Civic space is shrinking, yet civil society is not the enemy

By Lysa JohnSecretary-General, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation 1


Global collaboration is new. It is also under threat. That puts our greatest chance at working together to protect people and planet – as encompassed in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in jeopardy.


This blog marks Civil Society Days hosted by the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate and the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment.


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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN member states in 2015, represent an ambitious, but achievable, agenda to make the world better. Importantly, they are a reminder that world leaders have agreed on common goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. In a remarkable shift in international public policy, they have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ in this effort, thereby committing themselves not just to work together, but also to work for the benefit of all people irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

The values that underpin our ability to generate an internationally co-ordinated response to the sustainable development challenge are, however, increasingly being questioned, undermined and even overruled by leaders who promote narrow, self-serving interpretations of national interest. Report after report from civil society organisations across the globe highlight what we have called in our State of Civil Society report this year a trend towards “presidential sovereignty” that aims to undermine or override the mandate of constitutions, national rights preserving institutions and international agreements.

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Defending Civic Space: Four unresolved questions

By Thomas Carothers, Director, and Saskia Brechenmacher, Associate Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


This blog marks Civil Society Days (4-7 June 2019), including the International Conference on Civil Society Space on 6 June 2019 hosted by the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate and the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment


1The trend of closing civic space crystallised at the beginning of this decade. In response, concerned international actors — including various bilateral aid agencies, foreign ministries, private foundations and international nongovernmental organisations — are working to address this problem. They have carried out many diagnostic efforts and gained greater knowledge of the issue. They have initiated a wide range of measures to limit or counteract it, from setting up emergency funds for endangered activists and supporting national campaigns against new civil society restrictions to pushing international bodies, like the Financial Action Task Force, to take better account of the issue.

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