Civic space is the capacity of citizens and civil society organizations to freely organize, participate, and communicate without hindrance from government or non-government actors. Only four percent of the world’s population live in countries with open civic space.
Civic space is closing around the world. Unfortunately, the three fundamental civil society rights (freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly) are often denied in practice, and over several years, there has been a sustained and widespread assault on civic space. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks and rates civic space conditions in 195 countries, showed that in February 2018 there were serious restrictions on civic space in 109 countries (56 percent), compared to only forty-four countries (23 percent) that were classified as having open civic space. The CIVICUS Monitor data makes clear that violations are occurring in both global north and south countries, in every global region, and in countries operating under various forms of government. In short, CIVICUS believes there is a global civic space emergency, with the conditions for civil society having been further deteriorated in 2017.
On average, OGP countries have better records of protecting civic space than non-OGP countries. Nearly half of “open” countries (12 of 23) are OGP countries, and there are no “closed” countries within OGP. However, new analysis shows that OGP countries are not exempt from emerging civic space threats.
Recent OGP analysis showed the following:
- In 48% of OGP countries, freedom of assembly remains a problem, due to lack access to funding, tax regulations, and barriers to entry
- In 52% of OGP countries, there are reports of excessive use of police force during public protests, as well as use of surveillance and personal data to target civil society organisations, journalists, and human rights defenders
- 45% of OGP countries have problems with censorship or online discrimination
- 58% of OGP countries report issues related to harassment of activists and journalists
Yet, the majority of OGP civic space commitments are related to regulations on public participation–the least problematic area for OGP countries.
Our Civic Space Priorities
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was established around the premise that dialogue and engagement between civil society and government is vital for reform in any public policy area. OGP works to achieve the following:
- Promote commitments across the breadth of civic space problems, including emerging issues such as online surveillance or harassment
- Align civic space commitments in action plans to relevant country issues
- Use collective dialogue to create more civic space through collaborative dialogue
- Ensure commitments do not introduce undue burdens and restrictions on civic space
Why Civic Space?
When civic space is limited, the essential contribution of civil society is not realized. Civil society organizations (CSOs) cannot fulfill a number of important roles, including fostering citizen participation, exercising accountability in governance, advocating for policy change, and delivering essential services to otherwise excluded people. In open civic space, CSOs are able to act with autonomy in advancing human rights, democracy, development, and good governance.
Restrictions on civic space affect not only civil society, they also impact the social stability and economic growth of a country. Civic space promotes creativity and innovation through partnership between the public, private, and non-governmental sectors. As a result, restricting civic space is bad for business too.
A robust civic space is essential for a dynamic political culture and an innovative open government agenda.
There is statistical evidence linking the number of civil society organisations per capita to control of corruption, and linking the strength of civil society and the reduction of corruption.
A lack of press freedom leads to higher levels of corruption, confirming the power of information to strengthen public demand for anti-corruption measures. Case study evidence from Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Mexico suggest that civil society is more likely to have an impact on corruption if citizens’ action is integrated into supportive legal and institutional frameworks, including transparency legislation, participatory governance and horizontal accountability institutions.
Actions to strengthen democracy and protect civic rights in the digital era
OGP and the upcoming global summit will provide a platform to catalyze collective action to protect democratic participation from digital threats and curtailment of civic space. Learn more about the actions you can take through your national OGP co-creation process.
Protection of Human Rights
Even in some of the world’s most advanced democracies, human rights are threatened by governments that actively seek to silence activists, imprison journalists, and violate basic civil liberties.
Following are steps OGP governments can take, through open government commitments, to strengthen human rights institutions and laws and protect activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, including:
- Encourage and ensure dialogue between civil society and government to monitor government compliance with human rights conventions
- In Uruguay, the government opened a dialogue between civil society and government to ensure indigenous groups continued to be protected under the government’s duties to an international convention on human rights.
- Be open and share data on resources used to protect human rights
- In Mexico, the government produced data on public resources allocated to protect journalists and activists.