CIVICUS 2024 Report Highlights Civil Society and Global Rule of Law in Crisis Features
CIVICUS 2024 Report Highlights Civil Society and Global Rule of Law in Crisis

Civil society is facing unprecedented challenges globally due to escalating conflicts and crises. In 2023, groups that were pivotal in advocating for human rights, offering humanitarian aid and giving a voice to the marginalized encountered increasing difficulties. Their work has become more challenging due to growing repression and conflict, yet they remain beacons of hope and resilience.

In its 2024 State of Civil Society Report, released Thursday, global civil society alliance CIVICUS presented a sobering overview of various global challenges faced in 2023, describing the overwhelming air of a rule of law in crisis.

Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Officer of Evidence and Engagement said:

Attacks on civil society were the norm in 2023, even from governments that claim allegiance to democratic values… The prevalence of such abuses proves the international system desperately needs reform. We are facing an acute crisis of moral leadership on the international stage.”

Let’s break down the key points covered across these areas:

The Global Scene: Conflict and Crisis

Our world is witnessing intense conflicts, with civil liberties under threat in numerous countries. An alarming statistic reveals that one in six individuals live in areas marred by conflict, leading to a surge in conflict-related fatalities, which escalated by 62 percent in 2023 alone. Civilian casualties are on the rise, and global military expenditure has hit a new high of US$2.2 trillion.

In various regions, including Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan and Myanmar, conflicts rage on, targeting civilians, often based on ethnicity. The use of sexual violence and starvation as weapons of war is creating humanitarian crises and mass displacements, with over 114 million people displaced worldwide. Yet, the political response has been marked by denial, increasing hostilities towards migrants, and xenophobic policies, with a notable discrepancy in the treatment of Ukrainian refugees compared to others from different racial backgrounds.

The report highlights several critical statistics concerning global conflicts and the humanitarian landscape in 2023, offering a closer look at what these numbers tell us about the state of our world and the urgency of civil society engagement. The overview provided delves into a global landscape marked by deepening conflicts and humanitarian crises, highlighting the pivotal role of civil society amidst these challenges. Several countries are specifically mentioned due to their current situations of conflict, displacement, and the geopolitical dynamics influencing global strife and humanitarian responses.

Here’s an overview of the countries mentioned and the context provided for each:

Widespread Conflict

The report draws attention to the severe ongoing Gaza conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas, emphasizing the grave humanitarian consequences of the military actions, described as “unrelenting cruelty on civilians.” The report also highlights Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine, depicted as causing substantial civilian suffering and contributing to a larger context of regional instability.

Sudan also is experiencing turmoil, partly attributed to military confrontations with militia groups. The conflict is presented as a source of civilian distress, exacerbating the country’s challenges in achieving a stable and democratic governance structure. Myanmar, too, is cited as an example of a country where conflict has persisted for years following a military coup, leading to widespread violence and human rights abuses.

Türkiye is further mentioned in the context of its approach to hosting and repatriating refugees. The report criticizes Türkiye
for its alleged forced repatriation of refugees to Syria, raising concerns about the treatment and rights of displaced individuals.

Similar to Turkey, Pakistan is noted for its policies toward refugees, specifically its forced repatriation practices directed at Afghan refugees. This situation underscores the broader challenges associated with hosting and protecting displaced populations within the region.

Without specifying individual nations, the report critiques European countries for their mixed responses to refugees and migrants. It points out the perceived double standards in welcoming Ukrainian refugees compared to those from other regions, particularly emphasizing the differential treatment of Black and Brown arrivals.

The report also comments on the changing nature of hospitality and societal attitudes towards refugees within these regions and highlights the erasure of  LGBTQ+ rights in Mauritius, Estonia, Latvia, Nepal, Greece, Thailand, Afghanistan, Russia, Ghana, Uganda, Bangladesh and Venezuela.

CIVICUS highlights that, in the face of these challenges, civil society organizations continue to play a critical role. Civil society provides humanitarian aid, leads reconstruction efforts, documents human rights violations, and advocates for action and justice internationally. In Ukraine, civil initiatives contribute significantly to the country’s resilience. In Gaza, journalists offer invaluable insights into the crisis, while in Sudan, youth groups deliver aid and work toward democratic governance. However, the efforts of civil society are often met with resistance. Many face various forms of repression, including being targeted by conflict participants and criminalized by states for aiding migrants and refugees. Even climate activism has come under threat.

Climate Activism Under Threat

On climate, 2023 was noted as the hottest year on record, emphasizing the urgent need for action amidst escalating extreme weather events. The response has been varied, with significant pushback against climate activism in several countries. Countries in the Global North, traditionally seen as bastions of free speech, have targeted climate activists using laws designed for other purposes, which is highlighted as a form of climate denial.

The report critiques the efforts of states and the private sector in addressing the climate crisis, underscoring the importance of civil society in pushing for meaningful change. A worrying trend towards authoritarianism is noted, with a significant portion of the global population living under such regimes. Efforts to defend democracy are challenged by shrinking civic spaces. The rise of far-right forces and the increasing polarization fuelled by misinformation are of particular concern.

Gender Rights and Legal Advances

While there were some positive steps in gender and LGBTQI+ rights in certain countries, the overall tone is one of resistance against regression, with rights being under threat in various parts of the world. Activist movements, despite facing intense backlash, continue to fight for gender rights. The report’s text implies a growing transnational movement against these rights, making the struggle tougher but also highlighting the resilience of civil society.

Mauritius is noted for its decriminalization of same-sex relations in 2023, as is Estonia, which also legalized same-sex marriage in 2023. Latvia and Nepal also took crucial steps towards equal rights, without the report specifying the exact nature of these steps. Greece recognized marriage equality in February 2024, and Thailand has moved to do the same.

However, the report mentions Russia for the deepening of its anti-LGBTQI+ crackdown. Afghanistan was noted for the Taliban’s strengthened grip and so was Iran, for theocracy’s reassertion. Ghana and Uganda are also mentioned for passing extreme anti-gay laws, and the USA is noted for an increase in anti-trans hysteria.

There are also some dark ironies in the report, with the United Arab Emirates, which is mentioned as the host of COP28, noted for its closed civic space, and Azerbaijan which has been slated to host COP29, also noted for having closed civic space.

Key Takeaways:

Issues of climate change, democracy, and gender rights are interconnected, with the state of civil society being central to addressing these challenges. The role of non-governmental actors, activists, and civil society organizations is emphasized as crucial in pushing back against regressive forces and advocating for positive change.  The challenges highlighted underscore the importance of global awareness, solidarity, and action, recognizing that these issues affect humanity as a whole, albeit in varied and unequal ways.

This overview provides insight into the challenges faced in 2023, reminding us of the ongoing struggles and the critical role of informed, active, and united civil society movements in driving forward positive change in the face of adversity.