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Defending Civic Space: How OGP Can Step Up

Defendiendo el espacio cívico: El papel que OGP puede desempeñar

Joe PowellandVivien Suerte-Cortez|

When the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched 10 years ago, one of the aims was to enhance public participation so that citizens could have a say in how they are governed and in decisions that affect their lives. Today, nearly all OGP members have implemented reforms that aim to improve participation opportunities. In addition, most OGP members have a forum where government reformers and civil society regularly meet to co-create and implement reforms that open up government. 

However, civic space goes beyond public participation and overall it has been in decline globally, including in OGP countries and local contexts. There have been 15 consecutive years of erosion of political and civil rights according to Freedom House. This poses a challenge to the OGP community: how can OGP co-creation processes and action plans provide a space to make ambitious reforms that help to open and protect civic space, for example by enhancing and protecting spaces for citizens to express themselves freely, to organize in groups for a common purpose, and to gather together to make their voices heard? 

The good news is that the current OGP co-chairs have launched a Partnership-wide call to action, which has civic space as one of its top priorities and calls for all members to join. This builds on promising examples where reformers in government and civil society have started using the OGP space to commit to open civic space reforms and have begun the hard work of implementation:

Citizens Overseeing Police Accountability in Nigeria

In 2020, there were massive protests against police brutality in many countries around the world. Following public outcry over videos and photos of police brutality in Nigeria, youth activists, civil society organizations and citizens gathered in massive protests across the country to call for the disbandment of the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and for accountability for officers’ actions. They also used social media to bring the international spotlight to the protests and the government’s response to them. Media organizations reported that just a few days after the protests started, over 100 people had been killed. The #EndSARS movement prompted discussions about how open government approaches could be used to protect civic space and safeguard people’s right to protest safely. 

PHOTO: Credit: Samson Maxwell via Unsplash

Civil society and government agencies involved in the OGP process convened to discuss if the OGP action plan could be one way to move the conversation forward. Using the country’s OGP multistakeholder forum, civil society organizations and government stakeholders – including the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the National Human Rights Commission –  committed to improving the oversight role of the Police Service Commission, foster a dialogue between citizens and police forces, and ensure scheduled visits to police stations to assess the conditions of service and adherence to proper procedure. Despite the many challenges civil society in the country still face (such as funding and lack of frameworks to monitor the compliance of the PSC standards), the commitment to enhance police oversight and the inclusion of civil society in the design and implementation of police reform is an important step. It is now part of Nigeria’s formal 2019-22 OGP action plan

Fighting for Restorative Justice in Indonesia 

In Indonesia, a coalition of civil society organizations reported significant constraints to freedoms of expression and assembly, as well as cases of police violence against protesters. In many instances, access to legal aid was not available to those arrested for exercising their right of expression. This coalition of organizations worked with the Indonesian government and proposed a commitment in their OGP action plan to ensure access to information on cases and arrests made based on protests, and ensure transparency in the criminal justice system.  

 Civil society groups continue to call on the government to enhance civic space protections and include even more groups in their co-creation process.

Preventing Illegal Government Surveillance in Mexico 

In 2017, civil society and media organizations found evidence that the government had misused sophisticated spyware which was then used to surveil lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders. Civil society organizations decided to leave the Mexico OGP process until those responsible were held accountable and measures were put in place to avoid future incidents like this. It wasn’t until a new government approached civil society and activists to put the issue back on the table that their open government process started anew. 

Click on the image to read Juan Manuel Casanueva’s interview on Mexico’s surveillance commitment.

The reestablishment of the OGP process was underpinned by the need to address the unregulated use of surveillance tools and to establish democratic controls that prevent the interception of private communications in Mexico. Using their OGP action plan, civil society organizations in Mexico are working with government agencies to develop a framework to regulate the acquisition and use of surveillance technology. Despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic, civil society organizations continue to advocate for enhanced regulation on this issue and protect people’s right to privacy.

Where to Next?

More than 100 OGP members are co-creating new action plans this year and have a chance to add meaningful reforms that protect and enhance civic space in their OGP action plans. When co-creating these new ambitious commitments, OGP members should:

  • Engage and convene relevant implementing agencies in OGP co-creation processes, especially those that have the mandate over issues relevant to civic rights. 
  • Broaden their coalition of civil society partners working across different issue areas. Diversity and inclusion are key to developing commitments that respond to the needs of the community and advance civic space priorities.
  • Use OGP action plans to ensure time-bound implementation for any civil society strategies. This could ensure that shared milestones are tracked by both government and civil society partners as co-commitment holders and implementers. 

There is a major opportunity in 2021 to advance civic space reforms in OGP that go to the heart of some of the democratic backsliding the world has seen in recent years, and to showcase them at the 10th anniversary Global Summit in December of 2021, hosted by the Republic of Korea in Seoul and online. Open civic space can help to underpin efforts for an inclusive recovery from the pandemic, tackle systemic inequalities of income, race and gender in society, and to build more resilient and citizen-centered democracies across OGP member countries. The time for action is now.

Comments (2)

Martin Moreci Gomes Doninelli Reply

Hay que decir que la lucha contra el crimen organizado internacional que son con usufructos dentro del Ejecutivo, Legislativo y Judicial no es un favor, es lo que le dará equilibrio a este Planeta. En Brasil esta influencia criminal se puede ver dentro de todos los Estados Locales, donde la legislatura crea leyes de desmantelamiento del Estado, el Ejecutivo pone en práctica estas atrocidades como la Patria y el Poder Judicial defiende estas atrocidades con el Gobierno Central como manejador de reformas fiscales y otros que solicitar este desmantelamiento del Estado (modus operandi de los delincuentes en una estructura vertical). Es necesario que líderes y autoridades sepan que el Estado y sus Constituciones deben ser respetados y no generar cambios en el rumbo dentro de ellos. El artículo 23.I de la Constitución Federal de Brasil limita que sólo el Estado brasileño mantiene el Patrimonio del Estado para ser administrado por los Gobiernos “Art. 23. Es competencia común de la Unión, los Estados, el Distrito Federal y los Municipios: I – velar por la salvaguardia de la Constitución, las leyes y las instituciones democráticas y preservar la propiedad pública “; cabe señalar que es Patrimonio Público del Estado; este artículo es para que tengamos precios de consumos esenciales en niveles equilibrados, “Art. 150. Sin perjuicio de otras garantías otorgadas al contribuyente, la Unión, los Estados, el Distrito Federal y los Municipios tienen prohibido: VI – instituir impuestos sobre -a) bienes, rentas o servicios, entre sí; ” y aun así no se respeta la Constitución Federal. Las Riquezas de la Patria y el Patrimonio del Estado se gravan a los consumidores de manera criminal, desde la transferencia de la riqueza de la Nación al crimen organizado hasta la generación de impuestos que serán transferidos a esta organización criminal de manera encubierta. Dicho esto, no hay forma de aceptar gobernaciones que llegaron a un punto evidenciado en el analfabetismo funcional, generando un desequilibrio en el capitalismo global. El ECOSOC debe ser el responsable de estas dinámicas entre la economía internacional por parte de los estados miembros de la ONU, en este sentido, la sociedad de Estado (que somos todos como Nación) brinda la vida para ser vivida por la persona humana, mientras que la Iniciativa Privada (privada empresas) apuntan a Beneficios y estos beneficios existen de una sola manera, cobrando por el servicio ofrecido directa o indirectamente. Cuando el Estado y las empresas privadas son una, las ganancias de estas empresas están en la esclavitud y el utilitarismo global.

Martin Moreci Gomes Doninelli Reply

En este sentido, los líderes y autoridades deben brindar globalmente la integridad que el Estado necesita. Sacar al Estado de las manos del crimen organizado internacional es deber de todos los Humanos limpios que deben levantarse en este momento. El ciclo en el que estamos requiere que los Gobiernos tengan a la Persona Humana y sus Derechos Universales como eje de su existencia, para que todos estén de manera Humanizada en Direcciones equilibradas para este Planeta, ¡Evolucionar es necesario !.

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