
Global Witness

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Responsibility to Protect:  Can we prevent mass atrocities without making the same old mistakes?
Jaclyn D. Streitfeld-Hall
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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A people's Internet: democratising Internet governance
Dixie Hawtin
Global Partners Digital

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What needs to change in the global governance system to ensure climate justice
Kumi Naidoo and Daniel Mittler
Greenpeace International


Section 2: Citizens demanding accountability in the international arena

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The fight against UN impunity and immunity in Haiti: The cholera scandal
Mario Joseph
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux

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Assessing the accountability of the world’s leading institutions
Christina Laybourn
One World Trust

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Innovative strategies used by the disability movement in pushing for the Convention on the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities
Julia Wolhandler


Section 3: Strengthening regional mechanisms 

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We came, we saw and we kept watching: How the UN and the Arab League failed the people of Syria
Ziad Abdel Samad and Joel Ghazi
Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

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Good practices on CSO participation at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network

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How to maintain the independence of a human rights body within an intergovernmental structure: The case of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the Organization of American States
Jefferson Nascimento and Raísa Cetra
Foreign Policy and Human Rights Programme, Conectas Human Rights

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Advocating for a mechanism to protect the Commonwealth charter
Kirsty Welch
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative


Section 4: The search for an equitable economic order 

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Designing Equitable Economic Policies: The case for a G193 (rather than a G20)
Aldo Caliari
Center for Concern

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The Great Divide: Exposing the Davos class behind global economic inequality
Nick Buxton
Transnational Institute

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The changing face of the World Bank and Civil Society's role in the evolving institution
Chad Dobson
Bank Information Center


Section 5: From Rio+20 to beyond 2015

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Best practices in Youth Engagement with IGOs: Case Study from Rio+ 20 process
Ivana Savić

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Volunteerism, civic engagement and the post 2015 agenda
United Nations Volunteers

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The Future We Want: The New Reality of Governance Post Rio + 20
Jan-Gustav Strandenaes
Stakeholder Forum


Section 6: The way forward

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Multi-stakeholder governance seeks to dislodge multilateralism
Harris Gleckman

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Influencing Global Governance from the Outside:  A case study of
Paul Hilder

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Bringing Citizens to the Core: The Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly
Andreas Bummel
Committee for a Democratic UN


Intergovernmental Organisation Scorecard

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Introduction: Beyond our two minutes

Part Two: Results

Part Three: Conclusion and Recommendations

Part Four: Intergovernmental Organisation Profiles

Statements from Danny Sriskandarajah, Amina Mohammed and Mo Ibrahim

Foreword by Amina Mohammed | Foreword by Mo Ibrahim

From the CIVICUS Secretary-General 

CIVICUS SG Danny Sriskandarajah medium

In 2013, I flew tens of thousands of miles. Most of these trips were to represent CIVICUS at intergovernmental meetings in places like Geneva, New York and Washington DC. As the year went on, these “consultations” started to feel like “insultations” in which civil society was there just to tick a box.

Having read this year’s State of Civil Society Report, which documents a new wave of discontent around the world and some serious shortcomings in global governance, I fear that the world is wasting a lot of time, money and carbon without making a dent in the issues that matter most. 

In this report, we argue that we need to redress a “double democratic deficit”. At the national level, growing numbers of people – including in countries that look democratic on paper and show excellent economic growth rates – are angry about a lack of voice, inequality, corruption, environmental destruction. This “second wave” of citizen uprisings - from Brazil to Turkey – is here to stay unless something is done to improve governance and accountability at the national level.

Meanwhile, in a world facing multiple crises, global governance is not working. Many of our international institutions and processes are out of date, unaccountable and unable to address present-day challenges effectively. This report shows that global governance remains remote and often disconnected from the people whose lives it impacts. There is an urgent need to democratise global governance, to support greater participation of citizens in decision making and to engender an environment that enables civil society to substantively engage in these processes. 

In addition to surveying the year that was for civil society and our thematic contributions on global governance, this report also includes a pilot study in which we have tried to design a Scorecard to evaluate how well intergovernmental organisations engage civil society. We hope that, with refinement, this Scorecard will become a useful tool for measuring how accountable and responsive these organisations are.

I would like to express my thanks to our colleagues from within the CIVICUS alliance who contributed pieces to this report, and to the small but very talented CIVICUS team that put the report together. 

I look forward to working with our members and partners to usher in a new era of accountability in the international arena.

Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah


Foreword by Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, United Nations

Amina Mohammed Small Photo

We stand today at the threshold of significant opportunity – to realise our quest to end extreme poverty and put our planet on a sustainable path. Work to develop a post-2015 development agenda has begun through a truly open and inclusive process – involving governments, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the voices of more than 2 million people. There is a broad consensus that a business-as-usual approach is neither desirable nor feasible.

In today’s increasingly integrated world, the most important transformative shift is perhaps towards a new rights-based spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability. The post-2015 development framework must be conceived as a mutually reinforcing agenda, supported by a renewed global partnership with collective action and commitment from all; governments, as well as civil society, businesses, philanthropic foundations, academia and other local and international organisations.

Sustainable development demands substantially increased levels of accountability – not only for results in the short-term, but also for the long-term consequences of our actions. Although not legally-binding, one of the major changes the future development framework may bring is to include a framework for mutual – horizontal – accountability, which goes beyond accountability for aid and serves as an overarching principle for the effectiveness of development cooperation and partnerships.

In the transition to a new development framework, participatory decision-making will be essential to ensure people’s ownership of the current and future development goals. As part of a global movement for transformative change, CIVICUS and other civil society stakeholders can play a vital role in giving a voice to people living in poverty and in helping craft, realise, and monitor this new agenda. By making sure that government at all levels and businesses act responsibly, civil society can help create a high standard of transparency, monitoring, accountability and representation.

In negotiating and finalising the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, diplomats and world leaders will need to appropriately respond and stay true to the aspirations of ‘We the Peoples’ – the first words of the founding charter of the United Nations. Through open, inclusive and transparent UN-led consultations and as synthesised in A Million Voices: The World We Want report, we can discern that people the world over:

“…are indignant at the injustice they feel because of growing inequalities and insecurities. They feel that the benefits of economic growth are distributed unequally, and so demand social protection, decent jobs and empowered livelihoods. They want their governments to do a better job in representing them – delivering key services, encouraging growth while regulating markets, and preventing insecurities associated with compromising the planet and the well-being of future generations. They want to enjoy their rights and to improve their lives and those of their families and ask that governments create opportunities for their full and equal participation in decisions that affect them. And they want to live without fear of violence or conflict. They ask that these issues be part of a new development agenda.”

Defining the post-2015 development agenda is a daunting yet inspiring and historic task. Building on the inputs and advocacy from civil society, private sector and other stakeholders, the UN system will continue to play a leading role in supporting the necessary transformative shifts and by refining and strengthening the concepts of effective partnerships and accountability that are central to the achievement of an ambitious and responsive sustainable development agenda for people and planet.


Foreword by Mo Ibrahim, Entrepreneur, Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Dr Mo Ibrahim Small 2013

Transforming global governance

In an ideal world, citizens and civil society organisations would operate in an environment conducive to progressive action - one that would allow them the freedom to create, share and enact a vision for society that is just and fair.

In order to achieve this ideal, we must concede that citizen action also requires robust and accountable institutions, from the local to the supra national level, to support citizens in this endeavour.

However, our global governance institutions are frequently opaque in their processes and remain focused on what certain states want rather than what citizens need. Their governance structures and geographical locations reflect 20th century geopolitical power dynamics and allow inequities between nations to be played out and amplified where they could and should serve to bridge them.

There is no question that we urgently need to transform these institutions. But for the overwhelming majority of the world’s populations, global governance remains steeped in mystery and the case for reform needs to be clearly made. Without broad citizen engagement and participation in this process, the self-preservation instincts of our elites will ensure the continuation of the status quo.

Therefore, civil society has a vital role to play in clearly and accessibly highlighting the inadequacies of current governance systems to the public.  We need to equip citizen movements with the data, the tools, the belief and the support to tackle this task of paramount importance - creating a global governance architecture that is fair, inclusive, accountable and responsive and reflects the present and the future rather than the past.

This timely report by CIVICUS on the state of global citizenship in 2014 is a barometer of our progress. As I watch active citizens around the world, particularly the youth, demonstrating their engagement with politics online and offline, I hope we can all work together to ensure that global governance is the next issue to fall under the spotlight. Ultimately, we can only hope to resolve the biggest challenges of this century - from climate to povety - once we have reformed our global institutions to be accountable, democratic, empowering and people-centred.

Without reform there is a real threat of creeping paralysis and de-legitimisation of our global institutions.

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Towards a democratic multilateralism: civil society perspectives on the state of global governance

 Summary  |  But why should we care about global governance  |  So what’s going wrong  |  But who gets a say in reform  |  So what’s the vision  |  And how do we get there

This overview draws from the 21 guest contributions to the 2014 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report. When taken together, the contributions – from a broad range of civil society voices – offer what can be seen as a comprehensive, broadly owned civil society critique of global governance. Reflecting the contributions received, this section of the State of Civil Society Report focuses primarily on the challenges of international governance institutions and processes, and how these relate to civil society.


1. Summary

Global governance isn't working. Many of the institutions and processes by which international decisions are made, and by which norms are set and diffused, are out of date and unable to meet present-day, entrenched challenges. In a rapidly changing world, they are not fit for purpose.

While international governance institutions were set up to tackle large problems, they have largely failed to offer people-centred responses to contemporary international economic, social, political and environmental crises. Global problems still lack global people-oriented solutions.

But the crisis is more than one of efficiency. It is also one of democracy. The institutions of international governance are not open enough: they do not organise themselves to be exposed systematically to people’s voices. It is hard for people to relate to them or indeed to understand them. They are less democratic even than the states that make up their membership, and it is naive to expect citizens’ voices to be filtered through their states to be heard at the global level. As such, international level institutions reproduce and amplify national democratic deficits.

The global governance picture is one in which there are huge disparities between who gets to have a say and who does not: the wealthiest states and corporations disproportionately influence international agendas and norms. Too often, powerful states skew international governance institutions towards their interests. Transnational corporations enjoy privileged access to many international institutions. They exert considerable influence over many of the states that have formal ownership of international institutions. Imbalances of power are reinforced by a lack of transparency and accountability, which make it harder to shed light on these realities.

When international institutions consult with civil society, they consult selectively and superficially; they privilege larger, wealthier or less critical civil society organisations (CSOs), which enjoy disproportionate access, and may be reluctant to share and dilute the few opportunities they have. CSOs do not work together adequately to take full advantage of what opportunities do exist. In any case, access does not usually translate into influence. There is an absence of truly global, mass citizens' organisations that can organise to act as alternatives and counterbalances to global institutions owned by governments. The following adage is often repeated in the corridors of power: “The United Nations was never intended to be a utopian exercise. It was meant to be a collective security system that worked.”[i]

Because they are skewed towards elite interests and offer little scope for direct accountability, international governance institutions cannot be considered to be representative of, or to be serving adequately, the world’s citizens.

This is not to suggest that multilateralism could be dispensed with. Indeed, there is a danger at present that reform proposals could increase the power of large states and corporations, making current democratic deficits worse rather than better. Rather the need is for fairer, systematic, more transparent and demonstrably influential access by a broader range of voices.

As is explored below, critiques of global governance arrangements and proposals for reform can be grouped into two camps: those that concern themselves with efficiency and those that focus on democracy. While greater efficiency is important, CIVICUS asserts that the test of any reform should be that it makes global governance more open to, and visibly influenced by, a wider diversity of people’s voices.


2. But why should we care about global governance?

Global governance proceeds mostly through institutions that have formalised the relationships between states, including the United Nations (UN) and its various agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). There are also regional institutions, such as the European Union (EU) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom); blocs created around historical ties, such as the Commonwealth and La Francophonie; more exclusive groupings of smaller numbers of states, such as the G8 and G20; and less formal groupings, such as the World Economic Forum (WEF). Many regional and more exclusive institutions appear to be growing to prominence, with implications discussed further below.

It is significant that the first – ultimately failed – attempt to create a global governance institution, the League of Nations, came in response to the unprecedented carnage, one hundred years ago, of the First World War, and that many of our present-day institutions date back to the aftermath of the horror of the Second World War. This serves as a reminder that these institutions are set up in acknowledgment that otherwise an international anarchy in which states are free to pursue self-interests will produce dire consequences for the world’s people.

International institutions are also formed in recognition that there are large-scale problems that do not restrict themselves to borders and that cannot be solved by states alone – such as the present-day challenges of climate change, economic dysfunction and ongoing conflicts – and that there are collective action problems that need to be overcome, in that individual states may lack incentives to take action unless they can be assured that others will, or may ride for free on the actions of other states without contributing their share.

Some international institutions have become important arenas for decision-making. While collective action problems often endure in practice, and many international institutions are inefficient and stymied by state and business interests, it is also the case that many important decisions that affect our lives and our planet are being taken at the international level.

At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that there are large portions of civil society for which international level working is not seen as relevant. CIVICUS’ 2011 analysis of the Civil Society Index, a series of civil society self-assessment projects carried out in 35 countries,[ii] revealed that there are many types of civil society around the world that are locally driven; this ability to address local issues should be seen as one of the great strengths of civil society. Civil society groups and activists may be concerned with local issues, and not necessarily seek change on a larger scale. Accordingly, they may not see any need to engage with international institutions, many of which were formed over a half a century ago and reflect the global dynamics of that time. For example, many African and Asian activists point out that these institutions were formed to serve the interests of powerful colonial powers at a time when much of the global South was un-free. Even among even large-scale CSOs in the US, there is some scepticism or lack of interest in engaging with institutions such as the UN. New protest movements that have come to prominence in this decade may well think likewise, opting to seek change and develop alternatives outside the international system. At the Rio+20 sustainable development summit, held in Brazil in 2012, many CSOs chose to stay outside formal processes and organise their own events.

It is possible to mount a critique that because international governance processes are often deadlocked and many of their decisions fail to have impact, it should not be a priority for civil society to engage with them. And indeed there are challenges when civil society is seen to lend legitimacy to broken processes, as discussed further below. But if civil society does not engage at the international level and try to influence the major issues of the day being addressed by global governance processes, then it risks being seen to admit that it cannot hope to achieve impact; the end result would one of apparent irrelevance. If civil society is to offer a source of hope to people, there is a need for at least some parts of it to take on the big, international battles.

The contribution from makes the link between global governance and local level working:

“…this does not mean that these [local] campaigns are irrelevant to global governance. As many of us who have worked at the global level know all too well, sustainable global change has to be rooted in shifts at the national level, and in people’s attitudes and daily lives. This imperative is only increased in an era of turbulence, multipolarity and distributed governance.”

Further, as the Stakeholder Forum’s contribution suggests, even CSOs that work at local levels may be affected by what goes on internationally. This is partly because of the role international institutions, particularly the UN, and regionally the EU, have played in setting norms at the international level that establish good practice, which can diffuse down to and influence the possibilities available at local levels. Global Witness also calls attention to the role of international institutions in setting progressive norms, in their case in the contested area of the transparency of extractive industries, an industry that affects many poor communities; Global Witness indicates that, through engagement, norm-generating institutions can be gradually grown and enhanced. Conectas Human Rights, in the context of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), similarly notes that the Commission has been able to develop its mandate and spread norms out into national level applications.

International spaces and processes can also offer CSOs levers to seek change, or to defend and enhance the space for civil society, at their national level. For example, while there is substantial scope for improvements in processes available, CSOs can use opportunities to make inputs to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and regional processes in Africa and the Americas, as discussed by Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) and Conectas, to raise awareness of attempts to restrict civil society space.

Global governance also matters more negatively, because it is a space where political contestation takes place that can limit the possibilities for civil society and where deadlock can be forced and maintained, as in the case of Syria. Global governance is an arena where decisions that reflect powerful interests can be enacted in conditions that lack transparency and where leaders can build profile, appear statesmanlike and strengthen alliances that may provide assets to enable repression at home.

In addition, repression itself is being globalised. CIVICUS has observed a clear culture of imitation, where repressive laws and surveillance strategies from one state are picked up on, borrowed and applied in another context. This trend has the effect of making the erosion of rights appear more commonplace and somehow more legitimate. Further, conditionalities and prescriptions imposed by international financial institutions in exchange for finance packages and loans, which have often imposed privatisations of public services and the reduction of social spending, can be seen as acts of global governance that impact on people’s sovereignty and rights.

However, the present time may be one of opportunity to push for significant change. Negotiations around the next generation of sustainable development goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) beyond 2015 are well advanced, giving civil society opportunities to make sustained critiques about the need to connect development goals with broader questions of human rights, participation in governance and institutional reform to tackle democratic deficits, including at the global level. CSOs that work on international governance issues are demanding that they be included in the design, implementation, localisation and monitoring of goals, as well as more broadly in the international architecture that shapes itself to deliver them.

For all these reasons, positive and negative, global governance matters.


3. So what’s going wrong?

From the contributions received for the 2014 State of Civil Society report, a number of connected critiques can be discerned of current global governance arrangements: that they fail on the big tests; are out of date; are dominated by states; are insufficiently accountable to and inclusive of citizens and civil society; and susceptible to vested private sector interests. These are each explored below.

a. Failure on the big issues

A key criticism of the global governance system is that it often ducks or fails to make significant progress on the big issues, such as climate change. The international system can frequently be seen to fail when it comes to responding to large, complex emergencies. Syria offers the current most dismal example of manoeuvring between powerful states creating deadlock, with the result that international agencies are failing to deliver Syria’s people from bloody, internecine conflict. A repressive and brutal regime largely continues to enjoy impunity. As the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) starkly puts it:

“Words, it seems, are almost all that the international community can offer the people of Syria.”

Failures such as Syria reflect the difficulties of an international system in which competing state interests make it difficult to reach consensus. While transnational actors, particularly in the private sphere, have become more important – and the world’s people are increasingly mobile, globally connected and identifying with more than one nation – the international system, at least formally, still remains organised around and privileges the state as the primary unit of governance, rather than the citizen.

Furthermore, the historical progression of the present international system is rooted in the notion of national sovereignty – a state's right to hold the monopoly of authority over what goes on within its borders, free from external interference – has held powerful rhetorical sway. States such as Syria have been able to use appeals to sovereignty and the inviolability of borders to claim a right to repress within those borders. Further, as Global Witness points out in relation to extractive industries, businesses can attempt to uphold the primacy of national laws to resist the introduction of greater global transparency standards:

“Business lobbyists claimed that national laws in countries such as Angola and China criminalise the publication of revenue payments. They argued for a clause… to exempt companies from reporting in such countries, despite not being able to provide any credible evidence that these national laws exist.”

In practice, sovereignty is frequently violated; the most powerful states have frequently transgressed into the affairs of those less powerful, both directly and indirectly, while states have compromised on sovereignty, both willingly and as a result of coercion or inducement, in making international agreements. The notion of sovereignty thus remains contested, but it still offers a useful fiction for states to assert their pre-eminence in international institutions, resist external scrutiny, and mutually reinforce others states’ desires to do likewise.

The fiction of sovereignty has gradually been eroded from its low point in the 1970s and 1980s, when, for example, the African Union’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, denied any platform to criticise baroque dictatorships within its member states. In this respect the instigation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which sets out that, when states fail to protect their citizens from the worst mass crimes – crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes – the outside world has a responsibility to intervene, was seen by many in civil society as a major step forward. However, when the R2P doctrine was invoked to justify intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Libya in 2011, some states took the view that intervention exceeded the mandate and was skewed towards achieving outcomes that served the interests of states that intervened. This led to support for R2P being undermined – including within civil society – and weakened and ultimately caused to fail attempts to build a similar case for intervention in Syria.

In such circumstances, the hope might be that regional organisations, which a number of contributions assess as growing in importance, could step in to fill the gap. However, here ANND judges that the League of Arab States also failed, falling into the same traps of division and deference to the head of a member state.

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect asserts that – even though the R2P doctrine has faced challenges in implementation when it comes to the question of intervention, both in terms of mobilising political will and avoiding the accusation of regime change – a precedent has been set:

“Since Resolution 1970 on Libya, the Council has passed 13 Resolutions and issued four Presidential Statements invoking the Responsibility to Protect.”

This suggests that a constructive global norm is being established and diffused, as well as influencing the behaviour of states, indicating that there are still ways of developing progressive norms within a dysfunctional global architecture. But the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect also suggests that the international system remains weak at prevention, rather than intervention after the fact. A further implication is that the biggest obstacle to further progress is the fact that the UN Security Council (UNSC) remains unreformed. Its five permanent members continue to wield arbitrary veto power to obstruct action often to the detriment of the primary objective for which the institution was established (i.e., to maintain international peace and security).

In the light of this, the R2P doctrine could be seen as a noble attempt to graft a progressive goal onto a fragmented international order: the principle is a good one, but the challenge is that a narrow UNSC – closed to exposure to a diversity of voices and tied to the self-interests of five powerful states – is going to make flawed and failed decisions in applying it.

If the purpose of the global governance system is to deal with the big challenges of the day, then from endemic problems such as climate change to large scale emergencies such as Syria, it seems clear that the system is failing. If, however, its role is more to perpetuate the status quo and uphold the pre-eminence of states as international actors, it could be judged as remarkably successful.

b. An out of date system

The era since the establishment of the UN has seen profound changes. The UN had 51 founding states; now it has 193 members. The 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall alone have brought the end of the Cold War, economic globalisation, the rise of a unipolar world now shifting into a multipolar or apolar world, and the increased prominence of middle power Northern states (such as Canada, Germany and Sweden) and emerging economic powerhouses in the global South such as Brazil, India,  Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and, more recently, Nigeria which has laid claim to having become Africa’s largest economy). Across many parts of the world, recent decades have seen a wave of democratisation, followed by a mixture of consolidation and digression. There has also been renewed interest in – arguably followed by a retreat from – civil society as a source of solutions; the entrenchment of neoliberalism as an international political and economic orthodoxy; the concentration of corporate economic power into larger, transnational companies that are not bound by state borders but can heavily influence state behaviour; the burgeoning of new technologies that offer novel ways of making international connections; and two recent waves of mass protests. As Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) puts it, in their case in the context of urbanisation, policy has simply not kept up with this rate of change.

Harris Gleckman from the University of Massachusetts summarises the challenge:

“Today’s core institutions of global governance were put in place after the Second World War. However, in the intervening 60 years, the global economy has completely changed; international CSOs have played key roles in intergovernmental conferences; multinational corporations (MNCs) have multiplied in size and scope; and environmental problems have evolved into challenges to the stability of global ecosystem. Yet the formal institutions of global governance have remained state-centric. And they are demonstrably unable to manage contemporary globalisation, contain global climate change, or address systemic social failures.”

In this fast-changing landscape, it is not surprising that some global governance institutions have failed to keep up. But some have been blocked from trying to do so by powerful states. In the most egregious example, the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the IMF) continue a cosy government arrangement whereby the head of the former is always from the United States and the head of the latter always a European, reflecting a view of the world order that is now half a century out of date. As One World Trust (OWT) attests:

“…attempts to reform the governance of the IMF to provide more balanced voting and membership from developing countries continue to stall, and voting reforms at the World Bank still mean that high-income countries hold vastly more power than middle-income or low-income countries.”

Power relations have changed since then, but some government blocs have been able to freeze an expired status quo to their advantage.

c. Institutions deadlocked by states

The notion that international institutions will solve problems that individual states cannot themselves address is a fine one, but it only works if states are able to put some aspects of their national interests aside. Otherwise, there is a clear paradox: if international institutions emerge from failures of states, how can those same states be assumed to be able to solve problems by taking their failure to a different level?

Contributions to the 2014 State of Civil Society Report offer numerous examples of where international institutions' best intentions have been stymied by national interest politics, something also confirmed as one of the major findings by respondents in the CIVICUS scorecard of civil society engagement by intergovernmental organisations which is part of this report. “Member states overriding CSO voices” was highlighted as one of the biggest obstacles to engaging with global governance systems.

The UNSC provides perhaps the most extreme example, remaining skewed towards the interests of its permanent five members – and frequently stalemated as a result of their veto power – tending to divide between the US, UK and France on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. On the basis of vetoes by China and Russia, intervention in Syria has been blocked. Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea has seen the UNSC becoming once again a forum for grandstanding and theatrical rhetoric, reminiscent of the Cold War excesses of the 1970s. The UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) also sometimes act as forums for international rhetorical performance, lacking substance.

Double standards and selective posturing on human rights by states to advance their strategic interests continues to undermine the legitimacy of these institutions. The case of Israel – which continues to grossly violate the rights of the Palestinian people, while enjoying continued support from the three permanent Western members of the UNSC that claim to predicate their foreign policies on human rights standards – is a sorry reminder of the hypocrisy that prevails in international relations.

There have been calls for UNSC reform since the 1970s, but thus far these have made no headway. It is increasingly difficult to mount an ethical or even logical justification for the permanent privileging of five states, particularly given the deadlock that so often results, but it is equally hard to imagine the permanent five agreeing to reform when this would dilute their powers. It is in arguably the UN’s most important institution that the assertion of narrow state interests most strongly prevails.

Meanwhile a structure that was set up partly in the hope of getting around UNSC deadlock, the International Criminal Court (ICC), established as a body outside the UN to tackle impunity enjoyed by powerful figures for crimes against humanity, has also run into problems with the assertion of national and regional interests. In the ICC’s case, Kenya and Sudan’s Presidents, facing proceedings, have successfully mobilised an African bloc that previously supported the setting up of the ICC to now condemn it, as biased against Africans and unacceptably intrusive of sovereignty. Even though the formation of the ICC largely came about through middle and smaller powers working in combination with civil society to overcome staunch US opposition, it has taken little in practice for the project to falter once state leaders came under scrutiny. Conectas suggests that national interests have also been in play recently at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in which states used a recent review process to try to restrict its autonomy.

In the light of this, the notion that increasing the number of states involved in making the big decisions may seem an appealing, if small, step. But when states such as Brazil, India and South Africa seek reform, it appears they have less interest in changing the UNSC to make it more democratic, accountable and active, than in merely expanding it to include themselves. Their claims are made not on the basis of improving governance, but on their right to achieve special recognition and enhanced power as a result of their increased geopolitical influence, thereby reproducing notions of international legitimacy based on power rather than on accountability to citizens. Expanding the UNSC may not make it any more progressive or less vulnerable to deadlock, unless opportunities for input from, and accountability towards, civil society form part of a reform package.

Stakeholder Forum similarly sets out how the move to make all UN member states members of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) could result in lessened civil society access:

“UNEP was given a mandate to redirect its entire system, as it has been given universal membership. Having once been the first body within the UN system to allow civil society/NGOs the right to participate, UN member states belonging to the G-77 group of countries that are engaged in writing the rules of procedure for the revised UNEP are now questioning these rights.”

Global Partners Digital, in the context of the current debate on the governance of the Internet, makes clear the complexity of the discussion: in this new area, a distributed, semi-formal governance system has evolved, in which civil society has some scope for input. While there is much that could be improved with current arrangements, including bringing greater transparency and addressing the US’ particular power over this domain, a range of repressive states seek to impose a narrow form of multilateralism which would hand power to state elites:

“…a number of authoritarian governments, reacting to growing evidence that the Internet is a remarkably effective tool for citizen mobilisation, are calling for new mechanisms for greater governmental control.”

Again, what on the face of it might look like a broadening of governance, by involving more states, could reduce the potential for civil society voice. The Center for Concern, in the context of the G20, suggests that debates about balancing membership by adding the odd extra state from the global South misses the broader point: the challenge is less about which states are involved in institutions, than about how accountability can be exercised.

International institutions should not of course be assumed to be mere servants of their member states: there are often complex processes of interplay at work by which international institutions form their own cultures, expertise and inertias, and have some ability to resist the promptings of their member states. CIVICUS knows from its experience that many of the officials of international organisations are motivated to seek change, and have a more progressive outlook than that of their member states. But they are also often acutely sensitive to, and seek to anticipate the demands of, member states, particularly the most powerful members; many international institutions are bound to member states by virtue of the funding they provide to keep the organisation going. Again, this can produce a skewing effect; in many institutions, the largest, wealthiest, most powerful states provide most of the funding, and so inevitably have voices that seem loudest.

d. New powers, old problems?

The above examples suggest that inequality between states in the international system is a problem, but making improvements to redress this inequality may do little to address broader democratic deficits. It may only widen a little the circle of most privileged states; depending on the democratic make up and attitudes towards civil society of states that obtain enhanced power, the rise of new powers might result in a worse deal for civil society.

For that reason, the upsurge of alternate global and regional powers to challenge the  recent US hegemony offers mixed news. The Bank Information Center (BIC) offers one indicator that the international role of countries from the global South is changing: states such as Angola, Georgia and India are becoming donors to the World Bank, rather than only being recipients, diluting the claim to pre-eminence of the US.

The countries that have captured most attention here are those in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) group. This group combines large states that subscribe to democratic values, as well as those that profoundly do not, and contains two states (China and Russia) that are emphatically intolerant of activism and the expression of alternate views. China in particular holds hard on the notion of sovereignty and the inviolate nature of national borders, making clear the connection between domestic elite interests and states’ behaviour in the international arena: brooking no interference in its own affairs, China uses international forums to promote non-interference in all circumstances as a reasonable notion, in doing so blocking the UNSC.

It's also widely noted that changing power relations are giving smaller or less powerful states the ability to offset external pressures from Western powers. Clearly, this can be a positive, in that such states may feel less constrained by Western states and more assertive internationally, but it is also a negative, in giving the leaders of repressive states alternative resources to resist external democratisation pressures usually pushed by the West, as has been observed as a consequence of China's growing role in African states with poor human rights records.

BIC notes the growing influence of Chinese lending:

“…developing countries face a growing number of options for development financing… [T]his is linked to many global trends, including the rise of other regional development banks and the growing influence of national banks such as the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and Chinese Banks (China Development Bank and China Export Import Bank). In a recent estimate, the Chinese banks offered loans of at least US$110 billion to governments and firms in developing countries in 2009 and 2010, eclipsing World Bank lending of US$100.3 billion from its equivalent arms.”

In March 2013, the BRICS group announced that they would establish a BRICS Development Bank. Given China’s economic dominance, there is concern from civil society groups that the proposed bank could have weak human rights and social accountability standards, being more permissive of repressive states than current lenders.

Other BRICS states tend to have contradictory foreign policies: for example, India adheres closely to its national interest in some international arenas, such as those for the control of nuclear arms, but in others, such as the WTO, positions itself as offering a more progressive voice, aligned more generally with the interests of the global South. During the March 2014 session of the UNHRC, Indian diplomats delivered a statement on behalf of a group of ‘like-minded’ countries comprising some of the world’s worst violators of democratic freedoms, including Bahrain, China, Egypt, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, urging the international community to exercise caution in supporting “causes of civil society.” This statement was also endorsed by South Africa.

Later that month, South African diplomats, supported by Indian representatives and some authoritarian governments, attempted to impede the passage of a UNHRC resolution on the “promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.” They proposed that the right to peaceful protest should be qualified by the need to ensure stability of the state and friendly relations with foreign states.

If one’s primary unit of analysis is the state, one may see global power imbalances as being redressed in these recent trends; but if one starts from the point of view that the citizen should be the most important actor, benefits become harder to discern.

e. Complexity and gaps

Global governance architecture is also criticised for being complex and unwieldy, which makes it hard to understand and engage with. As PAHRDN observes, relating to the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights:

“Even for those who have been participating at the… Commission for some time, its structure and rules can be confusing to navigate.”

Greenpeace International and SDI indicate that one problem is the lack of coordination between different institutions and the siloed nature of many institutions. Fragmentation, including within the UN and between its various agencies, is identified as a problem by ANND.

When we talk about the global governance system, the word 'system' is a misnomer; rather, there is a patchwork that has evolved over time, with a mushrooming of institutions since the UN, IMF and World Bank came into being, both within the UN and outside it, along with a proliferation of sub-global institutions and regional bodies. It is not surprising that this is confusing.

A plurality of institutions could be seen to be consistent with democracy, in enabling a range of institutions, spaces and opportunities. However, democracy also implies turf wars, jealousies and competition for resources and visibility. It entails heavy coordination costs and provides space for states to pursue multiple and some contradictory agendas at the same time to assuage various interests. There are challenges of efficiency. But there are also challenges of democracy. Complexity places a premium on those who understand the system. Those who know how the system works and how to speak its jargon – and where the entry points and levers of influence lie – are privileged with insider knowledge. They may be reluctant to share this knowledge, even though doing so would broaden participation, as that may cause them to lose a gatekeeper status that they enjoy. This includes those within civil society who have invested years in becoming insiders.

Further, because the international system is a patchwork, some fields have more coverage and are given more weight than others: the governance of trade seems strong, but the governance of environmental issues seems weak. Greenpeace International observes that the WTO enjoys special status as an institution that can enforce its rulings rather than relying on the consent of states. It is not a level playing field: some institutions are more equal than others.

f. Lack of accountability, limited dialogue

It is important to go beyond the critique that global institutions are out of date and inefficient, as reforms to address this could plausibly make institutions more efficient but less open, as is discussed further below.

As well as the issue of the dominance of states, international governance institutions are also accused of being insufficiently open and lacking accountability. This manifests in a variety of ways: for One World Trust (OWT) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the fact that UN staff are above the law – and insulated when on mission from the scrutiny of local actors – is troubling. A further concern is the lack of accountability on internal issues, which reaches to the very top. Often it is hard to pin down key officials, as BIC points out is the case with the World Bank:

“Executive Directors – who represent all member countries and their citizens – are all based in Washington, DC, and engaging with them is problematic, given that their travel schedules are not published and their websites are often out-dated.”

One way to enhance accountability, short of enabling direct accountability to citizens, is to improve civil society participation. A challenge here is that civil society participation was rarely designed into the structures of institutions. While consultation with civil society has grown over time, sometimes it still appears as an afterthought or add on, as affirmed by CIVICUS’ scorecard of civil society engagement by intergovernmental organisations. CSOs are not involved in designing structures for their own inclusion. Action from civil society can be effective in challenging agendas, but the essential relationship is still one of response: the international system may react to civil society, but it rarely anticipates. International governance institutions, being designed for a world of nation states, have had to try to adapt to the evolving nature of people’s participation over the past 70 years, some better than others. The quality of engagement and its influence are unclear.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a growth in international, multilateral summits, and a gradually growing norm that, at least in international meetings that occur under the imprimatur of the UN, there ought to be a substantial component of CSO participation, even if the practice of that CSO involvement is often superficial. As the Stakeholder Forum notes:

“The contribution UN bodies make to establishing global norms may not always be well understood, but the diffusion of norms is often a prerequisite to the successful implementation of agreements. Among these normative contributions is the involvement of non-state actors in global processes.”

Accordingly, there has been an explosion in the number of CSOs participating in international meetings. According to the UN accreditation body for CSOs, 3,900 CSOs are in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and over 31,000 other CSOs work with the UN.[iii] Despite this mushrooming, results from CIVICUS’ scorecard point out that the majority of CSO respondents do not believe that access to intergovernmental organisations has substantially improved. Then there is the unfortunate situation of some CSOs acting as gatekeepers to international institutions and unhealthy competition within civil society itself to gain access and influence.

An irony in the expansion of the number of CSOs participating is that it is harder for individual civil society voices to be heard. The challenges that can arise with volume were seen in the participation arrangements at Rio+20. If sometimes CSOs feel that they are in the room largely for ornamental purposes, at Rio+20 many were not even in the room: the dedicated civil society area was 30 kilometres from the main meeting. Other constraints on CSO participation and influence include resources, accreditation issues, familiarity with institutions, language barriers and access to information.

Confronted with this complexity, officials will understandably seek to apply simplifying filters, by giving weight to the voices they are most familiar with – or deferring to the big, international brands of the best funded, most visible CSOs – and privileging what they see as peak institutions and coalitions.

Many of the contributions to the 2014 State of Civil Society Report offer strong critiques of current processes for consultation with and participation by civil society. United Nations Volunteers (UNV), one of the UN agencies with the closest connections to civil society, asks the question of how a larger range of actors can be involved in the exercise of accountability. OWT suggests that, while acknowledgement of the need for consultation has grown, it largely remains handled in a superficial way. Key questions that remain include: how serious are opportunities for input? What is the quality of the processes? And how well are institutions able to process and apply the input received?

BIC and OWT identify some progress on opening up to greater scrutiny on the part of the World Bank, IMF and WTO, but also many continuing gaps. Some regional and sub-global organisations are seen to have worse consultation standards than the UN. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), for example, identifies that the Commonwealth, an association of states that cover almost a third of the world’s population, has gone backwards in its participation and consultation approaches. What happens with civil society input in its official processes is mysterious, and even the dates of some key meetings are hard to obtain; the best civil society access is granted to the least important meetings. These lead them to conclude that:

“There is a continuing sense that the Commonwealth is an association of governments rather than people.”

International governance institutions, when they place emphasis on formal accreditation procedures, also struggle to engage with informal structures, even though these can be platforms for the most vulnerable and marginalised. As SDI puts it:

“Informal populations are excluded by formal rules and regulatory frameworks that produce legal norms and standards... Informal social movements are still not well understood. Very few formal institutions have instruments, strategies or mechanisms to identify them, engage them in dialogue and attempt to channel their energy, ideas and resources into solutions that bring about sustainable inclusion of the informal into mainstream processes.”

For SDI, as economic globalisation has accelerated the pace of urbanisation, with global corporations often involved in the rapid development of urban spaces and global financial companies recasting urban spaces as financial centres with accompanying private infrastructure, what can be observed is a gap between the globalisation of capital and a globalisation of political response for those most affected.

Institutions may also fail to make special efforts to reach out to young people, women and other typically marginalised and excluded groups, such as people with disabilities and indigenous peoples; the formal representation many such groups were given at Rio+20 and preceding processes is the exception, rather than the rule, and even here, as Ivana Savić from the Centre for Human Rights and Development Studies discusses, there is a lack of resources to sustain inclusion.

Some contributors emphasise that consultation processes can be important in their own right. As Harris Gleckman puts it, there is a fresh need to reassert the value of negotiation as a process. ANND further suggests that, in the case of Syria, starting a meeting and discussion process that gets different people around the same table is in itself a positive step.

An emphasis on process offers a challenge to critiques that focus on making the international system more efficient, by affirming that process itself is valuable. Institutions could be reformed to become more nimble, flexible and efficient, but one way to realise efficiency gains could be by reducing expensive and time-consuming consultation processes. For many of the contributors, it is not just the outcome that matters, but how it is arrived at, who was involved and whether the process of reaching the outcome has helped to develop inclusive, democratic processes with future utility.

The difficulty with emphasising process is that if consultative processes take place inside flawed institutions, they may fail to challenge those flaws; indeed, they may reproduce them, or be used to confer a layer of legitimisation. Consultations can become box-ticking exercises, styled by CIVICUS as ‘insultations’. CSOs may be seen as having been co-opted. As OWT points out:

“CSOs engaging with the most powerful intergovernmental organisations have found that efforts at greater accountability can be superficial. Large consultations with civil society can be lavish, but their recommendations may go no further than the conference room. In individual meetings CSO representatives often only get access to junior members of staff without decision-making power.”

Further, SDI claims:

“Global governance institutions pay lip service to hearing the voices of civil society… and encouraging broad-based participation. Real decision-making continues to be concentrated in the hands of national governments and international bureaucrats.”

OWT additionally points out the gap between the critiques made by civil society and the lack of structural reforms that would imply these are being taken seriously:

“…although civil society seems to have had an important role to play in highlighting problems of accountability deficits in global governance, there is less evidence that this results in these problems being addressed through structural reforms, which would be necessary to entrench accountability in the everyday workings of an international organisation.”

From the CIVICUS scorecard exercise, a sense emerges from civil society that intergovernmental organisations are more interested in CSOs for their ability to help deliver projects and programmes, than for their potential to influence policies: 63 percent of CSOs consulted assessed impact on policy at the international level as poor or very poor. Further, the pattern seems to show a clear bias towards Northern-based CSOs in being able to achieve impact. Dialogues are criticised for lacking demonstrable outcomes, which may drive apathy. Access to key decision-making bodies is weak.

The argument for CSOs to engage in consultations – even when they are superficial – is that routines of collaboration can be built up that can be established over time as a minimal base to build out from, or at least a line in the sand that it is hard to retreat from. Conectas suggests that there is a need to make systematic and then expand existing consultation opportunities, and PAHRDN further suggests that spaces can be grown out from. At the same time, a sense is expressed by several contributors, such as those from BIC, Conectas and Stakeholder Forum, that democratic gains are never permanent, always capable of being reversed, and so there is a need for vigilance and to defend existing space, however limited. For example, regarding the IACHR, Conectas states that:

“…there is a continuous need to assert the Commission’s independence and to consolidate a strong IACHR that is capable of resisting attempts to limit its freedom of action in the face of tough challenges by some states.”

Further, in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Disability Rights International (DRI) notes:

“Implementation requires constant engagement to ensure the original intent of the CRPD is not undermined by weak legislation.”

This fear is one driver of regular participation. Often CSOs take the view that spaces in global processes need to be used or they will be lost, and the credibility of civil society will be called into question by states if participation opportunities are not taken up, even if consultation processes are fundamentally flawed.

At the same time, more self-interested motivations from civil society need to be aired. Competition for visibility and prestige can be motivations; those CSOs that accept invitations and sit at the table will appear more important than those who do not. A danger this can entail is over-respectful behaviour that conservatively values being at the table and seeks to build civil society respectability, and so does not want to risk being seen as disruptive or unconstructive.

It is important not to see improved consultation processes as a panacea: civil society’s demands need to be more ambitious than that. For Greenpeace International, tinkering with consultative processes can only realise marginal gains, and to some extent is a distraction, unless the way in which power imbalances are expressed and reproduced through institutions are addressed:

“A shift of power is more important than a change in the frequency, style or depth of consultations... Achieving effective environmental governance is... above all about changing existing power relations. It is about building a movement powerful enough to force governments to act in the public interest. It is about building alliances between grassroots initiatives and global organisations. It is about making the argument for change as much on the street as in the corridors of power… It is imperative not to settle for a little more transparency here or a little more consultation there.”

This lack of clear routes for quality input – and to enable efficient scrutiny – is troubling from the point of view of efficiency: if international governance institutions are not informed by the widest range of well-informed inputs, the design and reach of their programmes will not be optimal, while without feedback processes, institutions will not learn how to do things better. But more fundamentally, there is a problem with democracy.

g. The democratic deficit

The pre-eminence of states as international actors causes a democratic deficit at the global level. When states with internal democratic challenges work internationally, they bring their lack of democracy with them into the international arena. A lack of domestic democracy and limited accountability to citizens allows for narrow notions of national interest to be constructed around elite interests, which are then advanced and defended internationally. Undemocratic states use their presence in the international arena to reinforce each other and try to legitimise their behaviour. States that are uncomfortable with democracy, alternate voices and activism at home are unlikely to encourage them abroad. Even mature democracies are not immune from the malaise of advancing vested minority interests in international affairs, and states that promote themselves as progressive voices fail to live up to high expectations when international horse trading and deal making come into play.

There is a democratic deficit because international institutions are less democratic than the highest standards of their most democratic member states. Citizens are able to have much less influence on international institutions than on their own governments. As OWT notes:

“…such institutions stand outside the rule of democratic elections and they rarely answer to the people whose lives they most affect.”

The challenge is that citizens do not have direct relationships with international governance institutions; their involvement is filtered through representatives of their states, whether that be politicians democratically elected to some greater or lesser extent, or appointed, career officials over whom citizens cannot exert direct accountability. As the contribution from the Committee for a Democratic UN, which is running a campaign for a UN parliamentary assembly, states:

“Agenda-setting and decision-making on important policies are shifting to the UN and its specialised institutions, as well as to international fora such as the G8 and the G20. The decisions of these bodies are prepared by highly inaccessible officials appointed by the executive branches of national governments. While the point could be made that at least democratic governments that appoint these officials have a political mandate to do so, the reality remains that diplomats and negotiators are unelected and that the constituents of the political opposition are not represented. Intergovernmental bodies thus are largely disconnected from democratic oversight, participation and deliberation.”

OWT adds:

“All too often the people most affected do not have the power or weight to individually influence the world’s largest organisations.”

Even in states with long established and sophisticated democratic practices, such as the states of Northern Europe, this is problematic, given the remoteness of international institutions from citizens. As this report’s section on citizens’ activism in 2013 and 2014 suggests, many of these states are now experiencing a rejection of traditional, formal, electoral politics, as expressed through behaviour such as the organising of direct, alternative structures and the withdrawal of participation in elections. People are demanding different relationships with decision-makers. What is on offer at the international level is less than what they are not happy with domestically.

For the large number of states where civic participation is more limited and there is some degree of antipathy towards civil society by the state, as evidenced by CIVICUS’ Enabling Environment Index, the prospects for citizens to engage with global governance institutions through their states seem slim. There is a double democratic deficit here: citizens who lack voice at the national level cannot look to international forums as an alternative; given the privileged role of states and large  corporations and, as is discussed further below, national voicelessness is amplified at the international level. A citizen of a repressive state will struggle to find global level redress.

It may even be the case that undemocratic regimes prefer to situate some difficult questions within the international arena precisely because there is less transparency, as the Committee for a Democratic UN indicates:

“It has been argued that shifting policymaking to the international level is not always driven by pure necessity, but also by the intention of governments to limit domestic public interference and discussion.”

Certainly, such governments will have little interest in democratic reform.

h. Civil society divisions

The blame for the present state of affairs does not lie solely at the feet of states and international governance institutions. There is a need to be honest and open about challenges in the civil society arena as well.

One should not assume that there exists a unified, well-organised civil society. CIVICUS sees civil society as a diverse, heterogeneous arena. Different civil society actors have different perspectives, interests and agendas, which may not coincide. There may be competition within civil society, and to some extent that competition is healthy, as it fosters innovation. The diversity of civil society should be upheld as one of its great assets, as it enables multiple ideas, alternatives and solutions to be advanced. As the UNV puts it:

“…civil society is now more diverse than ever, ranging from organised groups to huge movements and various forms of non-formal mass action. This brings with it unparalleled power and possibilities, but also complexities. It makes it harder to work with a representative cross-section of civil society, but brings with it opportunities for innovative solutions that can potentially transform citizen-state relations.”

Attempts to oversimplify this diversity or filter voices in reductive ways should be resisted. This is one danger that comes with consultation processes, which may seek to condense a range of perspectives into simplistic and sometimes pre-decided messages. At the same time, SDI points out that different CSOs may be working on different parts of the same problem without adequately connecting. Global Partners Digital suggests that in discussions of Internet governance, a divided specialist civil society and a failure to mobilise broader civil society have contributed to a lack of proposals for reform. Stakeholder Forum indicates that civil society collaboration is essential to achieve international impact:

“For civil society to be successful in its endeavours, it needed to be organised and the organisations needed to be recognised as legitimate entities.”

PAHRDN, in the context of civil society’s engagement with African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, notes the benefits of closer working between different CSOs:

“Unsurprisingly, the… Commission’s agenda is packed and there are limited opportunities to engage with the 11 commissioners on a one-to-one basis. To increase chances of making an impact, it is a good idea for like-minded CSOs to work together and seek joint meetings with the relevant commissioners or to organise joint side events. Not only is this a more efficient use of time, but joint efforts are likely to attract a larger audience, and to generate stronger recommendations through drawing on the expertise of a larger group.”

Because civil society is an arena of competition, even if they have the noblest of intentions, CSOs are competing for resources, visibility, prestige and the claiming of success. A recent CIVICUS assessment of the health of civil society at the national level in six West African countries seems translatable to the international level here. That analysis found that CSO coalitions are bedevilled by competition for resources with their member organisations, caused in large part by coalitions’ attempts to sustain themselves by taking on funded project work that might otherwise be carried out by their members, and that some coalitions were effectively captured by their founding or host organisations, with little opportunities for members to influence them. At the international level, large, international CSOs and coalitions can act as gatekeepers. They are not neutral; they apply their own agendas and frames. There is a lack of neutral sherpas that can give guidance to the smaller and less well connected CSOs.

As any selection inevitably entails choices about who gets to be in the room, consultation processes face the challenge of stirring division through selection. Processes can bring divisions between those CSOs that are asked to participate and those that are not. Stakeholder Forum raises the possibility of insider-outsider splits based on technical expertise, linked to agency specialisation:

“It is easier for expert groups and the NGO community to interact with the substantive and thematic areas of single issue organisations. And since specialised expert groups, to which many single issue NGOs relate, can provide government negotiators with leading edge research results and incisive analysis, delegates are more prone to integrate expert groups into the inner, formal sanctum of the intergovernmental system… The danger raised whether this could split the civil society community between those that have insider status and those that do not.”

For the Transnational Institute (TNI), multi-stakeholder processes choose the less critical, better funded civil society groups:

“They… tend to exclude conflictual civil society groups in favour of more consensual ones, which are often better funded, willing to make deals and accept ameliorative change.”

CSOs that participate can be seen by others as privileged or co-opted. Those that participate regularly may be seen as part of a global elite, disconnected from the rest of civil society. Sometimes who gets to be in the room can have a literal meaning: processes will privilege those who are able to have a physical presence and repeat attendance in New York or Geneva, building up knowledge, routines and habits of participation. CSO representatives who are able to attend consultations repeatedly will develop personal relationships. They will be recognised by officials and may be more likely to be called upon to contribute; at the same time, they may be reluctant to risk damaging the relationship by asking difficult questions. The effect of this is can be to limit the scope of discussion and marginalise those CSOs that cannot afford to have regular representation, which are likely to be smaller CSOs and CSOs from the global South. A CIVICUS analysis of CSO participation at World Bank annual and spring meetings reveals that almost 70 percent of the CSO attendees were from the global North. A report on the role of civil society in global governance published by Bertelsmann Stiftung estimates that a third of over three thousand ECOSOC registered NGOs with specific headquarters were based in Europe and a further quarter in North America.[iv]

Two-thirds of CSOs that took part in the CIVICUS Scorecard of civil society engagement feel that intergovernmental organisations’ consultation arrangements are too selective and insufficiently broad in their reach. In response, it is suggested there is a need for more focus on regional, local, decentralised outreach by intergovernmental organisations.

The notion of cultural capital may be helpful in understanding the gatekeeping challenge in global governance. The situation can be characterised as one in which knowledge and opportunities to access is limited to a handful of well-resourced CSOs, most of which are located in developed countries. Citizens from different geographic locations or cultures may be inadvertently discriminated against; in global institutions there well may be an unconscious bias in favour of citizens who have been socialised in similar structures to those of controlling elites. A complex system also leaves accountability holes in which the powerful are likely to enjoy shortcuts and be able to exploit personal connections.

This implies that outsiders may waste time and resources through not understanding how the system works. They may not know how to get what they seek, what is feasible, or even how to articulate their demands. As a result, they may disengage. Further, a lack of engagement may also reflect a limited outreach to the local level by international governance structures.

Alongside this, CSOs compete to raise their particular, individual issues. While diversity is a great value, there is also a lack of coordination to make and re-emphasise key points to achieve concerted impact. Too many appear happy enough to travel to a meeting, make their particular point and publish a story on their website about their presence at an important meeting.

Another challenge CIVICUS has identified is that in many countries of the global South, including those rising in prominence such as BRICS countries, there is a lack of organised internal civil society advocacy on foreign policy processes, compared to civil society pressure on domestic issues. Closer connection needs to be made between domestic and foreign policy. An absence of domestic civil society scrutiny and pressure gives leaders a foreign policy free ride. At the same time, in many developing countries, foreign policy tends to be highly personalised and at the disposal of presidents, career diplomats and surrounding elites; foreign policy decisions may not reflect the views of citizens, particularly in states with limited democracy.

Alternatively, some international CSOs based in mature democracies have developed cosy relationships with their governments, including financial and project delivery relationships, limiting their advocacy power and running the risk of being co-opted in foreign policy agendas.

CIVICUS' enduring critique that CSOs that are active on national and global stages need to be able to demonstrate their legitimacy by proving their connection to citizens and the vital issues of the day still stands true; otherwise civil society itself will be accused of being part of the global democratic deficit problem rather than its solution: if there are insufficient official channels for citizens to influence the foreign policy decisions of their governments or the deliberations of international processes, then civil society has to prove that these connections are capable of being made in its own sphere. Civil society needs to model within itself the best possible way of working across diversity, rather than reproduce the flawed practices of others.

The Stakeholder Forum suggests that those inside processes need to find better ways of opening the system up to others. For Greenpeace International, there is a need to connect the street to the conference table: those inside the room need actively to reach out towards and try to grow connections with those who may be boycotting, protesting or simply not involved, to the benefit of both sides of the equation. TNI also asks the question of can evident public anger about issues rising in salience, such as inequality, be channelled into structured demand for policy change.

New technologies offer potential to cut through gatekeeper challenges by enabling outreach to more people, but at present these processes often seem superficial, and the mechanisms by which they may feed into final outputs are mysterious. What international governance institutions also need to understand is that participation may raise expectations. Over 1.5 million people are said to have taken part in the UN’s My World survey to identify their development priorities;[v] that is a large number of active and perhaps technologically savvy people who will be disappointed if other voices are allowed to outrank them.

If international institutions believed they needed to derive democratic legitimacy from demonstrating close connections to citizens, they would have to do more to address this challenge, but consistently they are demonstrating that states matter more to them. Similarly, CSOs that are internationally engaged are not doing enough to connect with local CSOs and expand the footprint of involvement. Better global to local, two-way links are needed.

i. Private sector privilege

There is, however, not a level lobbying field. Public concern about economic elites has been fuelled by the widespread, recent economic crisis – and states’ emergency responses to it, which have largely entailed slashing public spending – hit the poorest hardest, while tolerating economic elites whose lack of responsibility caused the crisis. This has focused attention on how many economic assets are controlled by a small number of people. As TNI identifies:

“…the world’s wealth is concentrated even more than is popularly understood, not in the 1% but the 0.001%: 111,000 people control US$16.3 trillion, equivalent to a fifth of the world’s GDP. Even in the wake of the economic crisis, the world’s millionaires have thrived. In 2012, the wealth of the world’s millionaires grew by 11%, while household income in EU and US either stagnated or, in some cases, fell.

This economic wealth is matched by growing dominance of transnational corporations in the global economy. Today, 37 of the world’s largest economies are corporations. Walmart, Shell, Volkswagen and others have become modern-day empires, bigger economically than Denmark, Israel or Singapore. A historic study by mathematicians in the Zurich Polytechnic Institute revealed an even greater concentration of economic power when they focused on ownership of these companies. In a study of 43,000 corporations, they found just 147 companies control 40 percent of the economic value of the entire sample. Most of these are banks, hedge funds or other financial services corporations.”

This consolidation and concentration of economic power into a small number of massive, interlined, transnational corporations has almost imperceptibly led to them encroaching into the international governance sphere and quietly rewriting its rules. As Harris Gleckman warns:

“Today's powerful actors, multinational corporations, are recommending ways to use their power to establish themselves in crucial governance roles. At the same time, this process will not be effective unless a new universal set of sustainable development rules is in place to constrain their adverse behaviour in the global marketplace, and as it affects individual communities and people.”

At the same time, the rise of new powers, such as China, is fuelling an increased demand for raw resources, creating new governance challenges, as Global Witness indicates:

“As new global actors emerge and demand for natural resources increases, competition for the world’s remaining deposits of oil, gas and minerals will continue to intensify. The drive to find new sources of supply is taking extractive companies into ever more challenging operating environments, which brings with it an increased risk of complicity in fuelling violent conflict, looting of state assets and propping up autocratic regimes.”

International financial institutions have propagated a neoliberal economic orthodoxy that improves the conditions for big business. Increasing encroachment by the private sector into the public sphere and indeed in the development discourse remains a matter of grave concern for civil society. Public-private partnerships have become a more common mode for delivery and have become normalised as something that held to be efficient and desirable. In truth, they are misnamed; they are not partnerships with the public, but with states and international institutions over which the public exercises little influence.

Effective and efficient delivery may well result, but there are three challenges: first, such partnerships, by moving public services into the private sphere, reduce the potential for accountability to be exercised by citizens, not least on the grounds of commercial confidence. Second, the ingrained assumption that the private sector brings greater efficiency needs to be scrutinised and tested more. The private sector enters into partnerships not out of charity but in order to turn a profit, and that profit needs to be seen as an opportunity cost, given that it could instead have been expended for public benefit. The profit motive also introduces the potential for corruption in dealmaking. Third, partnership over delivery leaks out into influence over policy; in any engagement, partners are liable to start suggesting how rules and regulations could be amended. Even if partnership improves delivery, the potential for insider access that allows private partners to influence policies, including for their greater gain remains a worrying phenomenon.

Greenpeace International’s concern is that the private sector has penetrated – indeed, to some extent, captured – international institutions and states. On the question of climate change, solutions are available, but blocked by corporations that benefit from an unsustainable economy, while the finance industry blocks effective regulation of its practices. Large corporations are effective in evading accountability, as OWT suggests:

“Transnational corporations… can have clear accountabilities to their shareholders and consumers. However, this accountability rarely extends to the citizens who may be affected by their polluting or degrading manufacturing processes, their use of scarce land, water and other resources or their competition against smaller national brands.”

Many states are penetrated by, and to some extent beholden to, transnational corporations that belie the rhetoric of sovereignty by working beyond borders and jurisdictions. Growing public concern about inequality has often been matched by increased indignation about how little taxes global corporations pay in the territories where they make their fortunes. Oligarchs – from states where neoliberal privatisation agendas, pushed by international financial institutions, enabled national assets to fall into a small number of private hands – are part of a highly connected, cosmopolitan wealthy class, where crossovers between the interests of private wealth and the aims of politics seem almost natural. As TNI characterises it:

“Corporations are also staffing government, whether by providing contractors and running previously public services or by seconding staff to ministries. The revolving door has become a well-oiled one, with politicians and businessmen changing places regularly.”

The annual WEF held in Davos, Switzerland, is one place where this elite convenes.[vi] TNI notes a striking disparity in participation at the WEF:

“In 2014, while some 1,500 business delegates attended, they were joined by only 37 CSO leaders (mainly from large CSOs) and 10 labour leaders.”

The privileging of powerful private sector voices in governance processes can also be seen in the realm of Internet governance, Global Partners Digital notes:

“At the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)… businesses are able to gain sectoral membership, but the price is set at a level that is prohibitive to civil society groups, and as a result civil society is not able to access most of the documents under discussion, as they are not made public.”

The Committee for a Democratic UN suggests this is indicative of a broader trend:

“Even if intergovernmental processes might be open to participation, the resources required to do so effectively are often prohibitive. Multinational corporations, by contrast, do have the financial capabilities to pursue their interests… multinational corporations and their industry associations are often granted access and consulted in international negotiations.”

It is no surprise, TNI suggests, that civil society attempts to propose regulation to rein in the influence of global corporations have met with firm rebuke by powerful governments sympathetic to corporate interests. Even when corporations make global commitments, it is harder to scrutinise them and exercise accountability compared to intergovernmental institutions, partly because these lack the formality of state commitments, and partly because of resource disparities between corporations and those in civil society that seek to hold them to account. When it comes to the extractive interests, Global Witness is seeing corporate pushback against already agreed rules:

“…the American Petroleum Institute (API) – an oil business association that includes ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and BP – continued making strenuous efforts to undermine the global transparency standard.”

Global governance reform needs to correct this power imbalance that gives large corporations privileged access, preventing progress on major issues such as climate change.


4. But who gets a say in reform?

Taken together, the above criticisms amount to a powerful critique of global business as usual. The case for reform is compelling.

One issue that confronts reform attempts is why would those who benefit ever agree to give up their privileged position? This points to a larger question: if international institutions reflect skewed power imbalances and unequal access, how can the likelihood of those imbalances distorting any process of reform be mitigated? As BIC suggests, the challenge is not just whether global governance reform can be advanced, but who has a say in that process, who sets the parameters of debate and how reform is managed.

Harris Gleckman sets out the current danger: currently reform proposals from the WEF’s Global Redesign Initiative seem to have some traction, and to be driving a narrative of reform that prioritises efficiency over democracy.

These ideas suggest, essentially, that global governance should be reworked to be less about formal, intergovernmental institutions, where member states are officially equal, and to be based more around flexible institutions that combine different stakeholders, including from governments, business and civil society, in different ways. Global governance is to be restructured on corporate lines. This conforms to the contemporary paradigm in which companies are assumed to be lean, flexible and efficient, and governments are considered slow, hidebound and bureaucratic. However, as Harris Gleckman observes, this borrowing from the private sector is problematic:

“The three crucial elements of what WEF means by multi-stakeholder are… First, that multi-stakeholder structures do not mean equal roles for all stakeholders; second, that the corporation is at the centre of the process; and third, that the list of WEF's multi-stakeholders is principally those with commercial ties to the company: customers, creditors, suppliers, collaborators, owners and national economies.”

This is why the critique that international institutions are out-dated and inflexible is dangerous, if it is not accompanied by one that they are also insufficiently open and democratic. Given the critique this analysis makes of international governance institutions as stymied by powerful national interests, a proposal to move away from formal intergovernmental working and a proposal to expand less formal, multi-stakeholder methods, may initially seem appealing, not least to some of the larger, more visible parts of civil society that would hope to benefit from increased opportunities for access.

However, reform proposals such as the Global Redesign Initiative fail on any democracy test, because they would shrink the circle of decision-making, rather than expand it. As Harris Gleckman notes:

“What is left unsaid is that leaving governance to self-selected and potentially self-interested elite bodies risks undermining public acceptance and democracy.”

Multi-stakeholder processes, as they define them, would be elite ones, with elites essentially self-selecting. The most powerful states, corporations and perhaps some elite CSOs would be able to determine global responses and indeed, define what is identified as a global problem. Commitments might be voluntary rather than mandatory, and funding processes and reporting lines unclear, making it harder to exercise scrutiny and accountability. As TNI suggests, the proposal:

“…rejects intergovernmental agreements, international frameworks and enforceable hard law that would constrain corporations, favouring instead volunteerism, codes of conduct and soft law.”

Further, if the challenge with the current system is the assertion of state interests, then elite reform in the name of efficiency would not fundamentally address the problem. The autonomy of international institutions would not be enhanced. The most powerful are unlikely to countenance problems or solutions that go against their own interests. Global corporations may well expect lucrative spin-offs from active involvement in such arrangements. Harris Gleckman offers that:

“What the WEF proposes is that when important global issues appear on the international political horizon, a multi-stakeholder group can be quickly created to take the lead in defining the issue, taking that role away from the multilateral process. They could, if the leading multinational corporations wish, scope the issue very narrowly, or they may, from the outset, frame an issue in a way such that a market-based solution is likely to be presented as the best outcome.”

TNI makes the point that the rubric of flexibility can be applied to dodge demands for greater regulation. In these arrangements, smaller states and non-elite civil society are likely to have less say. Divisions between elite civil society and the rest would be broadened.

Centre for Concern suggests that a creeping shrinking of the circle is already taking place with the rise to prominence of the G20, a smaller, self-selected group of the most powerful states that has indulged in mandate creep, with the gloss being that it is a more nimble and flexible institution than the UN, in which 193 states are formally equal. Centre for Concern sets out the rationale, as it has been made on the part of the G20:

“The world needed a small group of countries to lead a swift and tailored response to the global economic challenges of our time. There was always going to be a trade-off between representativeness and capacity to act. The smaller the group, the argument goes, the less representative it is, but the faster it can react. On the other hand, the larger the group – the UN’s universal membership being the archetypical example – the greater the representativeness, but the longer it can take to act.”

However, Centre for Concern exposes as a myth the notion that a smaller group is more effective, noting that the G20 faces the same challenges of reconciling competing state interests as the UN:

“Even officials attending G20 meetings agree that as time goes by and the echoes of the emergency fade away, the G20 is less able to muster consensus to take joint and decisive action on global economic issues that require attention.”

In the context of the Commonwealth, CHRI suggests that the trade-off between flexibility and accountability is unacceptably high. For example, much of the Commonwealth's work is said to consist of 'quiet diplomacy' in trying to shift the positions of errant state leaders, something that requires flexibility and privacy. However, as they note:

“The problem with this is that their vigour and worth can only be guessed at because they remain cloaked in secrecy.”

A similar tension between flexibility and accountability in play at the World Bank, and surfaces more generally in debates on post-2015 development goals, where the question is one of global standardisation versus national variation. As BIC states:

“A key question… is how the Bank will navigate which responsibilities should lie with borrowing countries and which should be mandatory loan requirements. Borrower country systems can and should be used when those systems can be demonstrated to offer robust, transparent and inclusive processes that are equivalent to international standards, and when countries not only have good policies on paper but the institutional capacity to implement them on the ground…. What is unacceptable is a transfer of responsibility and accountability for safeguard outcomes to borrowers with a concomitant loosening of safeguard compliance at appraisal, and open-ended compliance during implementation.”

There is much to be said in favour of national adaptation, rather than global, top-down approaches that do not take adequate account of national specifics. The challenge comes when that variation allows global best practice standards to be slackened. Safeguards, hard fought for by civil society, can be lessened in importance by trade-offs with flexibility. The issue here once again is that in national contexts where there is little potential for local civic pressure on governments to uphold the same high standards, governments will tailor to their advantage.

What is clear is that new structures such as the G20 place are placing more emphasis on interaction between heads of states and less on consultation with civil society. They have less well-developed processes and are less open and less accountable. They operate less like parliaments and more like clubs. And they have little interest in expanding the circle, even of states involved. But as Centre for Concern suggests, they are effective at determining the scope of debates and limiting what it is possible to do in broader forums:

“An alternative that non-G20 countries raise may not be seen as worthy of debate, thereby curtailing the scope of rights to raise, frame and debate issues that non-G20 members would have in global institutions.”

Similarly, while the ability of the WEF to drive its reform agenda forward in the longer term may be open to debate, and the question of the financing of the suggested reforms is a difficult one, they have the power to shape the narrative at present and frame debate around the details of elite multi-stakeholder governance, rather than more broadly about its principles. It could be argued that the WEF’s ideas have enjoyed predominance partly because there is an absence of well-argued, worked out solutions from other sources; but while an argument that some parts of civil society are better at making criticisms than suggesting constructive solutions may hold some weight, numerous civil society proposals have failed to gain traction. It is more the case that the most powerful voices are prevailing in defining what the problem is and advancing solutions that place themselves at the centre.

Current processes to define new, post-2015 development goals reveal some of these issues. Much of civil society is expressing concerns about the private sector’s access to and influence over these processes. Some powerful government voices, and corporate interests, are pushing in negotiations for a heavy emphasis on public-private partnerships. The danger this raises is of a new development framework that has less accountability than the MDGs, where states make fewer commitments to their citizens that can be monitored and which cannot address the negative impacts large corporations have on development, which include limited development financing as a result of corporate tax avoidance and human rights abuses perpetrated by extractive industries.[vii]

CIVICUS affirms that any new framework for sustainable development must be holistic and underpinned by the full range of human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural.[viii] Additionally, there must be a central and institutionalised role for civil society, with indicators set on the enabling environment for civil society, and recognition of civil society participation and rights as a cross-cutting theme and essential element of any global partnership for sustainable development.[ix] Further, there is a need to revisit the values outlined by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration as central to contemporary international relations: freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility.

5. So what’s the vision?

Global governance needs a rules-based series of international governance institutions that have coherent mandates and work cohesively together. There should be clarity to outsiders on what each institution is trying to achieve, how it tries to achieve its aims and what the entry points are – with open, transparent procedures. There should be as wide an inclusion of a diversity of civil society and citizens as possible. Civil society should be involved in defining processes for their inclusion, rather than simply being invitees to spaces that are not of their making. The other side of this should be that different parts of civil society become better at organising to use opportunities with more focus and with broader inclusion. Technology-based solutions that are not superficial add-ons should be developed to address the problem of selection and who gets to be in the room.

While a degree of flexibility needs to be built into the system, so that institutions can change to reflect shifting landscapes rather than become frozen, what helps them do this is to rework themselves as open, listening, learning institutions. Neither states nor elite groups where powerful state and business interests coincide should be assumed to have the monopoly on learning and innovation. Similarly, while a flexible response is sometimes needed in the face of crisis, and the current structure certainly often fails on that score, the need is surely to build up the ability to anticipate and prevent crisis, rather than react too late to events. The true test of any reform should be that it advances openness, access and accountability – that it serves democracy.

Multilateralism is not finished yet, and reform proposals such as the WEF’s may open the risk of putting civil society into the invidious position of appearing to defend a status quo that they do not agree with. States remain important, and an international system without them is unimaginable. But inclusive, democratic multilateralism is needed, rather than elite and secretive multi-stakeholderism. In order to tackle enduring challenges, there remains a need to engage with and try to reform the current system, rather than indulging in purist debates, as Global Partners Digital suggests has been the case with the Internet governance question:

“…civil society has been caught up in an important, but staid and resource-draining, debate about whether an ideal Internet governance regime is multilateral or multi-stakeholder. Thankfully, in the last year and a half, there has been growing consensus among newer civil society voices on the need for a ‘third way’ – a more inclusive and effective regime than we have at present, but one that does not resort to centralisation and government control…”

Without some kind of formal multilateralism, as in the arena of Internet governance, the danger is that powerful states will unilaterally make policy through national processes, but which has international impact.

The Stakeholder Forum also points out why civil society needs multilateralism:

“Civil society is often viewed as an antidote to administrative systems and bureaucracies, but lasting change can only be achieved when civil society has access to an organised system where outcomes and agreements are respected and rule bound behaviour and transparent processes are developed.”

The current multilateral system has, however, effectively been penetrated by powerful private sector interests, as captured by Global Partners Digital:

“It is also often argued that even multilateral processes are already effectively multi-stakeholder, but the influence of the private sector and others is secret and unofficial; as such, the goal of pushing for multi-stakeholder participation is to bring those relationships out into the open and to ensure that civil society also has a place at the table.”

There is a need to shed light on that involvement and to give other actors, from a wide range of civil society, the same access. There is a need for new and equitable rules of engagement between states, businesses, civil society and international institutions in the global arena. In the words of Greenpeace International:

“We need the United Nations in particular to be an open space of free deliberations to set global standards to improve the lives of all.”

UNV highlights the vision for a new form of multilateralism with multiple accountability identified by many involved in post-2015 processes:

“Many people surveyed on post-2015 accountability mechanisms proposed a system of multiple accountability involving all stakeholders, and to include governments, civil society, donors and the private sector, along with all beneficiaries, particularly those from marginalised groups.”

Once multilateral institutions are more open, they need to be supported to grow teeth and strengthen their autonomy from powerful interests. The world’s problems need international institutions to act as an effective counterbalance to the interests of the powerful. As Greenpeace International goes on to remind us, the example of the WTO proves this is possible, given sufficient political will:

“It’s important to remember that global regulations with teeth are not impossible. If governments want to create powerful institutions, they can. The World Trade Organization, for example, can impose punitive fines on countries that break its rules.”

Other institutions, `subject to improved accountability and access, need to be given the same powers, including over the regulation of the global private sector, to counterbalance the WTO's power.

While international governance institutions may be out of date, no corresponding, broadly owned, citizen-led global movement has emerged to act as a counterpoint. Bigger, broader civic forces are needed, rather than elite civil society. Technology offers new possibilities here. Alongside this, social accountability tools, already popularly used in many countries and communities, need to be adapted and applied to enable large scale, citizens’ accountability over international institutions.


6. And how do we get there?

As this report’s overview of the defining events in relation to citizen activism in the previous year citizen activism covers in more depth, the two recent waves of protests – firstly, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Europe and the US, and secondly, in large countries that have grown in global importance, such as Brazil and Turkey – have brought to the forefront issues of inequality and poor governance. Each uprising addressed local issues and had specific tipping points, but they tend to share some characteristics: a sense of frustration about the insulation of elites who have captured governance institutions; a growing out of protest from initially relatively small, specific issues to broader issues of lack of voice and shocking inequality; the holding of mass, highly visible protests in public spaces that brings many people into protest who were not previously engaged, but rejects conventional notions of formal, party political participation; and the use of new technology and social media to enable the horizontal organisation of protest. These characteristics suggest the possibility of making new connections from the local to global.

UNV highlights that:

“A 2013 World Economic Forum report noted how ‘networked citizens have started to change the interface and expectations of civil society empowerment’. It highlighted different forms of citizen expression and participation over recent years, including uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa to the Occupy Movement and citizen protests, from those against austerity to those demanding fair elections. A late 2013 analysis (covering 87 countries and 90 percent of the world’s population) of 843 protests between 2006 and 2013 notes the main grievances were economic justice and opposition to austerity, failure of political representation and political systems, global justice and human rights. It noted that the increase in the number and diversity of protests are ‘a result of people’s growing awareness that policy-making has not prioritized them.’”

Social media has been critical to the success of these protest movements and, as CIVICUS highlights elsewhere in this report, has enabled people to become more connected globally and more demanding of their leaders. makes explicit the link between technology and raised expectations:

“Technology is connecting us like never before, accelerating and diversifying the opportunities for communication and social action. Just as importantly, social attitudes, relationships and modes of organisation are in flux. Citizens’ expectations of decision-makers and institutions are growing. Top-down power and business as usual are losing legitimacy, and the narrative of individual empowerment is growing.”

New movements present challenges to different parties. To other civil society forms, as SDI observes, and as CIVICUS has emphasised in recent years, new protest movements offer challenges of adjustment: existing CSOs need to recognise these as new and dynamic civil society forms, find ways to connect to them and be of relevance to them, and analyse and internalise learning from their successes. They also need to help find ways of sustaining participation momentum once protest fades from the spotlight or meets with state backlash.

For many governments and corporations, the emphasis on inequality, power imbalances and the privileging of corporations is an unwelcome one. Different governments may seek to repress, ridicule or ignore new protest movements. Few have found ways of engaging constructively. For international institutions, with their emphasis on formal procedures of accreditation and rules of engagement, it is hard to see how they can make existing procedures encompass new forms. New movements may suggest fresh ways of making local to global connections, but global institutions struggle to deal with them.

What new protest movements indicate is that there is no apathy about politics or lack of desire to change, but rather that some of the formal methods by which change has once been pursued, including at the international level, have fallen into discredit. There are other assets that suggest a citizen-led campaign for global governance change can be built. For example, public opinion suggests that the UN as an institution still enjoys high levels of support amongst the public, with a sizeable majority of people surveyed in the bulk of countries, particularly younger people, having a positive view of its role and impact.[x] Further, as the Committee for a Democratic UN notes, people are prepared to support in principle international rules that constrain the power of their states:

“International opinion research carried out over the last decade shows that the world's citizenry as a whole is more receptive to global solutions than those offered by their own national governments. Majorities in most countries, for example, support a strong regulation of the arms trade; an international responsibility to protect people from severe human rights abuses by their own government; the elimination of all nuclear weapons (something supported by citizens of the nuclear powers); more government spending to fight hunger and severe poverty in the world; and higher prioritisation of climate change.”

Public opinion in the US consistently supports action on climate change.[xi] And as the Committee for a Democratic UN points out, there remains widespread support for the idea of democracy, albeit unhappiness with how it works in practice, not least because of globalisation and the lack of democracy at that level:

“With average approval rates of up to around 90 percent, support for the abstract idea of democratic governance proves overwhelming throughout the world. It is no contradiction that at the same time there can be deep scepticism with regard to how democracy actually works.”

Further, at the UN, some states have called for an international legal instrument to hold transnational corporations to human rights obligations.[xii] Put together, these suggest there is some potential for a progressive, people-led, global reform movement.

Alliances will be important here, particularly alliances that bring in more than the usual suspects. Some contributors – such as Conectas, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and PAHRDN – draw attention to the value of alliances that realise a multiplicity of participation and influence routes, as well as alliances between CSOs, academics and representatives of supportive and reform-minded states. Some, such as Disability Rights International, IJDH and PAHRDN, note that successful local-to-global partnerships have been forged on specific issues. In the case of IJDH, connections were made between people and politicians in the US and Haiti, diaspora populations, the academic community and the media to bring pressure on the UN for accountability over its peacekeepers' introduction of cholera to Haiti. These partnerships are difficult, but not impossible. Now there is a need to translate that experience on specific issues to the general question of global governance reform.

Alliances need to be smart and multi-stakeholder in nature, including to help leverage the power of states sympathetic to civil society – but crucially, these need to be open, transparent, mass partnerships, rather than elite, closed multi-stakeholder ways of working. If the current system still requires some civil society forms to act as gatekeepers, then there is a need for more honest brokers who can demonstrate that they do not bring their own interests into that role. Alliances need to demonstrate that citizens, in large numbers, are unhappy with the current state of global governance.

That unhappiness still needs to be fully articulated. The complex and mysterious world of international governance institutions may be a source of strength to them – if people don’t understand them, it is harder to engage critically and articulate alternatives. If international institutions won’t demystify themselves, then civil society needs to do it. Ways need to be found of making connections between the things people are expressing anger about – inequality, lack of voice, low wages, lack of employment and poor quality of employment – and the international institutions that in part shape the policies that help create these conditions – or do little to improve them – and continue to set the parameters of the debate in favour of global capital. The wit, imagination and anger of the new, mass protest movements needs to be joined by an informed critique, including by those CSOs that currently work inside the system, if changes are to come and a convincing alliance of the many is to be built.

We in civil society have our work cut out for us. We need to both drive and be the change that we want to see.



[i] United Nations, A more secure world: Our shared responsibility, Report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, 2004, available at: .

[ii] CIVICUS, Bridging the gaps: Citizens, organisations and disassociation, 2011, available at: .

[iii] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), NGO Branch, .

[iv] Bertelsmann Stiftung, Sharing Global Governance: The Role of Civil Society Organizations, 2011, available at: .

[v] United Nations My World Survey website, .

[vi] CIVICUS press statement Davos is the epitome of a world run by elites, 22 January 2014, available at: .

[vii] Centre for Economic and Social Rights blog, Civil Society Rallies to Prevent Privatization of the Post 2015 Process, available at: .

[viii] CIVICUS press statement, Civil Society: Put Human Rights at the Centre of the Post 2015 Agenda, 18 March 2013, available at: .

[ix] Civic Space Initiative Consortium submission on CSO Enabling Environment to the UN High Level Panel on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, 2 May 2013, available at: .

[x] Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, September 2013, available at: .

[xi] US Climate Action Network website,

[xii] Statement by Ecuador and others, Business and Human Rights Resource Center, available at: .


The Year That Was

A year in civil society – Citizen action to the fore

Citizens’ action in 2013-2014: a second wave of dissent  |  Legal Restrictions: the onslaught on civil society continues  |  Market fundamentalism and encroachments by the private sector  |  Global potential, global challenges

Our round-up of what has happened since the last CIVICUS State of Civil Society report sees a new burgeoning of public protest, state pushback against civil society in a number of regions, an increasing focus on inequality and the excesses of the market, and fresh hope being born out of global processes to develop new, comprehensive and inclusive development goals.

1. Citizens’ action in 2013-2014: a second wave of dissent

The era of mass protest has not come to an end. Many rushed to write off the people’s uprisings against authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the protests against market fundamentalism in Western Europe and North America, between 2010 and 2012, as not sustained and lacking in impact. But the last 12 months have shown that the age of mass dissent is here to stay. In 2013 and 2014, struggles for economic justice and democratic rights spread to new locales, including Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela, in what can be characterised as a second wave of protest.

Some clear patterns emerge from major recent protests. Firstly, there are similarities in the manner in which protests develop. Many of the major protests of 2013-4 started off with a small group of protesters raising local issues. In Brazil, protests started in opposition to public transport fare hikes, in Istanbul 50 people gathered to demonstrate against the demolition of a park and in Ukraine protests were initiated by the Yanukovych government breaking off a trade agreement with the European Union. Disproportionate and violent responses to protest by the state led to a scale shift. Images of heavy-handed police officers attacking small numbers of protesters in Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela were strewn across conventional and social media, provoking greater outrage, thereby rapidly increasing the number and type of protesters and broadening the range of their demands. The scope of the protests went beyond the initial issues and unearthed deep-seated public resentments.

Diverse, multifaceted, multipronged movements sprung up, with many first-time protesters taking to the streets, caught up in excitement about national opportunity for change.[i] In terms of the tactics and process of protest, similarities with the first wave of protests of 2010 and 2011 seem clear. It can also be seen that in a few countries that saw failed attempts to organise protests in 2010 and 2011, protests exploded in 2013 and 2014. This suggests that while patterns of protest growth may be predictable, there is a need for an appropriate local flashpoint to be reached before protest can spark.

Secondly, many of the sustained and large-scale protests of 2013-2014 took place in large middle-income countries in which there is some functioning routine of formal electoral democracy. These protests were not necessarily driven by the poorest or most voiceless. But what they reveal is deep dissatisfaction with, and rejection of, practices of politics and economics that serve and entrench elites, as well as frustration with the inadequacy of formal politics in which people have few practical opportunities to influence the decisions that affect their lives. Civil society groups have highlighted rising inequality[ii] and declining civil liberties.[iii] In the face of these, a growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and an opportunity to elect a president every four or five years are not enough for increasingly restless populations.


People power to the fore in Brazil

A high point of civic action in 2013 took place in Brazil, with the ruling party forced to accede to public demand for better services. June and July 2013 saw an explosion of dissent, dubbed the Revolta do Vinagre (referencing vinegar’s use as a remedy against tear gas) and the Outono Brasiliero (Brazilian Autumn).

Shortly after the start of the demonstrations, Brazilian blogger, Dennis Russo Burgierman, shared his views with CIVICUS:

“When you see it happen and you see it rising from the ground, it is a surprise because it didn't seem to be possible. It didn't seem possible because until yesterday people were saying Brazilians are satisfied with the government enjoying a record high rate of popularity. Why did it suddenly start? When people start to see a way of changing things, change comes very quickly. Collapses are just like that. Collapses are like avalanches.

Everyone knows that living in the city is awful, that working conditions are poor, that there's a universal difficulty in finding meaning in what we do. And this is happening at a moment when people are more connected than ever. And this enormous connection creates possibilities for some things which were impossible before.

The great catalyst for this story was the way the police reacted, maybe, the way the state reacted. And I think it made people want to go to the street and protest. There were a lot more people on the streets yesterday, because of the police violence, than because of the 20 cents increase in the public transportation fare. I think there is a generational issue there. Great demonstrations are initiated by young people. That's the way it happens. The older people get, the more they have to lose.

But I think that the nature of what is happening is precisely the lack of leaders. The leaders were rejected by the masses. People don't want them. They don't recognise themselves in the traditional structures. We don’t want your solutions, we want something else.

Everybody that was on the streets yesterday went home sure that 'I have more power than I knew'.”

While the Movimento Passe Livro (Free Fare Movement) has been active since 2005, and the Movimento Contra Corrupção (Anti-Corruption Movement) has worked to highlight mass corruption and embezzlement for many years,[iv] something new happened in 2013. A national poll indicated that 46 percent of participants had never taken part in a protest prior to the Outono Brasiliero protests.[v]

A number of factors combined to form this new protest community. Discontent had been brewing for a while due to fare hikes for public transportation in some Brazilian cities, including Natal (September 2012), Porto Alegre (March 2013), Goiânia (May 2013) and São Paulo (January 2011, February 2012 and June 2013). But while the increasing cost of public transport sparked the initial São Paulo protests, it was the indiscriminate launching of stun grenades and firing of rubber bullets against protesters and bystanders by the military police on 17 June 2013 that escalated the demonstrations. The remit of the protests expanded. Protesters took to the streets to register their discontent with an inefficient, distant political elite tarnished by corruption scandals who failed to curb the rising cost of living and reverse high levels of income inequality. While overspending on the development of stadia for the 2014 football World Cup,[vi] the government was seen to have failed on the delivery of quality public services,[vii] even though Brazilians pay the highest taxes of any developing country.[viii]  

Brazilian protesters were highly optimistic about their impact. According to a poll conducted in seven cities, 94 percent of protesters believed that their actions would result in positive change.[ix] Their belief was not misplaced. The Roussef administration acted quickly to diffuse anger. Within a few weeks the government approved a reduction in public transport costs and Congress repealed all taxes on public transport; Congress approved the classification of corruption and embezzlement as heinous crimes; the government launched a national pact to improve education; Congress allocated petroleum royalties to education (75 percent) and health (25 percent); and the government pledged to control inflation.[x] The Brazilian protests forced the government to take swift, progressive action to meet public demands, representing a victory for citizen action. The Brazilian story demonstrates that the criticism that emerged in 2011 – that mass protests do not achieve impact – is not always borne out.

The Brazilian protests suggest a rejection of failed party politics. Many protesters claimed to be non-partisan (sem partido) and had  low levels of associational affiliation, with only 4 percent belonging to a political party and 14 percent belonging to trade unions or student organisations.[xi] This suggests a rejection of traditional political participation routes and an emerging divide between the arena of formal party politics and a dynamic, civic, change-seeking arena. People still want to make political demands, but they disassociate these from party politics and choose to find new spaces to make their claims. It is, however, also important to acknowledge that the strong democratic foundations of the Brazilian state contributed to the success of the protests; demands made in civic space brought a response from the political arena.

For established civil society organisations (CSOs), of which Brazil has a great many, this represents an opportunity to forge new alliances and reach new, large groups of like-minded people. But it also offers a challenge for CSOs – if they are unable to win the support of newly engaged and mobilised protesters – and particularly for that part of organised civil society that has traditionally prioritised formal relationships with governments, parliaments and politicians as a way of achieving influence.


Unrest in Turkey

Parallels can be drawn with Turkey, where 2013-2014 saw unprecedented numbers – of young people in particular – take to the streets. Although Turkey is a functioning democracy, neoliberal economic policies have seen the ruling AKP government, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sell off power stations, bridges and state-owned banks to private interests.[xii] The proposal to bulldoze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s cosmopolitan Beyoğlu area,[xiii] to build a shopping mall symbolises both the relentless pursuit of economic growth and a broader democratic deficit, where profits for elites may be prioritised over people’s wishes to enjoy public space. The proposed redevelopment provided the necessary spark for a broader citizens’ movement to challenge authoritarian approaches to urban development.

CIVICUS research on Turkey, published in 2011, suggested that the potential for participation through formal civil society structures was low: our research revealed that only 11.6 percent of Turkish people had engaged in political acts such as signing a petition, joining boycotts and attending peaceful demonstrations in the previous five years, and a mere five percent were members of CSOs.[xiv] A lack of civic participation was cited as major worry for 87 percent of Turkish CSOs.[xv] 

Fast forward to 28 May 2013, when around 50 environmental protesters gathered in Gezi Park to demonstrate against its demolition. As was the case with the protests in Brazil, the Turkish police responded with disproportionate levels of force, and the image of the “woman in red”, a female protester sprayed with water by riot police, went viral.[xvi] The scope of the protests expanded, encompassing concerns about the authoritarian slide of the Erdoğan government, which has recently increased restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and has undermined the Republic’s founding principle of secularism.[xvii] A survey on the motivation of Taksim Square protesters found that the main causes for their participation were the prime minister’s authoritarian attitude (92.4 percent); the police’s disproportionate use of force (91.3 percent); the violation of civic freedoms (91.1 percent); and the media’s lack of coverage (84.2 percent).[xviii]

Pro-democracy and pro-secular demonstrations spread to 20 Turkish cities, and Turkish communities abroad. The passage of tight Internet controls in March 2014, including the blocking of Twitter and YouTube, provided another flashpoint for protests. Protest became a mass phenomenon: according to official government statistics, there were nearly 2.5 million participants in protests,[xix] while unofficial figures indicate that the number might be twice as high.[xx] The protests mobilised a wide cross-section of people, previously considered to be apathetic, including young people, older people, poor and wealthy people and the conservative and liberal-minded.[xxi] Most of the young protestors had never taken part in political activities.[xxii]

Again, this can be seen as a civic mobilisation that cannot be understood in partisan terms. The fact that the AKP won the March 2014 local election should not be glossed over; it further suggests a schism between participation in the civic and partisan arenas, as well as a mismatch between conventional politics as expressed through voting and new politics as expressed through public mass dissent.


People’s uprising in Ukraine

In Ukraine, on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the Orange Revolution,[xxiii] on 21 November 2013, protesters took to the streets after the government of then President Viktor Yanukovych postponed the signing of a free trade agreement with Europe in order to pursue closer relations with Russia. The protest movement was dubbed Euromaidan as protesters converged on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. While this may have seemed to be a rather remote issue, far from the everyday concerns of people’s lives, it served as a catalyst for broader discontent. Again, government overreaction galvanised a critical mass of people to take to the streets. On 30 November 2013, riot police started to attack protesters and even raided a cathedral where injured marchers sought sanctuary.[xxiv] Protest forces increased dramatically, mushrooming to at least 400,000 persons.[xxv] In December, the Ukrainian government’s decision to accept a contentious bailout package from Russia invoked further anger, with Vitaly Klitschko, one of the opposition leaders, telling protesters at Independence Square: “He [President Yanukovych] has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian.”[xxvi]

The protests went far beyond the initial issue of integration with Europe. Demonstrators demanded an end to autocracy, the promotion and protection of human rights and the removal of the corrupt, political elite. Echoing the techniques of the Occupy movement and the Indignados, the Ukrainian demonstrators occupied Kiev’s Independence Square and organised blockades of key government buildings, including the City Hall. Throughout December and January, civil unrest broke out, and there were frequent clashes between protesters and the police, resulting in over 75 deaths to date.[xxvii]

Legislation was introduced to curb protests on 19 January 2014 in a desperate bid to silence dissent. Shaken by the protests, Ukraine’s parliament hurriedly passed a series of laws imposing restrictions on traditional media and the Internet, while requiring internationally funded civil society groups that engage in ‘political’ advocacy to register as ‘foreign agents’. These attempted constraints imitated those introduced in Russia in July 2012, following large-scale protests against the election of President Vladimir Putin amid claims of electoral fraud. These laws were quickly repealed a few days later.

The protests culminated in over 70 percent of Ukrainian Members of Parliament voting to remove Yanukovych from the post of President.[xxviii] They also freed jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. On 24 February 2014, an arrest warrant was issued for Yanukovych and his cohorts for their role in the death of protesters. He fled to Russia, where he remains in exile.

In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from the Ukraine after a rushed referendum organised a mere two weeks after Russian forces occupied the region. The vote was roundly condemned internationally, including by the United Nations General Assembly, as fraudulent and contrary to Ukrainian and international law.[xxix] Oleksandra Matviychuk, a Euromaidan activist, speaking at an event organised by the Human Rights House Foundation and co-sponsored by CIVICUS at the UN in Geneva on 12 March 2014[xxx] warned that the annexation has made the situation worse for civil society:

“Crimea is presently under an armed dictatorship involving Russian Federation armed forces. There is widespread obstruction (at least 62 cases) of journalists trying to carry out their work, and attacks on press and television staff. All Ukrainian television channels have been removed from air. Peaceful protests against the occupation are brutally dispersed by armed vigilante groups which were partly formed from several thousand Cossacks brought in from Russia. The law enforcement bodies are abdicating their direct duties. Civic organisations report that activists are facing beatings, harassment, damage to belongings, threats and intimidation in connection with their public activities, even enforced disappearance or being taken hostage. Over the last three days 11 activists have been abducted and the whereabouts of several are still unknown. There is a real danger of inter-ethnic conflict between the aggressors and so-called self-defence vigilantes on the one hand, and the Crimean Tatars on the other.”

Further, she cautioned that protesters in Ukraine have been demonised by the pro-Russian camp:

“There were numerous attempts throughout the entire EuroMaidan protest to give the civic resistance a ‘fascist face’ and to present the protesters as anti-Semites and xenophobes. This is particularly cynical, given the fact that Maidan was officially supported by national communities and associations. Its participants took on the task of guarding Jewish religious buildings; and there were representatives of various national minorities in the protests, including a Jewish self-defence unit.”

The stigmatisation of protesters is a common theme. Protesters in Turkey have been denounced as elitist and opposing a democratically-elected leader that has grassroots support,[xxxi] sem partido protesters in Brazil have been labelled as promoters of fascism[xxxii] and, as highlighted in the following section, in Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro dismisses his opponents as being puppets of the West.


Dissatisfaction in Venezuela

In Venezuela, a crime rate spiralling out of control, record inflation and dissatisfaction with the ruling party led to protests erupting in 2014. According to the Venezuela Violence Observatory, a CSO, the murder rate in Venezuela has increased fourfold in the past 15 years, with a record homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 inhabitants.[xxxiii] The government has been accused of underreporting crime statistics and ascribing the crime situation to gang warfare, which it has failed to combat. There has been a scarcity of basic goods, which the opposition attributes to tight currency and price controls and the government blames on private sector hoarding.[xxxiv] The 2013 inflation rate has been estimated at 56 percent.[xxxv] In an attempt to delegitimise the protesters, President Maduro has lambasted demonstrations as an attempt at a ‘soft coup’, focused on forcing his resignation, with the support of foreign powers.[xxxvi]

Venezuelan human rights advocate, Feliciano Reyna, told CIVICUS on 4 March 2014[xxxvii]:

“It should […] be noted that in 2013 there were over 4,100 protests in Venezuela (a slight decrease on 2012 as President Chavez was ill for two months and people stopped protesting). The protests are mostly about labour rights, public services, the health crisis, and personal safety issues. Since 2008, protests doubled year after year, and they are not just from one sector of society but many, mostly from workers and low-income communities, demanding social and economic rights. They are legitimate actors who are asking for dialogue. The national government has become increasingly difficult to talk to and this has been reported by many different civil society organisations, including environmental organisations, indigenous groups and human rights advocates. The largest protest to date took place on 12 February this year in the capital, Caracas. During this protest, three people died, many were wounded and others were detained.

There are 16 cities in which there have been protests by people, including rural farm workers, fisherfolk and labour unions. The Venezuelan people clearly have their own minds and this sort of official rhetoric [of a foreign plot] implies they do not.”

By 11 February 2014, 19 protesters were detained for participating in intermittent anti-government demonstrations.[xxxviii] The 200th anniversary of the Bolivarian war of independence on 12 February 2014, when Youth Day was celebrated, proved to be a major flashpoint. According to unofficial reports, there were student marches in over 30 locations across Venezuela.[xxxix] Following the killing of three people in the protests, an arrest warrant was issued for protest organiser Leopoldo López[xl] of the Popular Will Party for terrorism, murder and conspiracy.[xli] He was taken into custody after a public appearance on 18 February 2014.

There have been reports of violence carried out by both sides, with unlawful attacks on demonstrators orchestrated by colectivos, pro-government mobs. On 23 February 2014, tensions escalated when pro-government and anti-government protesters clashed in Caracas.[xlii] Increasing division between anti-government and pro-government supporters is reflected in a polarised and fractured civil society. It appears that this rift will continue as long as the government remains in power, with periodic protests occurring at flashpoints.  


A spike in dissent in South East and South Asia

Asian countries, many of which have experienced sustained economic growth, may on the face of it have seemed an unlikely arena for protests, but they experienced a spike in dissent in 2013-2014. A deep discontent with corruption and authoritarian government drove people onto the streets in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Elections have been major triggers of protests in these countries. In Malaysia, hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered to dispute the outcome of the May 2013 election, which was marred by allegations of corruption and saw the ruling coalition, in power since 1957, gaining another five-year term by the slimmest of margins.[xliii] In Malaysia, street protests were accompanied by a series of rallies known as Black 505 organised by opposition parties, highlighting alleged electoral fraud.[xliv] Protests met government pushback. Andrew Khoo, co-chair of the Malaysia Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee, told CIVICUS in November 2013 that according to press reports, a total of 43 people had been charged under the controversial Peaceful Assembly Act in response to the May 2013 protests.[xlv] The law gives law enforcement agencies extensive powers to police protests and criminalises public assemblies at certain locations, denying protesters access to high profile spaces that could attract large crowds, seeking to limit the common protest tactic of highly visible occupations of iconic public spaces.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the 5 January 2014 parliamentary election was fraught with violence, with 21 people reportedly killed on election day.[xlvi] More than half the seats were uncontested by disgruntled opposition parties, and voter turnout was the lowest in 35 years.[xlvii] CIVICUS’ long-term partner in Bangladesh, Odhikar, informed us:

“After the ninth Parliamentary Elections, the Awami League and its coalition won a landslide majority and commenced an extremely repressive and corrupt regime.[xlviii] At the 10th Parliamentary elections on 5 January 2014, the main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its coalition and other parties, refused to contest, as it had been demanding the reinstitution of the caretaker government system.[xlix] As a result, in several constituencies, candidates were elected without any votes being casted, and there were also reports of vote rigging and corruption. The Awami League and its coalition returned to power with a vengeance and a long list of human rights abuses.”

The July 2013 Cambodian election – in which Hun Sen, the prime minister for 29 years, was re-elected to power – has been tarnished by allegations of systematic corruption, with a recent study condemning its lack of credibility and legitimacy.[l] Protests have steadily continued in Cambodia since the election, with a threatened Sen instituting a blanket ban on freedom of expression, which was revoked a few weeks later.

In Thailand since November 2013, there have been protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Protests in Thailand are not a new phenomenon, and there was a prolonged period of political unrest between 2008 and 2010, but 2013 provided several flashpoints for renewed and sustained protest movements to emerge. A rallying point was provided by an attempt to pass a political amnesty bill; Shinawatra’s government is seen by many as a front for the rule of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in exile and found guilty in absentia of corruption.

As was the case in Ukraine, the ongoing political crisis has seen anti-government demonstrators camping out at government buildings. Since November 2013, members of the protest movement known as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) have occupied government buildings, and in January and February 2014, they shut down key areas of Bangkok.[li] Following violent clashes between government forces and protesters, resulting in five deaths on 1 December 2013, all 148 representatives of the opposition Democrat Party resigned. The government then called elections on 2 February 2014, but these were opposed by demonstrators, who have demanded the institution of an unelected ‘people’s council’.[lii] On election day, the PDRC used obstructive and sometimes violent tactics to prevent over 440,000 people from voting.[liii] The election results were later invalidated by the constitutional council. Nineteen leading members of PDRC were arrested, but there are still very active protest voices.

Clearly, it is problematic if people who want to vote are prevented from doing so. But the level of opposition to the electoral process suggests that many are deeply disillusioned with the democratic system as it presently stands. The Thailand blockades can be seen to represent an extreme manifestation of a broader global trend of frustration with narrow electoral processes and partisan politics. As a contribution on global governance to the 2014 State of Civil Society report from the United Nations Parliamentary Association explains, “…opinion polls… tend to show globally high support for the idea of democracy in principle, but high dissatisfaction with how it works in practice.”[liv] Formal democracy, which prioritises representative structures – and in which insufficient attention is paid to developing civic space and providing opportunities for real participation – is inadequate.


A dream deferred in the Middle East and North Africa

As the above should make clear, any idea that – globally – protest has fizzled out since it came back into vogue in 2010 and 2011 is false. However, in the hotbed of the first wave of contemporary protest, MENA, the challenges of pushback and dissipation of energy are profound. If 2011 was the year of uprisings and 2012 was the year of pushback – the 2013 State of Civil Society report lamented the chaos in the region and the ensuing clampdown on civil society[lv] – then 2013 and 2014 can be characterised as years of stagnation.

Entrenched patriarchal structures have reasserted themselves and combined with a surge of political opportunism, meaning that the ideals of justice and freedom that underpinned people’s revolutions, and for which many died, have not been realised. Impact has been elusive. For example, a poll suggests that women’s rights are no better in MENA countries that have experienced recent political and social upheavals than before.[lvi]

Nowhere is this tragic irony more pronounced than in Egypt. The country’s first Presidential election in mid-2012 saw Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood elected to power. In the lead up to the one year anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration, the Tamarod[lvii] movement organised large demonstrations calling for his resignation. On 3 July 2013, Morsi was ousted from office with the backing of the military, sparking counter-demonstrations demanding his reinstatement. These were brutally suppressed by Egypt’s security apparatus, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of protesters. To date, justice eludes the victims.[lviii] In March 2014, a court sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death in a highly controversial mass trial.[lix] With Egypt’s military chief, General Sisi, resigning to stand for President, prolonged internal conflict and the suppression of other voices seems set to continue.

Egyptian activist, Sharif Higazy, shared his disappointment with CIVICUS:

“Reflecting back on 2013 is tough... It is a year of blood, treason and fade of hope. I was one of the global citizens inspired by the 2011 revolution. I share its values, quests and hopes. 2011 gave me hope in the people and in our ability to actualise change. For me, it was not about toppling Mubarak; rather, it was the general concept of fighting tyranny and bringing democracy to our own people.

Unfortunately, many did not approach the matter the same way. Instead, 2011 for them was an opportunity to make it to power and tighten their grip on the nation. The means of reaching to power had no value to them. If they can win democratically, then great, if not, then treason, killing and fraud are always options on the table. Different powers capitalised on the illiteracy and political naivety of many Egyptians. Seeded rumours led to chaos and turbulence in the whole nation. Even those who are politically savvy were left wondering. Waves of political manipulation forced everyone to be on the defence trying to protect any glimpse of truth out there. The ecstasy of political triumph in 2011 soon vanished, and we ended up facing the new realities of division and polarisation.

The year 2013 marked a bloody coup. For the first time we witnessed thousands of Egyptians murdered by fellow Egyptians and tens of thousands persecuted. The police state is back, with no mercy in dealing with those who beg to differ. The hope of a free, democratic and evolving country is fading, but not lost. Egyptian youth are the majority. Many of them tasted the victory in toppling a brutal dictator, and they have what it takes to reboot till we are truly free.”

While Egypt is an increasingly polarised context, it is hard to recall the optimism of the peoples’ movements that ousted President Mubarak in 2011. However, idealism and hope are not yet dead. As another young Egyptian, Amal Albaz, told CIVICUS: 

“I knew it came a little too easy. In only 18 days, we recreated the Egypt we've always dreamed of? My naive self wanted to believe that, but when the cruel reality hit in 2013, we were stunned beyond words – even though we subconsciously knew anything could happen. Having spent the entire summer in Rab'a square,[lx] I had first-hand experience. I saw what it was like to be united, for the sake of freedom and democracy. I felt what it was like to hold a mother's hand whose 12-year-old son was killed for no other reason than believing in a cause. I felt what it was like to have that sensation of unity demolished as soon as I stepped out of the borders of Rab'a. I understood the power of ignorance. The Egyptian media successfully brainwashed the majority of the nation, placing a spotlight on the Muslim Brotherhood, to distract from and justify the atrocities being committed. The Egyptian crisis isn't about the Muslim Brotherhood; it never was. It's about tasting freedom then being forced to spit it out. The year of 2013 was a year of betrayal, but it was also a year of revival. Amidst the darkness, it proved that there is light that shall one day shine through. As much as I lost hope during that year, the amount of hope I gained can't compare. The truth will prevail. Justice will prevail, as long as there are lions roaring for freedom every passing day.”

The underlying conditions that led to the surge of recent protests in Egypt are still there: authoritarianism and a lack of adequate political representation; inequality; changing demographic trends, particularly a growing proportion of young, city dwellers; and the increased use of social and mobile technology.[lxi] In Egypt, the memory of freedom and victory are not likely to fade away completely, and protests are likely to continue.

In the oil-rich Arab states, clampdowns on dissent continued through the imprisonment of activists and other forms of persecution. Large amounts have been spent to maintain paternalistic welfare states in an effort to assuage discontented populations.[lxii] Improved welfare can be seen as a short-term gain achieved as a result of protests, and may subdue elements of the populace for a time, but this response does nothing to advance public demands for more voice; it also plays to divisive nationalist politics, further alienating the large swathes of migrant labourers resident in the Gulf Kingdoms, on whom the development of infrastructure depends. These inequalities can be seen starkly in Qatar, where over 500 migrant workers from India alone have died so far in building the stadia for the country’s 2022 football World Cup.[lxiii] A further concern is that social welfare programmes to dampen public pressure are being buoyed by Saudi lending, thereby extending the regional power of Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the least enabling civil society environments in the world.[lxiv]

Saudi Arabia remains a champion for many repressive governments in the region. In the absolute monarchy of Bahrain, the government, with the help of Saudi forces, crushed dissent and jailed the leadership of CSOs; 50 prominent activists were imprisoned on charges of terrorism in September 2013,[lxv] and in the run up to the 2014 April Bahrain Grand Prix, several protesters were sentenced to long prison terms for drawing attention to human rights abuses.[lxvi] The relatively muted response of Western powers to human rights abuses in Bahrain, a country that provides a strategic regional base for the United States (US), is also troubling.[lxvii]

Maryam Al-Khawaja, from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told CIVICUS on 2 April 2014:

“While there are many obstacles that must be overcome on Bahrain’s path to becoming a free and open society, the main issue is the deep-rooted culture of impunity that dominates throughout all levels of government. Police officers are allowed to attack peaceful protesters with lethal force, and if they are brought to a trial, the charges are often reduced, and the sentences commuted. Impunity extends to the highest levels of government, and we have seen individuals with strong allegations of torture against them, promoted to ministerial level, rather than face an independent judiciary. Another government official, with strong torture allegations against him, was visited in his home by the Prime Minister, who clearly summarised the culture of impunity when he stated on video ‘these laws do not apply to you’.

As reinforcement to the local culture of impunity, the government of Bahrain believes that they have international impunity; the problem here is that they are correct. The authorities know that they will not face any consequences for continuing, and in some cases increasing, the human rights violations in Bahrain, and they therefore have no motivation to improve the situation.”

In Syria, amidst a political stalemate that left global powers idle, conflict continues. Syria’s conflict has resulted in over 110,000 deaths and more than 6.5 million internally displaced persons and refugees.[lxviii] A February 2014 breakthrough at the UN Security Council resulted in the first binding resolution demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allow the passage of humanitarian assistance. A number of international CSOs have worked together to keep the issue in public attention and urge decision-makers to act, but the massacre continues unabated.[lxix]

In Libya, the second elections since the fall of Gaddafi took place on 20 February 2014, with much less fanfare than the first. In the 2012 interim parliamentary elections, 61.58 percent of 2.7 million registered voters cast their ballots. In the 2014 elections, only 45 percent of 1.1 million registered voters turned out to elect members of the constitutional assembly, highlighting a rapid, deep disillusionment with the practice of democracy to date.[lxx]

The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian vendor, was the catalyst for the citizen uprisings that resulted in the ousting of Tunisia’s dictatorial president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings across MENA. While the road since has not always been smooth, Tunisia is showing signs of bucking the region’s regressive trend. The reasonably progressive Tunisian constitution, adopted on 26 January 2014, has been welcomed as step forward for democracy, generating cautious optimism.[lxxi]


Rising intolerance threatening civil society in Europe

 Europe does not perform particularly well on the socio-cultural dimension of CIVICUS’ Enabling Environment Index, which measures participation, tolerance, trust in CSOs and giving and volunteering. The 2013 report notes that:

“Low levels of giving and volunteering as well as a lack of interest in public participation are the reasons why 63.4 percent of the countries in Europe are below the global average… more needs to be done to build trust in non-profits and a culture of giving and volunteering in order to strengthen civic engagement and CSO impact.”[lxxii]

In May 2013, following the shooting of a Portuguese national, riots broke out in Stockholm, Sweden. Motivated by racial tension, class division, social exclusion and increasing income inequality,[lxxiii] first and second generation immigrant youth took to the streets of Husby in Northern Stockholm and set cars and garages on fire. A lack of integration, coupled with the rise of the far right, were identified as two underlying causes of the riots.[lxxiv] Even though Sweden scores very highly on most indicators of quality of life, these events showed there can still be frustration about lack of access and voice.

While economic crisis and the resulting politics of austerity – visited disproportionately on the poorest – spurred many of the key protest movements in Europe of 2011, contradictory protest trajectories can now be seen. It is important to acknowledge that not all protests seek positive change; some are mounted in defence of the status quo, and some seek to deepen identity divisions and scapegoat visible minorities. Europe is seeing a rise of movements that defend identity positions, and far-right political parties.[lxxv]

A low point was the killing of a Greek anti-fascism activist by members of the extremist group Golden Dawn in September 2013.[lxxvi] The President of the Hellenic League for Human Rights, Konstantinos Tsitselikis, had this to say about the situation in Greece:

“Civil society constitutes an important milieu that non-governmental and non-political party entities can form ideas about the content and the quality of democracy.

Thus, claims for a just society through the struggle for human rights has a central importance. The rise of the ultra-right and the establishment of neoliberal policies should be the target of a wide campaign, which will have an impact on the public discussion and turn the interest of the society to core problems related to economic exploitation and violation of human rights.

A common thread of thought should be that violation of human rights is a collective concern, even if it affects certain members of society in a given time. In addition, an understanding that bonds established through solidarity could secure human dignity. Fostering active citizenship is thus the final target to build barriers against the expansion of neoliberalism.”


Backlash against the LGBTI movement

Protests for progressive change can provoke backlash by regressive forces: this was certainly the case in France, which was the site of many protests for and against the introduction of gay marriage in 2013. One of the largest protests in Western Europe in 2013 was against gay marriage, drawing more than 150,000 participants in Lyon and Paris in May 2013.[lxxvii]

Laws against LGBTI activists have emerged as a key, new area of contestation between civil society and repressive states. In June 2013 the Russian Duma (parliament) criminalised the spreading of homosexual ‘propaganda’ to minors. The danger of such laws is partly that they are permissive of homophobia; reports suggest there has been a surge in homophobic violence since the law was enacted.[lxxviii] Russia is also home to the largest network of vigilante groups dedicated to exposing and abusing homosexuals, the bizarrely-named Occupy Paedophilia, which is operational in 30 cities.[lxxix] This also shows us that the international spread of protest brands and memes can be adopted and subverted by repressive forces.

Russia is not alone. In 2013, public events organised by LGBTI groups were either banned or attacked in neighbouring Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine, suggesting a broader problem.[lxxx]  However, recent events also have provided opportunities to shed an international spotlight on repression: the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia has been a trigger for protests against discriminatory laws. The Principle 6 campaign raised awareness of the anti-discrimination provision in the Olympic Charter and private sector actors, including Olympic sponsors showed their support for gay rights; the world’s most popular search engine, Google, also came to the defence of LGBTI Olympians.[lxxxi]

State leaders who bid to stage high profile sporting events for international legitimation should be aware that the potential for embarrassing backlash to spread via social media is now high. As noted above, Brazil has seen World Cup construction becoming an issue in protests; the rulers of Russia and Qatar, hosts of the next two World Cups, should not expect an easy ride.

A worrying legislative trend against LGBTI rights has also been seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the enacting of draconian anti-homosexuality laws in Nigeria and Uganda. Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act bans the registration of any gay club, society or organisation and threatens their supporters with imprisonment of up to 10 years. Like Nigeria’s law, Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is broad enough to criminalise the entire community of human rights activists and organisations. New laws exacerbate a situation in which anti-gay legislation is already widespread; the International Gay and Lesbian Association reported in May 2013 that homosexual acts are illegal in at least 78 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, the Caribbean and the Pacific.[lxxxii]

Kene Esson, a prominent LGBTI activist from Nigeria, told CIVICUS in February 2014:

“With regard to discourse on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in Africa, in the words of Charles Dickens, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ In the last year we have witnessed the signing into law of the worst statutes criminalising same-sex relationships and identity in Uganda and Nigeria and high levels of violence and gross violations of human rights based on SOGI. However, we have witnessed great resilience across the continent as groups come together in countries to support each other, to affirm their humanity. We have also seen unprecedented levels of support from CSOs speaking out against SOGI-based discrimination, working together to support victims of violence and other violations. In other countries, we have witnessed government agencies working together to improve access to legal and healthcare services for LGBTI individuals and limit the enforcement of criminal sanctions. In religious and cultural communities, a few strong leaders are taking a stand for equality and non-discrimination.

Although the grimmest picture is usually painted of Africa, lots of positive organising is happening within the movement asserting the voice of the African movement in regional and international spaces and moving forward the rights agenda in a context-sensitive and sustainable way.”

Promoting an agenda of intolerance and unjust discrimination goes against key provisions of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights; on that basis 25 CSOs in Africa recently combined to condemn these pieces of regressive legislation.[lxxxiii] Kene Esson’s perspective suggests a two-way relationship between state repression and pushback; attempts to repress particular parts of civil society can provoke activism in defence across a broader sweep of civil society. If the defence of LGBTI CSOs and activists is becoming a more mainstream part of the civil society human rights agenda in African countries, then this is a welcome development, as this has not always been the case in the past, when LGBTI issues have tended to be marginalised within civil society.


But what happened to the movements of 2011/2012?

It is not the case that the first wave of protest movements uniformly failed to achieve visible impact. For example, Chile’s student-led protests of 2011 led to changes in the composition of electoral representatives and to a sustained political focus on inequality by the New Majority coalition that came to power in the 2014 elections. Former Secretary-General of the Student's Federation of the Catholic University of Chile, Sebastian Vielmas, shared with CIVICUS his views on these developments[lxxxiv]:

“In Chile, as in much of the world, there is a crisis of political representation. Distrust of the authorities, regardless of their ideology, opens questions about the future of political organisation in our country.

In this context, student leaders from the protests for the right to education in 2011 went to Parliament propose changes. Four of them were successfully elected as deputies, while those who were defeated received a significant number of votes.

From this, we can see that it is possible for social movements and civil society to push the boundaries and influence political institutions. Progress is expected on the demands for a public, free and quality education system.

However, it remains to be seen whether these newly elected officials will be able to overcome the excessive influence of the executive influence in the drafting of laws, many of whom have close links to big business.

Regardless, young people have earned a place as political actors and no matter who governs, this is a generation that has decided to take part in public affairs.”

Results from CIVICUS' Annual Constituency Survey conducted in January 2014. The question posed to respondents was: “Compared with a year ago, how has citizen participation changed where you work?”

CIVICUS survey on changes in citizen participation

CSO survey on changes in citizen participation

Results from CIVICUS' Annual Constituency Survey conducted in January 2014. The question posed to respondents was: “Compared with a year ago, how has citizen participation changed where you work?”


While it is noteworthy when civil society leaders move into political office on social justice agendas, CSOs and social movements can be weakened by the loss of their leaders, and it can also give rise to accusations that civil society is partisan. Questions may then arise about what makes these movements distinct from party politics, and what the added value of the civic arena is compared to that of the partisan political sphere? Further indicators of success are needed.

Indicators, however, prove elusive: the protest movements of the global North that dominated the headlines in 2011, such as the Indignados and Occupy, received much criticism for lacking leadership and not articulating clear agendas and specific demands; they insisted in turn that such perspectives were too narrow, and that the processes of self-organisation and public mobilisation are important in their own right. While it may be argued that these movements have lost visibility and momentum, they have impacted on national and global political narratives, with the issue of inequality remaining a hot political topic, and the term 99% remaining global shorthand for structural injustice.

Further, some of those mobilised as the Indignados and Occupy may be active under different banners; part of the impact of these movements has been to bring new participants into civil, non-partisan politics. A survey of CIVICUS constituents indicates that from 2013 to 2014, there is perceived to be an increase in citizen participation: 69 percent of respondents say that there has been either much more or moderately more citizen participation in their countries. Although the sample size was rather modest, this offers an indication that there has not been a lull in citizen participation.


21st century protest: new technology and new tactics in connecting and organising

Further, the philosophy, organising strategies, memes and methods of the 2010 to 2012 protests have been reproduced by more recent movements. Many protesters in 2013 and 2014 employed similar techniques of satire, parody, popular slogans and symbols. Cross-pollination could be seen between protests. As two academics writing on events in Turkey note, “Despite their significant differences, in particular in terms of the reactions from the Turkish and Brazilian authorities, both Turkish and Brazilian protesters seemed to be coming from similar class backgrounds and ages, and they were making similar demands of democracy in similarly innovative ways.”[lxxxv] Guy Fawkes masks, previously so visible across North America and Europe, were now worn on the streets of Istanbul and São Paulo. In Turkey, protesters re-appropriated a word used by President Erdoğan  to denigrate protesters as looters (çapulcu) and invented the term ‘chapulling’, meaning to stand up for one’s rights.[lxxxvi] A parody of a popular hit song featuring protesters chapulling went viral on YouTube.[lxxxvii]

Another shared tactic was that in Bangkok, Istanbul and Kiev, a common protest strategy was to occupy public spaces and government buildings, drawing directly on the tactics used by the 2010-12 movements.

Ibopes survey of participants in protests in seven cities in Brazil

Graph 1: Ibopes survey of participants in protests in seven cities in Brazil[lxxxviii]

Social media and word of mouth were critical to the organisation of the Brazil and Turkey protests. National surveys in these countries illustrate that the majority of protesters were informed about protests and motivated to participate in events by social media. Twitter and Facebook played a crucial role in publicising protests.

Results of a Konda survey of Gezi park protesters

Chart 2: Results of a Konda survey of Gezi park protesters[lxxxix]

Social media is particularly important to young people, who were a critical mass in many recent protests. According to Facebook’s statistics, 48 percent of 18-34 year olds login to Facebook when they wake in the morning.[xc] There is also research that suggests young people’s experience of the ease of participation and having their voices heard in social media is flowing out into the offline world; expectations of being listened to have been raised, and when these expectations are thwarted, dissent results.[xci]

Groups working on governance and democracy now have the option to engage in new ways with constituents that they cannot reach through older traditional methods of outreach. However, horizontal organising enabled by social media can also be difficult for conventionally structured, internally hierarchical organisations, including CSOs, to get to grips with.

Jesse Chen of American Civix Technologies told CIVICUS, in a survey of partners[xcii]:  

“CSOs do not have a choice but to adapt technology in cutting-edge ways (specifically through engagement) as it continues to spread throughout the masses. Otherwise civil society will be behind the curve and individuals will be less likely to engage since they're active in a different space.”

There are numerous examples of successful online campaigns,[xciii] and social media was an essential part of the protests discussed above. Social media offers tools for communicating, connecting, organising, building solidarity and expressing dissent. But established CSOs are not always strong in realising the multiple applications of these tools to develop and service constituencies. In his evaluation of civil society’s relationship with new media, Chen adds:

“Civil society organisations need to be mindful of how they use technology to build support. The current trend to utilise petitions as list-builders is a perfect example. In the zeal to build email lists, some organisations have started creating numerous types of petitions on as frequent as a weekly basis. While seasoned ‘campaigners’ know this helps build email lists, it does not necessarily equate to building faith in movements. It is concerning for a simple reason. Petition fatigue can lead to reduced trust between supporters and the petition-authoring organisation. CSOs need to be mindful of how frequently they are posting, and the follow-up they are doing with their supporters, to ensure that real people understand there's an impact to signing a petition besides getting onto an email list. Although petitions run the risk of becoming civil society's ‘advertisement’ equivalent if they are over-published, they remain a great way to recruit additional supporters to one's organisation.”

In some contexts, social media is used as an alternative platform for expression. Venezuela is the lowest ranked country in the Americas on CIVICUS’ 2013 Enabling Environment Index, scoring particularly poorly on media freedom [xciv] as the government maintains a tight grip over the broadcast media. Given the fact that traditional media avenues are all but closed, it is little wonder that Twitter penetration in Venezuela is the fourth highest in the world.[xcv]

Similarly, in Saudi Arabia a heightened crackdown on civil society has led to the imposition of travel bans on activists and the intimidation of human rights defenders through politically-motivated legal proceedings, and yet the country has the highest rate of Twitter penetration in world.[xcvi] Despite severe intimidation from the Interior Ministry, there were several acts of defiance of the ban on women driving on 26 October 2013, coordinated through the Internet, and particularly through social media.[xcvii]   

What these examples tell us is that social media can offer ways around government control; this implies in turn that repressive governments will seek to limit social media usage.

For example, at the height of the Gezi Park protests, President Erdoğan fumed, “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”[xcviii] After heated parliamentary debate in February 2014, a law was passed which allows for the blocking of websites prior to obtaining a court order and compels Internet service providers to store data on users’ activities for up to two years and make this data available to the authorities.[xcix] On 21 March 2014, access to Twitter was blocked, although millions found ways around this. A few weeks later the Constitutional Court overturned this ban as it violated freedom of expression.[c]

At the same time, social media should not be seen as a panacea. For example, online participation may be superficial. As Jesse Chen told CIVICUS:  

“In the United States, the widespread adoption of mobile technology and social networking technology is changing society before our very eyes. In some ways, it has helped simplify certain civic engagement processes. In too many others, it has led to citizens thinking that a ‘tweet’ or a ‘like’ is enough - what we call ‘the technology-enabled illusion of democracy’. With the revelation of the NSA privacy scandal in the US, it is not yet known how individual citizens will change their online activist behaviour.”

This further suggests that sustained follow-up and mutual gains can be achieved by the building of closer connections between movements that are largely online and established CSOs.

Prior to the existence and popularisation of the Internet, much of the organisation of protests took place in campuses, bars, cafes and community centres. With the advent of the Internet, it was tempting to believe that we had moved into a new era of online civic space, in which the Internet would be the primary arena for organising and coordinating protests. But while the Internet and social media play a critical role, because of the increasing surveillance of activists, many of the organisers of social movements now have to plan and coordinate the organising of protests offline. Activists at a March 2014 consultation organised by CIVICUS in Istanbul noted that they have had to go back to traditional forms of organising dissent; they have returned to campuses, bars, cafes and community centres to plan protest action.

Finally, as a contribution by the Internet Governance Forum to the State of Civil Society report makes clear, Internet governance remains a contested area, including within civil society.[ci] A pluralistic governance structure that has grown organically suits some states, such as the US, which as the market leader enjoys privileged surveillance access; many repressive states would prefer a narrow multilateral management of the Internet that legitimises their desire to interfere. Civil society needs to fight for more inclusive and participatory Internet governance.


Persecution of whistle-blowers

The United States government in particular has pursued a policy of aggressively prosecuting whistle-blowers, partly with the aim of deterring future potential activists. On 30 July 2013, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for espionage and theft for leaking diplomatic cables and videos documenting war crimes to WikiLeaks, a non-profit website that publishes classified information. Manning felt compelled by a moral obligation to expose the now infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video, in which US Apache helicopters indiscriminately shot civilians, after her superiors refused to act. Jeremy Hammond, a hacker-activist, met with a similar fate. He revealed that private security firms were hired to conduct surveillance on Occupy protesters, the Anonymous movement and environmental activists in Bhopal, India.[cii] He was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 10 years in November 2013.

One of the most serious cases relating to persecution of whistle-blowers is that of American system administrator and former contractor for the US National Security Agency, Edward Snowden. The July 2013 revelation by Snowden of widespread Internet and telephone surveillance in gross violation of privacy rights by the US government resulted in federal prosecutors in the US charging him with theft of government property and two counts of espionage. Snowden also revealed that the Australian government had been gathering intelligence on their neighbours through their embassies and high commissions, including those in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.[ciii] Snowden is presently stuck in limbo at an undisclosed location in Russia. Similarly, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is confined to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the foreseeable future, while freedom of information advocate Aaron Schwartz was driven to suicide due to malicious prosecution and pre-trial surveillance by the US government in early 2013.[civ]

Governments and the private sector are partnering on Internet surveillance; it is rarely good news for transparency and democratic oversight when governments and large corporations work together. Companies are creating, marketing and peddling surveillance technologies to repressive states. Privacy International’s 2014 report estimates the value of this unregulated industry to be US$5 billion per year.[cv] The report affirms that across the globe, “These sophisticated and customised technologies are often used to target human rights defenders, activists, political dissidents and journalists.”[cvi]

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2. Legal Restrictions: the onslaught on civil society continues

If the protests aren’t dissipating, neither are the efforts of governments and elites to push back against them. Over the past year, in contradiction of international human rights standards, a raft of draconian laws have been drawn up in diverse locations around the globe to impede civil society activists and their organisations from speaking out and mobilising. Justifications offered range from the perceived need to protect national security to safeguarding religious and cultural values.[cvii] In October 2013, CIVICUS reported on rising restrictions for CSOs and persecution of civil society activists, despite states having committed to guarantee an ‘enabling environment’ for CSOs at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid and Development Effectiveness, in Busan, South Korea in November 2011.[cviii]

If protesters in different countries are borrowing tactics from each other, then governments too are replicating bad practices. Repressive legislation is being cloned from one country to another. In May 2013, in his second thematic report, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai drew particular attention to a surge in copycat legislation preventing foreign funding, underscoring that a key component of the right to associate was also the right to seek, receive and use resources from domestic, foreign and international sources.[cix]

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law notes, “With foreign funding entirely cut off to them, many organizations with advocacy missions will likely face dissolution.”[cx]

As the map below illustrates, there are two particular geographical clusters of concern, with a majority of recent adverse legislative developments for civil society taking place in former Soviet states and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Legal restrictions on CSOs introduced or proposed since April 2013

Map 1: Legal restrictions on CSOs introduced or proposed since April 2013

Constraints imposed on civil society include those that narrowly circumscribe their permissible activities (Indonesia,[cxi] Israel,[cxii] South Sudan,[cxiii] Sudan[cxiv]); restrict the receipt of funding from foreign sources (Kenya,[cxv] Israel,[cxvi] Pakistan,[cxvii] South Sudan[cxviii]); limit media freedom (the Gambia,[cxix] Kenya,[cxx] Turkey,[cxxi] Ukraine[cxxii]); introduce complex registration requirements (Azerbaijan,[cxxiii] Cambodia,[cxxiv] Ecuador,[cxxv] Zambia[cxxvi]); spread homophobia with a view to silencing civil society, in particular LGBTI activists (Nigeria, Russia, Uganda);[cxxvii] and impede freedom of assembly and the right to protest peacefully (Azerbaijan,[cxxviii] Cambodia[cxxix] and Uganda[cxxx]). Such restrictions impose limitations on the ability of civil society groups and activists to undertake the full range of legitimate civil society activity.  The spate of repressive laws have further closed space in several countries affirmed in CIVICUS’ Enabling Environment Index as having some of the least enabling environments for civil society.[cxxxi]

Government perceptions of civil society are an important factor here. Officials may consider some roles of civil society to be legitimate, but not others. Charitable organisations and CSOs that deliver vital services, which governments are unable to provide, are rarely challenged. However, when CSOs question policy implications or undertake advocacy to influence government actions, they tend to face challenges to their legitimacy. When CSOs are vocal in opposing government policies, accusations of being partisan or being tools of vested interests and foreign governments tend to fly thick and fast.

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3. Market fundamentalism and encroachments by the private sector

Much of the focus in the previous section has been on the often fraught relationship between CSOs and governments. Increasingly, civil society is also facing threats from big businesses as market fundamentalism takes root. Part of the anger behind some protest movements, and related to the issue of inequality, is raised by the encroachment of the private sector into many aspects of public life and the privileging of big business in governance. The issue of privatisation of the post-2015 development agenda continues to cause concern for many in civil society.[cxxxii]

One of the key concerns motivating protests in Turkey was the ruling AK Party undertaking a relentless economic expansion and privatisation drive, with many basic functions of the state being taken over by the private sector. Public-private partnerships, which are increasingly gaining traction, not only impose increased costs on individual citizens for basic services, but also have the effect of hiving off parts of the public sphere from scrutiny by citizens.[cxxxiii]

Market reforms, pushed hard by international agencies and donor governments, have in many contexts not led to greater political freedoms, but rather to the entrenchment of wealthy elites opposed to participatory democracy. In the Gulf Kingdoms and in many post-Soviet states in particular, elites have been able to benefit from privatisation sprees, capturing assets and creating oligarchies while personalising the political sphere to protect their economic interests.

A further challenge comes with the size of transnational corporations. With their turnover dwarfing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many developing countries, corporations can in effect shop around for the most lenient jurisdictions where they are least bound by regulatory regimes. Countries also compete to attract foreign investment. In such circumstances, governments often succumb to big business and fail to discharge their duty to protect civil society from illegitimate encroachments.

Land and environmental rights activists engaged in exposing collusion between political and economic elites are increasingly under fire. Front Line Defenders notes a substantial need to increase assistance to human rights defenders (HRDs) fighting for the preservation of their ways of lives and livelihoods in the face of extractive industries, which seek to takeover, and also pollute, land and water.[cxxxiv] A report by multiple international human rights and environmental groups documenting cases of persecution of land and environmental activists points out that government response to their activities is often stigmatisation, repression and criminalisation.[cxxxv]

Among other cases, CIVICUS has recorded the following:

“In Cambodia, land rights activists opposing official plans to forcibly acquire land for big companies have been subjected to brutal attacks by security forces and lengthy prison terms. In Honduras, peasant farmers’ groups involved in land disputes with companies have been subjected to murderous attacks. In India, peaceful activists ideologically opposed to the government’s economic policy have been charged under draconian laws of being members of outlawed terrorist organisations. In Canada, non-profit groups opposed to the conservative government’s policy of loosening environmental restrictions to enable extraction of oil and gas from ecologically sensitive zones have been subjected to surveillance and funding cuts, while being accused of being obstructive of the country’s economic development.”[cxxxvi]

There also remain troubling aspects in this regard with the transition in Myanmar.

In the historic April 2012 democratic by-elections in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won 43 out of 46 seats. A 2014 report commissioned by CIVICUS highlights that space for civil society has been steadily opening in Myanmar, but challenges remain:

“In line with recent political trends, the enabling environment for civil society in Myanmar continued to improve in 2013. Civil society has been able to benefit from expanding space, thanks mostly to political changes at the highest levels of government…  Nonetheless, some significant restrictions remain that hinder civic space. The post-2010 reforms are based on a top-down centralised democratisation process, leaving many remote and marginalised groups – mainly ethnic minorities – behind. In spite of some noticeable improvement in local governance, state representatives at the lowest levels often continue to operate as they did under the former junta. Some issues are still taboo, especially those related to government and private sector control of resources.”[cxxxvii]

Several land rights and environment activists have recently been imprisoned and detained in connection with their advocacy work in diverse locations across the globe.[cxxxviii] The arrest of the crew of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise by Russian security forces captured the imagination of concerned citizens around the world, triggering a massive campaign for their release. Artic 30 carried out a peaceful protest at the Russian state controlled oil company Gazprom's oil rig, to call attention to the threat posed by oil drilling in the ecologically fragile artic zone. Initially they were charged with the offence of piracy, which was changed to hooliganism.[cxxxix] They were granted amnesty in December 2013 by the Duma, Russia’s Parliament. James Turner, the Communications Director for Greenpeace International’s Save The Arctic Campaign, told CIVICUS on 17 April 2014:

“The story of the Arctic 30 was defined by unity. From the strength of the activists themselves to the environmental movement as a whole, this was a moment that brought people together in the face of extraordinary oppression. Those of us who were working for their release were enormously humbled by the level of support that the campaign received, from Nobel Prize winners to coalition allies, from Sir Paul McCartney to Russian human rights activists. The disproportionate charge of piracy levelled against 30 people from many different countries acted as a lightning rod for civil society. Millions of us stood up for those who believe that peaceful civil disobedience is an honourable practice, when all other options have been exhausted. Thousands took to the streets in solidarity and, crucially, the madness of drilling for oil in the melting Arctic was brought to a massive global audience. This is their legacy, and it is one that we are trying hard both to protect and build upon.

The story also showed the willingness of many countries to trample over civil rights to appease the wishes of the fossil fuel industry. While the links between Russia’s state-owned companies and the persecution of our activists was obvious, less clear was the involvement of international oil companies like Shell, BP and ExxonMobil in the affair. All remained notably silent, denying any involvement in the matter despite close business ties with both Gazprom and Rosneft, Russia’s largest firms. The imprisonment of the Arctic 30 is just the latest in a string of excessive measures meted out by governments on behalf of the oil industry, from punitive injunctions in the US to frivolous and expensive lawsuits in Bolivia. We believe that the sacrifice of Sini, Marco, Dima and the rest of the brave Arctic 30 has helped to bring this dangerous collusion to light, and that alongside a wide movement we can continue to fight the pollution of our democracies by an industry which belongs in the last century.”

On a further positive note, recent years have seen some important steps in redressing imbalances in the face of big business, including in the extractive industries.[cxl] Global Witness in their contribution to this report highlight that in 2013:

“A landmark European law with global reach was passed, the G8 and multinational mining companies voiced their support for legally binding rules, and great strides were taken to improve a key voluntary initiative implemented in 41 countries. Indeed, 2013 will be remembered as the year that a global standard for the extractive industries emerged. That said, the movement also suffered a number of setbacks, and the fight is by no means won.”[cxli]

Further, the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States, a set of normative principles adopted in September 2011, aim to clarify the extraterritorial human rights obligations of states, and in doing so challenge the impunity of large corporations over human rights violations.[cxlii] CSOs, academics and UN officials are currently calling for legally binding treaties to support these emerging norms of international law in order to improve corporate responsibility.[cxliii]

These developments, while they are not a panacea, offer important steps in regulating the exploitation of natural resources to the detriment of communities and the environment. It is important for transnational networks of concerned actors, particularly the Publish What You Pay coalition, to continue to shine light on extractive deals. 

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4. Global potential, global challenges

This section of the 2014 CIVICUS State of Civil Society report has concerned itself largely with some of the main locations and occasions of protest at the national level over the past year. It has looked at how people have come together to demand change and forged new forms of civic action in some of the major cities of the world; while the initial issues raised and flashpoints are often local, the issues raised by protest often have wider, indeed global, resonance. This section of the report has also set out how national level governments have acted in response to protest, sometimes to make concessions, but most often to try to find new ways to stop the expression of people’s voices. It has also raised the question of privileged access and the influence large corporations have over governments, development agendas and arenas of politics.

CIVICUS believes that in today’s interconnected world, some of the national level challenges can only be addressed by working at the international level. Working across borders, the sharing of good practice and peer learning are ways in which civil society can become stronger to overcome common challenges and for protest movements to sustain themselves. Civil society activists who have found themselves targeted, harassed and detained by their governments often attest to the power of international solidarity in sustaining them. Civil society that seeks to achieve political change therefore necessarily needs to adopt an internationalist mindset. The international arena can offer a source of progressive norms that can shape national level practices, and international institutions can offer tools for monitoring and raising awareness of the failures of governments and the abuses of large corporations.

But the international arena can also be a source of problems. Large companies that transcend borders defy national controls. The inordinate influence enjoyed by powerful states in international relations can be inimical to people’s sovereignty. Bad laws, policies and practices towards civil society spread from one government to the next. International institutions should provide safeguards for democracy and human rights, but they are often compromised by the interests of member states. Further, citizens lack access to international institutions, and do not easily understand them. It is the job of civil society to demystify these institutions and prise open access for people’s voices and indeed to make these institutions more responsive to people’s needs.

Nevertheless, international institutions often tend to be inaccessible and far removed from the daily realities of the people they are expected to serve. How, then, can they help to solve national level democratic challenges, without themselves being subject to reform? It is this question that the next sections of the 2014 State of Civil Society report will consider.

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[i] A Mische, “Come to the streets, but without parties”: The challenges of the new Brazilian protests, Mobilizing Ideas, 4 September 2013, available at: .

[ii] Rigged rules mean economic growth increasingly “winner takes all” for rich elites all over world, Oxfam, 20 January 2014, available at: .

[iii] Freedom in the World 2014, Freedom House, available at: .

[iv] S Stapel, Protests in Brazil and Turkey: Not yet social movements, IR Blog, 4 July 2013, .

[v] Veja pesquisa completa do Ibope sobre os manifestantes, Globo, 24 June 2013, available at: .

[vi] P Malen, Brazil’s Protests Threaten World Cup Over Claims Of Overspending From Government; Is The Soccer Competition Harming Brazil? International Business Times, 18 June 2013, available at: .

[vii] Panorama social de América Latina, CEPAL, 2010, available at: .

[viii] Protests in Brazil: The streets erupt, The Economist, 18 June 2013, available at: .

[ix] Veja pesquisa completa do Ibope sobre os manifestantes, Globo, 24 June 2013, available at: .

[x] J Langlois, Brazil congress designates oil royalties for education and health care, Global Post, 26 June 2013, available at: .

[xi] Veja pesquisa completa do Ibope sobre os manifestantes, Globo, 24 June 2013, available at: .

[xii] C Tansel, The Gezi Park occupation: confronting authoritarian neoliberalism, Open Democracy, 2 June 2013, available at: .

[xiii] According to an OECD survey, 33 percent of people believe that they lack access to green spaces. OECD Economic Surveys Turkey, OECD, July 2012, available at: .

[xiv] Civil Society in Turkey: at a Turning Point CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) Project Analytical Country Report for Turkey II, CIVICUS and Tusev, 2011, available at: .

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] A Hudson, Woman in red becomes leitmotif for Istanbul's female protesters, Reuters, 3 June 2013, available at: .

[xvii] H Fradkin and L Libby, Erdogan’s Grand Vision: Rise and Decline, World Affairs Journal, March/April 2013, available at: .

[xviii] Protesters are young, libertarian and furious at Turkish PM, says survey, Hürriyet Daily News, 5 June 2013, available at: .

[xix] 2.5 million people attended Gezi protests across Turkey: Interior Ministry, Hürriyet Daily News, 3 June 2013, available at: .

[xx] A Graphic History of the Gezi Resistance, BIA News Desk, 10 June 2013, available at: .

[xxi] A Yackley and A Hudson, Diverse Turkey protesters vent anger, little agreement on alternative, Reuters, 5 June 2013, available at: .

[xxii] Spread the news about Turkey, CIVICUS, 20 June 2013, available at: .

[xxiii] The 2004 Orange Revolution was a series of protests ultimately leading to new elections after the revelation of electoral fraud reminiscent of the Soviet era.

[xxiv] D Shevchenko and O Grytsenko, Victims describe excessive, indiscriminate attacks, 30 November 2013, available at: .

[xxv] B Whitmore, Ukraine's Threat to Putin, The Atlantic, 6 December 2013, available at:

[xxvi] Ukraine opposition leader condemns Russia bailout deal, Irish Times, 17 December 2013, available at: .

[xxvii] EU seeks peace as Ukraine death toll hits 75, Reuters, 20 February 2014, available at: .

[xxviii] Ukraine President Yanukovich impeached, Al Jazeera, 22 February 2014, available at: .

[xxix] UN general assembly calls Crimea vote illegal, Al Jazeera, 28 March 2014, available at: .

[xxx] UN side event: Civil Society Space: Emerging threats and actions to restore freedoms, Article 19, 6 March 2013, available at: .

[xxxi] S Nakhoul and N Tattersall, Turkey's Erdogan rallies popular support in power struggle, Reuters, 5 March 2014, available at: .

[xxxii] A Mische, “Come to the streets, but without parties”: The challenges of the new Brazilian protests, Mobilizing Ideas, 4 September 2013, available at: .

[xxxiii] The global average homicide rate is 6.9 per 100,000 persons. 2011 Global Study on Homicide, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011, available at: ;

Venezuela's Homicide Rate Quadruples In Fifteen Years, NGO Reports, Huffington Post, 26 December 2013, available at:

[xxxiv] G Wilpert, Real News/Wilpert Part 2: Why is Inflation So High in Venezuela? Real News, 23 February 2014, available at: .

[xxxv] El "golpe suave" en Venezuela en cinco pasos, Telesur, 20 February 2014, available at:

[xxxvi] Venezuela coup? Gunfire, clashes as 3 dead in violent Caracas protest, Russia Today, 13 February 2014, available at: .

[xxxvii] Speak up for the Venezuelan people, CIVICUS, 6 March 2014, available at: .

[xxxviii] A Cawthorne and D Ore, More arrests in Venezuela protests, Maduro slams 'coup-seekers', 11 February 2013, available at: .

[xxxix] Estos son los puntos de concentración de la marcha 12F de los estudiantes,, 11 February 2014, available at: .

[xl] In 2008, a court barred Leopoldo López from standing for elections for six years on the grounds of corruption although he had never been convicted of corruption and there were no pending charges against him. In 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overturned this ban.

[xli] Venezuela: President Maduro issues arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Euronews, 14 February 2014, .

[xlii] Venezuelan police and opposition activists clash in Caracas, BBC News, 23 February 2014, available at: .

[xliii] Malaysia’s general election: Tawdry victory, The Economist, 9 May 2013, available at: .

[xliv] Malaysians rally against 'electoral fraud', Al Jazeera, 25 May 2013, available at: .

[xlv] CIVICUS interviews Andrew Khoo, CIVICUS, 8 November 2013, available at: .

[xlvi]Bangladesh ruling party sweeps violent vote, Al Jazeera, 6 January 2013, available at: .

[xlvii] Voter turnout data for Bangladesh, IDEA, .

[xlviii] The Ninth Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh were held in December 2008. Awami League wins landslide victory in Bangladesh's Parliamentary elections, Xinhua, 30 December 2008, available at: .

[xlix] In Bangladesh, a caretaker government is an advisory council led by a former chief judge that rules the country for three months before an elected government takes over. This system was repealed by the Awami regime after the ninth Parliamentary elections.

[l] C Campbell, Cambodia Is a Deadly Political Mess That the World Completely Ignores, Time, 28 February 2014, available at: .

[li] K Olarn and J Mullen, 5 dead after Thai police clash with anti-government protesters in Bangkok, CNN, 17 February 2014, .

[lii] In an interview with the press, the Thai protest leader said that the people’s council would be selected from all walks of life and would comprise decent people with no political affiliation. The council would be tasked with police reform and decentralisation. Once the reforms were completed, he said that the mandate of the council would end and general elections will be held. For more information see Thai protest leader explains demand for "people's council", Xinhua, 12 December 2013, .

[liii] Violence breaks out as Thailand protesters attempt to block polling stations ahead of general election, AP, 26 January 2014, .

[liv] A Bummel, Bringing Citizens to the Core: The Case for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, UN Parliamentary Assembly, State of Civil Society report 2014, May 2014, .

[lv] 2013 State of Civil Society report: Creating an enabling environment, CIVICUS, April 2013, available at: .

[lvi] Y Bayoumy, Analysis: Arab Spring nations backtrack on women's rights, poll says, Reuters, 11 November 2013, available at: .

[lvii] “Tamarod” means “revolt” in Arabic. Tamarod was a grassroots movement focused on ousting Mohammed Morsi.

[lviii] Egypt: No Acknowledgment or Justice for Mass Protester Killings, Human Rights Watch, 10 December 2013, available at: .

[lix] A Al-Sharif, Egyptian court sentences 529 Brotherhood members to death, Reuters, 24 March 2013, available at: .

[lx] Rab’a refers to Rab'a al-Adaweya Square, a popular site of protest in eastern Cairo.

[lxi] Citizens in action: Protest as process in the year of dissent, 2011 State of Civil Society report, CIVICUS, April 2011, available at: .

[lxii] Qatar increased the wages of the public service, Bahrain and Oman borrowed money in the wake of the initial protests. See N Malas and J Parkinson, Gulf States Plan Aid Package for Bahrain, Oman, The Wall Street Journal, 3 March 2012, available at: ; Kuwait was warned in October 2013 by the IMF that its cradle to the grave welfare system was unsustainable. Oil-rich Kuwait warns welfare state unsustainable, Daily News, 28 October 2013, available at: .

[lxiii] O Gisbon, More than 500 Indian workers have died in Qatar since 2012, figures show, The Guardian, 18 February 2014, available at: .

[lxiv] Civil society demands legal status in Saudi Arabia, CIVICUS, 2 October 2013, available at: .

[lxv] D Kode, Bahrain: The silent revolution, Al Jazeera, 13 February 2014, available at: .

[lxvi] Formula 1 in Bahrain: A dark affair, The Economist, 2 April 2014, available at: .

[lxvii] D Kode, Bahrain: The silent revolution, Al Jazeera, 13 February 2014, available at: .

[lxviii] Syria: Senior UN officials strongly condemn attacks on health personnel, facilities, UN News Centre, 7 December 2013, available at: .

[lxix] For more information, please see: .

[lxx] J Thorne, Feeble turnout by Libyan voters points to deep disillusionment, Christian Science Monitory, 20 February 2014, available at: .

[lxxi] Z Al-Ali and D Romdhane, Tunisia’s new constitution: progress and challenges to come, Open Democracy, 16 February 2014, available at: .

[lxxii] For more information on CIVICUS’ Enabling Environment Index, please see: .

[lxxiii] The rise of income inequality amongst rich countries, Inequality Watch, 6 February 2012, available at: .

[lxxiv] Is the integration of immigrants failing? The Economist, 25 May 2013, available at: .

[lxxv] Extreme right 'biggest threat to EU': Malmström, The Local, 14 January 2014, available at: .

[lxxvi] H Smith, Greece moves to ban far-right Golden Dawn party, The Guardian, 18 September 2013, available at: .

[lxxvii] Protest in Paris against France's gay marriage law, AP, 26 May 2013, available at: .

[lxxviii] A Luhn, Russian anti-gay law prompts rise in homophobic violence, The Guardian, 1 September 2013, available at: .

[lxxix] Occupy Paedophilia lures gay people through online posts and then uploads videos of ritual humiliation,, 3 February 2014, available at: 

[lxxx] Global Trends in 2013 for Human Rights Defenders, Frontline Defenders, 2014, available at: .

[lxxxi] R Socarides, Gay Rights at Sochi, Round One, The New Yorker, 10 February 2014, available at: .

[lxxxii] State-sponsored homophobia, ILGA, 2013, available at: .

[lxxxiii] 25 African CSOs oppose Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, CIVICUS, 4 February 2014, available at: .

[lxxxiv] Perspective shared with CIVICUS staff member on 28 February 2014.

[lxxxv] G Bülent and S Farzana, Making sense of the protests in Turkey (and Brazil): Urban Warfare in “Rebel Cities”, Journal of Global Faultlines, 2013, available at: .

[lxxxvi] C Sheets, What Is Capuling? 'Everyday I'm Çapuling' Turkish Protest Video Goes Viral, International Business Times, 4 June 2013, available at: .

[lxxxvii] The video is available at: .

[lxxxviii] Veja pesquisa completa do Ibope sobre os manifestantes, Globo, 24 June 2013, available at: .

[lxxxix] C Tastan, The Gezi Park Protests in Turkey: A Qualitative Field Research,, 2013, available at: .

[xc]  For more information, please see: .

[xci] Internet and politics: the impact of new information and communication technology on democracy, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, AS (2014) CR 05 Addendum 1, 29 January 2014, available at: .

[xcii] Jesse Chen was a respondent to CIVCUS’ Annual Constituency survey which took place in January 2014. Further information on the survey is available at .

[xciii] See P Hilder, Influencing Governance from the Outside: Experience from, 2014 State of Civil Society report, May 2014, available at: .

[xciv] For more information, please see: .

[xcv] The Peerreach methodology defines Twitter penetration as the number of monthly active tweeting users relative to the total amount of Internet users in that country. For more information, please see: .

[xcvi] CIVICUS highlights escalating crackdown on civil society in Saudi Arabia, CIVICUS, 28 May 2013, available at: .

[xcvii] Dozens of Saudi Arabian women drive cars on day of protest against ban, The Guardian, 26 October 2013, available at: .

[xcviii] C Letsch, Social media and opposition to blame for protests, says Turkish PM, The Guardian, 3 June 2013, available at:

[xcix] C Letsch, Turkey pushes through new raft of 'draconian' Internet restrictions, The Guardian, 6 February 2014, available at: .

[c]Turkey lifts Twitter ban after court ruling, The Guardian, 3 April 2014, available at: .

[ci] D Hawtin, A People’s Internet: Democratising Internet Governance, 2014 State of Civil Society report, CIVICUS, May 2014, available at: .

[cii] For more information, please see: .

[ciii] Australia accused of using embassies to spy on neighbours, The Guardian, 30 October 2013, available at: .

[civ] WikiLeaks reveals association with Aaron Swartz, Russia Today, 21 January 2013, available at: .

[cv] The State of Privacy 2014, Privacy International, 2014, available at: .

[cvi] The State of Privacy 2014, Privacy International, 2014, available at: .

[cvii] M Tiwana, Civil society under threat: could international law help? Open Democracy, 21 January 2014, available at: .

[cviii] T Hodenfield and C Pegus, Global Trends on Civil Society Restrictions, CIVICUS, October 2013, available at: .

[cix] M Kiai, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, UN Doc A/HRC/23/39, April 2013, available at: .

[cx] The Legal and Regulatory Framework for Civil Society: Global Trends in 2012‐2013, ICNL, October 2013, available at: , pg 3.

[cxi] In July 2013, in Indonesia, the restrictive Law on Mass Organisations was passed. Indonesia NGO Law a setback for freedom of association, CIVICUS, 18 August 2013, available at: .

[cxii] On 15 December 2013, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed a bill which imposed a discriminatory 45 percent tax on a donation on “foreign political entities or governments to NGOs that support calls for a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or its citizens, call for placing Israeli soldiers on trial in international courts, or support an armed struggle by an enemy country or terrorist organization against Israel.” J Lis, Ministers approve 'unconstitutional' bill penalizing left-wing NGOs, Haaretz, 15 December 2013, available at: .

[cxiii] A proposed Voluntary and Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organisations Bill circulated in late November excludes key CSO advocacy activities. Further, the proposed NGO Coordination Board will have overly broad powers, inviting arbitrariness and abuse of power. South Sudan’s NGO Bill Is Needlessly Repressive, CIVICUS, 29 November 2013, available at: .

[cxiv] In May 2013, Sudan’s President Bashir enacted a policy which mandated NGOs (in his administration’s terminology) to obtain approval from the Humanitarian Affairs Commission before initiating any projects implemented with foreign funding. For more information, please see: , pg 3.

[cxv] In Kenya, the 2013 Miscellaneous Amendments Bill aimed to limit to the amount of foreign funding CSOs could receive to 15% of their budget, unless they could demonstrate legitimate and compelling reasons. Fortunately, the Bill was rejected by the National Assembly in December 2013.

[cxvi] J Lis, Ministers approve 'unconstitutional' bill penalizing left-wing NGOs, Haaretz, 15 December 2013, available at: .

[cxvii] In March 2014, a Foreign Contributions Bill was tabled in Pakistan. If national and international CSOs use and receive more than 50 million Pakistani Rupees (approximately US$470,000) per year from foreign sources, they will be required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A prison sentence of up to six months can be given for providing false information and a year for concealing foreign funding. For more information, please see: .

[cxviii] South Sudan’s NGO Bill Is Needlessly Repressive, CIVICUS, 29 November 2013, available at: .

[cxix] In July 2013, in the Gambia, the restrictive amendment to the Information and Communication Act introduced a fine of approximately US$78,750 or a 15-year jail sentence for disseminating false news about public officials or the government.  For more information, please see: .

[cxx] In December 2013, the assembly forced through the Kenya Information Communication (Amendment) Bill, which, by facilitated executive control over the telecommunications authority and introduced harsh penalties on media workers who fall foul of the law, unduly limiting freedom of expression. .

[cxxi] C Letsch, Turkey pushes through new raft of 'draconian' internet restrictions, The Guardian, 6 February 2014, available at: .

[cxxii] Ukraine: Brief legal analysis of "Dictatorship Law", Civic Solidarity, 20 January 2014, available at: .

[cxxiii] In Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev, pushed through key amendments in December 2013 to increase bureaucratic controls on CSOs. These require NGOs, as defined, to re-register with the government every three months, impose high fines for purported infractions and make NGOs more susceptible to forcible dissolution by the courts.

[cxxiv] For the past six years, Cambodia CSOs and an international coalition of freedom of association advocates have lobbied against the proposed notorious draft law on Associations, which would introduce complex, onerous and mandatory registration processes and give authorities wide discretion to refuse applications. B Lun, Resistance and Solidarity: Cambodian CSOs confront a repressive draft law on associations and NGOs, 2013 State of Civil Society report, CIVICUS, April 2013, available at: .

[cxxv] In June 2013, Presidential decree 16 in Ecuador enacted legislation that creates cumbersome measures for local and international CSOs to obtain legal status. For more information, please see: .

[cxxvi] In 2013, in Zambia, the government signalled its intent to start implementing its controversial 2009 NGO law, which criminalised the non-registration of NGOs. According to CIVICUS’ sources, only 82 of the 904 NGOs identified by the government have registered under the law, with many preferring to face sanctions than submission to a law they believe unjust. Support, not undermine Zambian Civil Society, CIVICUS, 10 January 2014, available at: .

[cxxvii] See the section entitled “Backlash against the LGBTI movement” in this report.

[cxxviii] In May 2013, the Azerbaijani National Assembly extended criminal defamation to the online sphere. New Legislative Amendments Further Erode Rights To Freedom Of Expression And Peaceful Assembly, Reporters Without Borders, 16 May 2013, available at:,44622.html .

[cxxix] On 4 January 2014, Cambodia’s government instituted a blanket ban on the right to assembly. The government stated that all protests and public assemblies were banned “until security and public order has been restored”. The ban was only lifted on 25 February 2014. Hun Sen Lifts Protest Ban, Warns of Pro-CPP Rallies, The Cambodia Daily, 26 February 2014, available at: .

[cxxx] The amendment to the public order management bill unduly restricted the number of people who can participate in a public demonstration. For more information, please see: .

[cxxxi] For more information, please see: .

[cxxxii] Global Policy Forum, Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and Misereor report on “Corporate Influence in the Post-2015 Process”, January 2014, available at: .

[cxxxiii] Transportation Public-Private Partnerships: Challenges of Transparency and Accountability, PA Times, available at: .

[cxxxiv] Global Trends in 2013 for Human Rights Defenders, Frontline Defenders, 2014, available at: .

[cxxxv] Land and environmental rights defenders in danger: an overview of recent cases, Protection International, December 2013, available at: .

[cxxxvi] M Tiwana, Neoliberalism and public unrest: Time to make the connection, Al Jazeera, 1 July 2013, available at: .

[cxxxvii] C Jaquet, Enabling environment of Civil Society in Myanmar, IRASEC, 14 March 2014, available at: .

[cxxxviii] Land and environmental rights defenders in danger: an overview of recent cases, Protection International, December 2013, available at: .

[cxxxix] Solidarity with the Arctic 30 detainees, CIVICUS, 18 September 2013, available at: l.

[cxl] G Hayman, Reversing the curse: the global campaign to follow the money paid by oil and mining industries, 2014 State of Civil Society report, CIVICUS, available at: .

[cxli] Ibid.

[cxlii] C Albin-Lackey, Without Rules A Failed Approach to Corporate Accountability, Human Rights Watch, 2013, available at: .

[cxliii] Ibid.


Advocacy Toolkit: Influencing the post-2015 development agenda

ToolkitcoverwithwideborderThe Advocacy Toolkit: Influencing the post-2015 Development Agenda is for civil society and other stakeholder organisations, coalitions and individuals that wish to influence the post-2015 development agenda, including the design of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It aims to equip you with relevant information and tools to enable you to develop and implement an effective post-2015 advocacy strategy. You can either follow its step-by-step approach or simply consult the tips, tools and case studies most relevant to your existing activities. Engaging with the media, is  a companion to the toolkit which provides a guide to the strategic use of the media and social media in the context of post-2015 advocacy.


On Gender and LGBTI Rights in SADC and East Africa

LGBTI report coverOn 13 November 2013, CIVICUS and Gender Links convened a workshop in Johannesburg to discuss challenges faced by Gender and LGBTI activists in East and Southern Africa and identify ways in which activists can work together to address these challenges.

The workshop brought together 40 Gender and LGBTI activists from Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Somaliland, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe and included representatives from the facilitating organizations, CIVICUS and Gender Links. This report summarises the discussions, key concerns raised and recommendations made during the workshop.

 Download the full report.


Accountability for civil society by civil society: A Guide to Self-Regulation Initiatives

French | Spanish 

CSRI Final cover

CIVICUS is proud to announce the publication of its guide to help civil society organisations’ regulate their practices and operations with respect to a variety of governance issues.

The CIVICUS Self-Regulation Guide, a new addition to our Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability (LTA) programme, is the result of research conducted by CIVICUS and its members and partners. It features more than 20 case studies from around the world, lessons learnt, innovations and practical advice.

The guide is available in English, French and Spanish.

Enabling environment of Civil Society in Myanmar (Burma)

As part of CIVICUS’ work to promote and protect the enabling environment for civil society in the Asia-Pacific region, CIVICUS provided Carine Jaquet from the Research Institute on Contemporary South-East Asia (IRASEC) with technical and financial support to conduct research on the changing environment for civil society in Myanmar.

Civil society in Myanmar was virtually non-existent in the late 1990s due to the tight political control exercised by the military juntas from 1962 to 2010. It gradually re-emerged in the early 2000s and made exponential progress following the large-scale response to the devastation caused by the Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Since then, the installation of a new, quasi-civilian, government in November 2010, led to a more favourable environment for civil society organisations (CSOs) to operate. As a result of rapid political changes, Myanmar civil society has been expanding and exploring new issues. 

Jaquet’s report highlights that civil society has been able to benefit from expanding space, thanks mostly to political changes at the highest levels of government. This enabled - still incomplete - regulatory and legal reform, leading to noticeable increases in freedom of expression, association and assembly. Issues, once considered taboo, can increasingly be discussed by CSOs. Nonetheless, some significant restrictions remain that hinder civic space. The post-2010 reforms are based on a top-down centralised democratisation process, leaving many remote and marginalised groups – mainly ethnic minorities – behind. In spite of some noticeable improvement in local governance, state representatives at the lowest levels often continue to operate as they did under the former junta. However, some issues are still taboo, especially those related to government and private sector control of resources. The recent advances in freedom of expression need to be supported to promote a better understanding of minority-related issues and to avoid fuelling conflict in a still fragile political transition process.

The full report is accessible here.







GlobalTrendsonCivilSocietyRestrictonsCover400A report by CIVICUS, reveals a pattern of sustained attacks on civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world.

CIVICUS has tracked 413 threats to civil society in 87 countries since the beginning of 2012. Worryingly the report shows that several governments are attempting to weaken civil society organisations by enacting laws which prevent them from accessing the funding they need to survive and prevent them from conducting legitimate activities involving expressions of democratic dissent.

“We are hugely concerned about the killings of land rights and environmental activists in Latin America and Southeast Asia due to collusion between politicians and big businesses. Equally, defenders of rights of women and the gay community are facing severe threats in the Middle East and Africa respectively,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

Report from CIVICUS and RESOCIDE Regional Workshop on Enhancing the Capacity of Human Rights Defenders to Monitor Public Policy and Respond to Threats in West Africa, Burkina Faso

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and RESOCIDE jointly organised a workshop on enhancing the capacity of human rights defenders to respond to threats in West Africa in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from 2 to 3 July 2012. The workshop which brought together participants from Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and the USA, aimed at identifying specific threats faced by civil society and human rights activists in West Africa and creating a network to facilitate timely and proactive responses to these threats. At the close of the meeting, particpants agreed to create a West African Network for human rights defenders which they named Africa Rights Defenders. The meeting was made possible by the financial support of Irish Aid.

At the start of the workshop, participants presented country experiences on human rights issues. It was clear that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders continue to work in restricted spaces despite improved legal frameworks for democratic governance and different levels of political transitions experienced by countries in the region. Even though the constitutions of most West African countries make provisions for the respect and protection of human rights, and countries are signatories to or have ratified several regional and international human rights conventions, governments often lack the will to implement these commitments.

Most country experiences indicate that human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists are often victims of physical assaults, kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, judicial harassments and pre-trial detentions. Family members of and lawyers for activists are regularly threatened while some human rights defenders have been assassinated in the line of duty. In Senegal for example, close to 20 activists died in prison during the tenure of the former president while citizens and human rights defenders were attacked, harassed and tortured as they led protests against attempts by the president to amend the constitution to extend his stay in office.

Broadening civic space through voluntary action: Lessons from 2011

civicus_volunteer_reportVoluntary citizen participation is an essential part of civil society, which in turn is a key contributor to sustainable development, human rights, good governance and social justice. 2011, the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, saw an upsurge of such action in different forms in many countries around the world.

Looking back on 2011, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and United Nations Volunteers have combined to analyse contemporary trends in voluntary action and make recommendations for policy-makers, civil society, and volunteer involving organisations, in our new publication, Broadening Civic Space through Voluntary Action.

Reporting Human Rights Violations to UN Special Procedures

Under the auspices of the project Strengthening Civil Society Engagement with the United Nations: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, CIVICUS engaged two activists and two regional specialists in learning exchanges with CIVICUS’ Geneva Office from November-December 2011. Participants conducted outreach with civil society in the region to encourage interfacing with United Nations Special Procedures and produced reports to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.  In addition, participants produced and disseminated a bi-lingual guide on how civil society can interface with UN Special Procedures.  CIVICUS members and partners can download Reporting Human Rights Violations to UN Special Procedures: An Introductory Guide in English and Russian.

Civil society volunteering patterns in Africa

An analysis of the CIVICUS Civil Society Index 2008-2011 findings on volunteerism

The recently completed 2008-2011 CIVICUS Civil Society Index, a comprehensive analysis of civil society in 35 countries, offers an opportunity to assess the health of people’s participation and activism. The level of volunteering is one key indicator of the state and level of participation in a society.

Looking specifically at voluntary action and trends in nine African countries – Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia - the CSI findings present a picture of volunteering that is shaped by cultural, historical, socio-economic and political dynamics. Even though Africa is not a homogeneous entity, across countries and cultures, patterns of volunteering are quite similar. With limited documentation to date specifically on volunteer trends in Africa, these findings have brought to light the value of volunteering in building social capital, its potential to encourage civic activism, and the heavy reliance of organised civil society on voluntary work.

Civil society volunteering patterns in Africa

Cutting the Diamonds: Civil Society Index 2008-2011

This report provides the first description of the quantitative data from the second implementation phase (2008 to 2011) of CIVICUS' Civil Society Index, bringing together the information from a set of 25 countries for which the data was finalised at the time of writing. This presentation of the data intends to invite an interested audience of academics and practitioners alike to work further with the data in order to deepen the understanding of civil society around the world and thus to enhance the potential forcitizens’ participation for positive social change.

Download the report

Bridging the Gaps - Citizens organisations and dissociation

Download summary reports (English) (French) (Spanish)

Bridging the gaps: Citizens, Organisations and Dissociation

Click here to download (PDF, 3.6MB)

Civil Society Organisations in Situations of Conflict

This new Civil Society Organisation in Situations of Conflict report authored by CIVICUS in partnership with the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness summarises working conditions in more than 46 countries worldwide. It illustrates the specific dynamics, needs and challenges of CSOs working in situations of conflict and analyses how governments, international community and donors can ensure their policies adequately empower citizens and CSOs in all stages of peace building and development.

At the time of writing, more than thirty countries were embroiled in violent conflict. At this time of increasing violence, creating situations of instability and fragility, freedoms and the fulfillment of political, social and economic rights are not protected. Development actors and citizens face significant challenges not only to their effectiveness, but also to their safety, sustainability and livelihoods.

Download a free copy here (PDF)

Torture and Arbitrary Detention in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

This 40-page report is a compilation of personal narratives and analysis presented as a briefing to United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights. It identifies torture as a common practice in the Turkmen and Uzbek penal systems used to interrogate, punish alleged criminals of all varieties, silence perceived and actual dissent, or for no apparent reason. Long administrative detentions, medical malpractice, and other illegal activities often occur in conjunction with abuse.


Report on the challenges faced by women in civil society in Africa

In this report, CIVICUS reviews the status of women in civil society in Africa. The report lists key concerns and challenges for women human rights defenders on the continent. It calls upon African governments, regional bodies, the international community and civil society to act in earnest to protect these women. The report's conclusion argues that while advancements have been made in acknowledging the role and rights of women in recent years, there remain deeply rooted cultural, religious and patriarchal perceptions that continue to inhibit the work of women human rights defenders across the continent.

The Results of a Survey to Assess Practitioners' Priority Needs and Preferences


The Role of Civil Society Organisations in Promoting Social Justice and Sound Development Polices in SADC: A case study of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Accountability Project surveys in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe were carried out by three researchers from each country. This report draws heavily from these country studies to provide a synthesis of the salient issues applicable to and prevailing in Southern African countries. In addition, the report also provides a comparative analysis of the main issues across countries in order to come up with clear conclusions and recommendations for the benefit of CSO-State relations.


CIVICUS PG Practitioners' Brainstorming Workshop Report

This report serves as a summary of the main discussions and outcomes of the Strategies for Promoting Participatory Governance: A Multi-Stakeholder Brainstorming Workshop, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland from 22-23 June 2007. The brainstorming workshop marked the launch of a new phase of the CIVICUS Participatory Governance Programme, which focuses on enhancing the capacity of southern civil society practitioners to promote participatory and accountable governance of public institutions at local and national levels.


A Report on Lessons Learnt from Regional-level Skills Development, Innovation Grant and Networking Activities (2008-2009)


CIVICUS Participatory Governance Programme: External Evaluation Report

CIVICUS commissioned an end of funding phase evaluation for its Participatory Governance (PG) Programme which took place from November 2009 through January 2010. The overall goal of the evaluation was to assess the effectiveness of the programme in terms of its objectives. The specific objectives were to; (i) establish the extent to which the programme has achieved its stated objectives, (ii) identify the key challenges and constraints faced in the programme and how these were or were not addressed, and (iii) identify lessons learnt and recommendations for future phases of the programme.


Turning principles into practice: A guide to legitimacy, transparency and accountability

CIVICUS has developed several initiatives to equip CSOs to move from legitimacy, accountability and transparency (LTA) principles to practices in their organisations and networks. Besides this resource centre which spots LTA resources from a myriad civil society institutions from all over the world, the CIVICUS LTA team has put together a guideline to assist CSOs implement LTA.


The Compendium of International Legal Instruments and Other Intergovernmental Commitments Concerning Core Civil Society Rights

The compendium is an important reference document for advocacy groups while framing their demands for the protection and expansion of civil society space. Other tools and resources for civil society activists can be accessed here. This version was updated in January 2014.

Download The Compendium of International Legal Instruments and Other Intergovernmental Commitments Concerning Core Civil Society Rights


The Role of Civil Society Organisations in Achieving Participatory Democracy and Reconciliation

This paper is based on a presentation by CIVICUS CSI staff member, Mahi Khallaf, at the International Symposium in Cyprus, 25-26 February 2005.




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