What is the Civil Society Pillar?
The Community of Democracy (CoD) is a global intergovernmental coalition of states that supports adherence to shared democratic values enshrined in the Warsaw Declaration. Within this framework, the Pillar springs up as the body thanks to which civil society finds representation at the CoD. The Pillar includes in fact all non-governmental entities which are part of the CoD, namely civil society organizations, foundations, regional networks and global NGOs. The participation of civil society is a unique asset to the Community and one of its key strengths.
From its inception, the leadership of the Community of Democracies recognized the crucial role that civil society plays in the emergence and durability of democratic political systems in the contemporary era. But the engagement of civil society with the CoD and its influence in it has evolved considerably over the past two decades. At the inaugural ministerial, civil society participation was impressive in terms of the number and prominence of democracy activists and thinkers from every region of the world, but there was little actual interaction with officials from the governments to talk concretely. Since 2000, civil society’s voice within the Community of Democracies has steadily strengthened, abetted by taking on formal responsibilities while also ramping up advocacy efforts within the official structure. Civil society representatives are now important actors with formal responsibilities within the initiative’s structure, turning it into an independent democracy observatory.
It is always relevant to remember that civic space is not something to take for granted. It has taken decades for it to emerge – both within and beyond the CoD. As such, it is vital to continuously work and fight for the creation and enlargement of independent and tailored spaces where civil society can advance its agenda. We will continue to evolve and improve our support to democratic institutions.
The pivotal role of civil society in establishing and supporting flourishing democracies appears immediately clear to the signatories states of the Warsaw Declaration, founding document of the Community, reason for which we find direct references to it between its lines and those of the following Declarations, adopted on occasion of the Ministerial Meetings. Co-founder of the CoD, Madeleine Alrbight believed that civil society is crucial in “assembling the nuts and bolts of freedom”. At the founding meeting of the Community, she affirmed the need for governments and civil society to work together in support of democracy
In more practical terms, what are the main perks of having a Civil Society Pillar within the Community of Democracies?
- Ensure civil society a voice in the work of the CoD allowing a broad coalition of civil society leaders from all over the world to participate in the Community’s effort.
- Bring together activists that are often facing similar challenges and are contending with political structures as well as cultural and historical legacies that are common across a whole region or sub-region.
- Press governments to prioritize democratic progress and effort without which the Community will not live up to its historic potential to become a catalytic force in world politics.
How does the Civil Society Pillar work in practice?
Here is a list of bodies, forums and events through which the CSP carries on its action.
- The Civil Society Pillar within the CoD is represented by a standing executive board, the International Steering Committee (ISC) elected by the Civil Society Assembly and currently composed of 25 leaders representing civil society organizations across the globe. It is the governing body of the CSP and decision-maker in between the bi-annual Civil Society Pillar Assembly. It presents the position of civil society to the Governing Council and makes recommendations on what actions it should take. The ISC also advises governments on necessary actions to enable civil society to work freely towards strengthening democracy, rule of law, and protection of the fundamental rights.
- The CSP Secretariat is an NGO member of the ISC selected from among those organizations applying for the position by the CSP to serve for a period of four years, which may be renewed twice only. The main role of the Secretariat is to assist in the management of the Civil Society Pillar and the ISC and its operations. It shall provide staff support to each of the elements of the CSP. It has a seat at the table with like-minded GC members. This provides the opportunity to have bilaterals that create a dialogue in which the Secretariat can advise the GC on key issues in the international diplomatic agenda.
- The Focal Points (FPs) are CSOs that serve as counterparts to their corresponding GC member governments. Their primary role is to convey the views of civil society to their governments on issues coming before the CoD’s Governing Council. They will be asked to provide reports of the contacts with the governmental focal points and will be invited to attend the Civil Society Forum on the margins of each Ministerial Meeting. They will also be asked to monitor the government’s conformity with the principles of the Warsaw Declaration
- The Working Groups (WGs) are action-oriented structures that drive the implementation of the strategic objectives of the Community of Democracies. Working Groups are composed of states, civil society representatives, and other democracy stakeholders. The WGs foster collaboration among states, civil society and international organizations to cooperate, through concrete initiatives, on a series of internationally-relevant issues. The WG on Protecting and Enabling Civil Society aims at countering the growing global trend towards constraining civil society organizations and restricting the space in which they can operate through legal means.
- The Ministerial Meetings meets every two years in the capital city of the current presidency. Participants evaluate the CoD’s work over the past two years, make recommendations for the upcoming years, and discuss the latest developments in democracy. The highlight of each ministerial is the signing of the Ministerial Declaration, a reaffirmation of the countries’ commitment to the values of the Warsaw Declaration and a pledge for further activities to support these values. The Civil Society Forum takes place in the margins of the Ministerial Conferences and results in a set of recommendations to the Ministerial Declaration made by civil society representatives.
- The CSP Assembly is an event restricted to CSP members only and shall make decisions on the following matters, among others: elect the members of the ISC along with an NGO to serve as the Secretariat of the Civil Society Pillar; elect Chair and Vice-Chair of the CSP; approve for publication the biannual reports of the Civil Society Pillar prepared by the Secretariat. Attendees will collectively discuss and strategize how to best: 1) Refine and guide the narrative surrounding democracy to increasingly center citizen participation and human rights; 2) Cultivate, engage, and support the participation of women and young people in democratic processes; 3) Set the trajectory for and vision of the CoD in 2040.
“The Governing Council of the Community of Democracies, recalling the commitment to support civil society in the Warsaw Declaration and in the statements of various Ministerial Meetings, reaffirms its belief in the valuable role of civil society in all aspects of democratic governance and development.”Civil Society Standards, 2016
“We are committed to enhancing the participation of a dynamic civil society at the domestic and international level, and we encourage non-governmental organizations who are actively promoting activities to strengthen and support democracies and respect for human rights worldwide“Santiago Commitment, 2005
LATEST EVENTS & ACTIVITIES
- In April 2021, the ISC Chair participated in the 33rd Governing Council meeting of the Community of Democracies, briefing on the state of democracy in Mali and the CSP activity throughout 2020. She also called for higher adherence to the founding democratic principles of the CoD and for the need of the Community to take a lead in thriving times of democratic backsliding.
- In March 2021 the CSP Secretariat took part in the CSW65 – “Women in public life: equal participation in decision making” – to share knowledge and engage on a global stage, upholding gender equality.
- In January 2021, the recently launched Working Group on Democracy and Technology, chaired by Georgia, held its first meeting. The Working Group attracted a broad membership of countries and civil society organizations aiming to foster collaboration on harnessing digital technology to strengthen democratic governance. Previously, in September 2020, the online event “Enabling Democratic Governance through Technology” was held with the participation of representatives of governments, private sector, and civil society, and examined multilateral mechanisms to exchange best practices and ideas with respect to technology’s use which supports democratic governance.
- Organized by the Community of Democracies, Asia Democracy Network and other civil society organizations, the online 2020 Kathmandu Democracy Forum gathered (in November 2020) civil society organizations from across Asia to present findings of their SDG16 monitoring focused on the impact of COVID-19.
- The Community of Democracy Youth Forum drew participants and speakers from more than 20 countries in July 2020. Hosted by the CoD Presidency of Romania, the digital forum featured representatives of global and regional youth networks from locations around the world on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the role of youth activism in elected office and through civil society.