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Civil Society Pillar Declaration in the occasion of the Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies

Twenty years after the signing of the Warsaw Declaration and establishment of the Community of Democracies, nations in several different stages of democratic development are facing unprecedented challenges, which have been exacerbated by the economic, social and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as authoritarian and even some nominally democratic leaders started to take advantage of these crises to consolidate power through emergency laws which silenced the opposition and shrunk the space for civil society. Ever since, the principles of democratic rule and protection of human rights that have guided the Community of Democracies since its creation, and have always lay at the core of the community, are being questioned, suppressed and affronted globally. 

This has resulted in what many have called a crisis in global democracy. These recent events have confirmed even further the need for the Community of Democracies, as a demonstration that democracies must be continuously nourished and held accountable, and that the construction of a healthy civic space is a strenuous process that indispensably requires the input of civil society members. However, this moment of crisis also sheds light on the effort required from all parties that support democracies to achieve such objectives, especially the Community of Democracies, in view of the great responsibility that they bear in this field. Furthermore, it highlights the urgent need for a committed and engaged leadership within the coalition to safeguard and defend the principles upon which it was founded.  The Community of Democracies has enormous potential in advancing democratic principles and norms; advocating for the respect of human rights, political freedoms and civil liberties; as well as promoting democracy around the world, and given the challenges that societies face in recent times, the community is urged to double its efforts to meet expectations.

For instance, the coalition had earlier undertaken institutional changes to give the Civil Society Pillar more access to policymakers and government representatives. This was a big step in creating more opportunities for vulnerable groups and neglected sectors of society to make their voices heard, so that their demands are taken into consideration by their governments, and that such governments are held accountable for their democratic performance. Unfortunately, despite the Community of Democracies’ recognition of the important role of the Civil Society Pillar in promoting and enhancing the quality of democracy around the world, the Community of Democracies has failed to supply  adequate resources to support the Pillar’s activities, showing itself unwilling to raise funds for the Civil Society Pillar even after numerous requests. 

This lack of commitment and support from the Community of Democracies towards the Civil Society Pillar has serious consequences, undermining the work of civil society groups and organizations from all over the world who have engaged in working with the Community, and who have dedicated their time and effort to defend and preserve the principles of the Warsaw Declaration. 

Furthermore, the unwillingness of members of the Governing Council to assume the Community’s presidency is deeply concerning. It reflects the lack of leadership, further showing its failure to meet its objectives internationally, and its inability to properly engage its members in the preservation of democracy. The Community of Democracies should take concrete steps to remedy this situation, such as establishing a working group to help  prepare countries to assume the presidency, and/or  creating a mechanism for the Governing Council to provide resources for smaller and less wealthy states who have interest in assuming the presidency.

In order to overcome the aforementioned obstacles, firstly, it is imperative for the CoD to raise its financial contributions to the CSP. Only this would enhance the Pillar’s advocacy role, enabling it to perform its activities more effectively, and ensuring that civil society and other neglected groups have their demands properly heard and considered by policymakers. Moreover, and considering the recent recruitment of a consultant to evaluate the performance of the ISC, the CSP would suggest an expansion of the scope of such consultancy, so that either the same or a different consultant can also assess the performance of the CoD as a whole, identifying its flaws and providing guidance on how the Community of Democracies can better achieve its objectives. 

It is clear that the Community of Democracies can have an important role to play in safeguarding and bolstering democratic norms and human rights globally.  Nonetheless, it is just as clear that it cannot do so without the active participation of civil society, and in particular its weaker and more marginalized members. The CSP expresses concern over the lack of active and inclusive leadership of the CoD, but reaffirms its commitment to the Community of Democracies and asserts its willingness and ability to work in partnership with the Community in order to achieve the CoD’s full potential as a catalytic force in rejuvenating democracy worldwide, which now; more than ever before, must be our highest priority.