On 11 – 12 September 67 representatives from civil society, government, business, media and philanthropy came together at the International Civic Forum in Washington D.C. to explore how they can cooperate to promote civic freedoms and stand up together when these are violated.
Today the vast majority of the world’s population live in countries where citizens’ rights to organise and speak out and contribute to shaping their societies are respected, protected and fulfilled. Around the world human rights, social, and environmental activists and journalists face defamation campaigns labelling them as foreign agents, physical and legal threats against themselves and their families, persecution, imprisonment and even death. Civil Society Organisations are targeted through freezing of bank accounts, targeted break-ins, revoked licenses, and office closures.
Governments and even businesses often silence voices of dissent under the guise of national security or economic prosperity while decisions about what constitutes a “risk” to national security or the economy are shrouded in mystery rather than rooted in transparency and rule of law. This is a fundamental breach of citizens’ rights and democratic values.
Restrictions on civic freedoms not only interfere in the ability of the civil society sector to fulfil its role, it also limits the ability of media to create public awareness and protect public interest against malpractice and partiality. Private philanthropy cannot advance the public good if there is no space to engage citizens on their needs and expectations. Responsible business also has a role to play, as it needs the rule of law and open governance to thrive. Governments cannot legitimately represent their citizens if citizens are not free to express themselves; autocratic government increases the risk of internal conflict.
In the interest of sustainable development and just and open societies we – representatives from different sectors from around the world – commit to respecting, protecting and strengthening civic freedoms based on the principles embedded in the Civic Charter – The Global Framework for People’s Participation:
- On the eve of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, we call on world leaders to explicitly affirm and support citizens’ rights to participate in shaping their societies. Without citizen participation we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals nor will we secure international peace and stability.
- We call on all governments, companies, civil society organisations and citizens to join us in signing the Civic Charter and to commit to uphold, protect, and promote its principles.
- We encourage our fellow leaders from civil society, government, business, and philanthropy to join us in cross-sector alliances in support of civic space and to endorse and support the initiatives launched at the 2017 International Civic Forum.
Only together we can ensure that citizens’ rights are upheld and free and just societies prosper.