OGP Issues Report Over Shrinking Civic Space

Mukaleni Dimba, Co-Chair, OGP Steering Committee
Mukaleni Dimba, Co-Chair, OGP Steering Committee

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) has issued a new report expressing concern over the shrinking civic space in many of its member countries arising from attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, failure to respect and protect public assemblies, and barriers to ability of formal civil society organizations to organize and operate independently.

Titled “The Right Tools for the Right Job: How OGP can help win the fight for civic space”, the 17-page report outlines tools that the OGP community can use to address the problems and improve civic space.

The report which seeks to the address the question of whether the OGP is focusing on the right problems and using the right tools noted that “OGP action plans currently do not address the most pressing civic space problems in OGP countries.”

It noted that “Half of OGP countries face problems guaranteeing freedom of assembly and protecting human rights defenders. Excessive use of force, restrictions on peaceful assembly, and harassment of journalists and activists are the most common problems OGP countries face. However, they are not using OGP and the action plan process to address those issues.”

Noting that there are few civic-space-related commitments related to freedom of assembly and human rights protections, it said: “The biggest gap between need and commitment is in promoting and protecting Freedom of Assembly. Protecting human rights defenders and journalists comes in second, followed closely by Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association.”

Interestingly, the report further said, “The reverse is true for Freedom of Expression, where the proportion of commitments exceeds the need.”

To address the challenge, the report provides five OGP-informed action points which would improve the civic space. First it recommends that action plan commitments should not introduce undue burdens and restrictions on civic space. Second, it proposes that OGP action plans should include more commitments that improve the civic space.

The report also recommends “Improve scope,” that is, OGP commitments should cover the breadth of civic space problems, seek out civil society organisations in the OGP state and work with them to close the gaps in all the issue-areas including emerging issues in the digital realm.

It recommends that OGP systems should “Find the right fit” by developing OGP commitments that are in alignment with the country’s problems. Lastly, it urged the OGP systems in the various countries to “Aim for net impact,” that is, “OGP should measure its impact in part on whether it is contributing to more civic space in the country through collaborative dialogue.”

The report is informed by the need to ensure a conducive civic space for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) since the OGP itself was founded on the idea that public policy reform is better when government officials engage with civil society actors; and as such OGP cannot succeed without the ability of people to freely organize, participate, and communicate about policy – all of which determine the conduciveness of the civic space.