Last year, world leaders from seven of the world’s largest industrialized democracies met in Germany for the annual G7 Summit, where they signed the Resilient Democracies Statement. Signifying a commitment to civic space, this statement outlined the G7’s commitment to promoting and protecting democracy through equitable and sustainable solutions.

Because open civic space is essential to democracy, human rights defenders and civil society organizations (CSOs) closely followed how the G7 would set forth an international order to maintain it globally. But one year on, the G7 has yet to take any meaningful, collective action.

The Resilient Democracies Statement is chock-full of language relating to the G7’s concerns about threats to democratic systems. To address these threats, civil society called for the G7 to establish a government-civil society task force to monitor its implementation of relevant actions, which include guarding the freedom of human rights defenders and upholding transparent governance.

These calls, in addition to ones asking for civil society to have a larger role engaging with the G7, have been ignored.

Instead, ahead of this year’s summit in Hiroshima — which takes place May 19-21 — the G7 has left civic space off the agenda completely.

While statements of support for civic space are important, taking concrete actions is of even greater urgency. The lack of an international structure to enable civil society has allowed for threats to civic space to continue — or, in some cases, get worse.

What Is the Current State of Civic Space?

The international advocacy organization CIVICUS tracks civic space conditions across 197 countries and territories. According to their online monitor, only 3.2% of the world’s population lives in countries that can be categorized as having “open” civic space.

“[Open civic space] means countries enable conditions for the exercise of fundamental freedoms relating to expression, association, and peaceful assembly,” Mandeep Tiwana, chief programs officer at CIVICUS, told Global Citizen. “[Through our monitor], countries are also listed as narrowed, obstructed, oppressed, or closed.”

The CIVICUS monitor draws on reports from CSOs and human rights groups to determine a nation’s ranking. Even when nations are classified as having open civic space, they may still introduce laws or apply government action to restrict the right to freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, countries that report oppressed or closed civic space experience the worst conditions for civil society.

“Right now, there are 27 countries around the world where just the mere act of exercising the right to democratic dissent can land one in prison, forced into exile, or killed,” Tiwana said.

Globally, the top 10 violations to civic freedoms are the detainment of protestors, intimidation, restrictive laws, attacks on journalists, the disruption of protests, censorship, the prosecution of human rights defenders, the detainment of human rights defenders, and the detainment of journalists.

Of the G7 countries, only Canada is listed as having open civic space, despite the government’s shady use of emergency powers. Other G7 countries are labeled “narrowed” or “obstructed.”

As the world’s largest democracies, G7 countries have a responsibility to protect civil liberties. And because of their powerful status, their actions can set an international standard for how other nations engage with civil society, both to improve democracy at home and for the opportunity to work with the G7 on global issues.

How Can G7 Leaders Increase Their Support of Civic Space?

In today’s interconnected world, maintaining open civic space is critical to promoting stability, peace, and security. What enables this reality, or prevents it, are the policies set forth by government leaders. But in order to craft those policies, world leaders must have a demonstrated interest and investment in civic space.

In the eyes of some civil society experts, the G7’s lack of political investment in civic space this year underscores the dangers to civil society.

“Unlike the previous two years, there’s no statement [from the G7] on open societies that addresses civic space accountability or human rights,” Hirotake Koike, senior political and external affairs officer at Greenpeace Japan, told Global Citizen. “It’s a bit hard [for members of civil society] to engage with the G7 because [civic space] is not on the agenda.”

When members of civil society have a seat at the table, they can outline priorities, contribute to outcome statements, and ensure that action is taken and tracked throughout different administrations. 

How Can Global Citizens Take Action on Civic Space?

In line with our advocacy to maintain open civic space everywhere, we’re calling on Global Citizens to take action where G7 leaders refuse to. Here’s how you can encourage civic space commitments on Global Citizen's platform:

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Why G7 Leaders Must Step Up Their Support of Civic Space at This Week’s Summit

By Jaxx Artz