CIVICUS’s "State of Civil Society Report 2019: The Year in Review" is an urgent, clear call to action for all those who participate in or rely on the work of civil society organizations (CSOs) throughout the world. Noting the increasing criminalization of assistance to migrants as an example, CIVICUS Secretary General Lysa John says civil society confronts a “rising tide of global mean-spiritedness, a public compassion deficit.” She calls for a global campaign to restate and protect the right to humanitarian action, based on a new narrative that is clear on what civil society stands for and envisions ambitious but achievable change.
The report addresses the major global trends that are tightening civil society space, noting that “The space for civil society – civic space – is now under serious attack in 111 of the world’s countries - well
over half.” The report’s overview is supplemented by detailed analyses in four major areas: 1) everyday issues bringing people to the streets; 2) challenging exclusion and claiming rights; 3) the state of democracy in 2018 and 4) civil society at the international level.
The section on “Weakening Multilateralism: The International System Under Pressure” notes that “civil society that works at the international level is increasingly concerned about the evident undermining of
international institutions.” For example, space for participation in international human rights bodies and key international agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals is “becoming smaller and the challenges growing harder.” The report notes that these institutions are quickly being eroded by right-wing populist groups, with tactics such as including repressive states on the United Nations Human Rights Council or by powerful states ignoring agreements. CIVICUS explains that from a civil society perspective, multilateral organizations and institutions have not always made activism and progress easy, but they have made it possible, and a dissolution of them at the hands of the far right is a worst-case scenario. This is easily the most chilling sentence of the entire report: “We may be heading towards a full-blown crisis of the multilateral system.”
That said, CIVICUS makes a point to remind readers that there has been progress, even in these trying times and provides numerous examples. The report’s recommendations to civil society are to:
- Speak to people’s anger on everyday issues
- Challenge exclusion and claim rights
- Improve the state of national democracy
- At the international level, make a new case for multilateralism as the “only credible response to the major, transnational issues of the day.”