Civil society has mobilised to instigate change globally
Protests are the new normal, proving the power of collective action as countries fail the pandemic test, says a new global report.
While governments used the pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on civic freedoms, sparking protests in many countries, the annual State of Civil Society Report 2021 by Civicus, shows that despite the odds, millions of people around the world mobilised to demand more just, equal and sustainable societies during the pandemic.
The report calls on states to reverse rights restrictions imposed under the pandemic at the earliest opportunity.
It urges them to respect human rights and democratic freedoms, and listen to the voices of protesters.
And it asks the international community to do more to uphold norms on civic freedoms and support peaceful assembly.
The success of collective action led to breakthroughs in democracy and human rights across the globe.
Civil society’s collective action forced an election re-run in Malawi, and overcame systematic voter suppression in the USA.
In Thailand, tens of thousands of protesters called for democratic reforms, including, for the first time, demanding a curb on the powers of the monarchy; activists used many creative forms of protest, including using giant inflatable ducks during mobilisations and holding ‘runs against dictatorship’.
In Russia, pro-democracy protests in several cities against the grand corruption of strongman President Putin have so alarmed him that he engineered the imprisonment of his most prominent political opponent.
In Uganda, political opposition led protests have inspired people from all walks of life to stand up against President Museveni who’s been in power for 35 years.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations are the latest in a global wave of protests that started with the Arab Spring 10 years ago and continue today, seen in the civil disobedience people are mounting against Myanmar’s military coup and the protests against Israel in Palestine, with people taking to the streets around the world to show solidarity and demand an end to the killing.
Millions of people are protesting because they can see that protests lead to change, says the report, such as the trial of the officer responsible for George Floyd’s killing which was a rare event that would likely not have happened without protest pressure – and because mass mobilisations often offer the only means of resistance to repressive governments.
The report states: “When states failed to respond effectively to the pandemic, civil society stepped up, providing help to people most in need and defending rights. Civil society organisations responded swiftly with vital support, distributing cash, food, medicines and sanitary supplies, sharing accurate information on the virus and providing healthcare and psychological services.”
It calls on states to reverse rights restrictions imposed under the pandemic “at the earliest opportunity.” It urges them to respect human rights and democratic freedoms, and listen to the voices of protesters. And it asks the international community to do more to uphold norms on civic freedoms and support peaceful assembly.
“The great current wave of protests is sure to continue. People are brave to protest, but they should not have to do so at the risk of being thrown behind bars, or facing brutal, even lethal, violence,” it concludes.