BCSDN at the C20 Summit 2021: “Civic Space Restrictions in the Era of COVID: Why Is Democracy at Risk?”


The Civil 20 (C20), this year hosted by Italy, took place from 5-7 October in a hybrid event format. As one of the official Engagement Groups of the G20, C20 provides a platform of CSOs around the world to bring forth the political dialogue with the G20.

During the second day of the C20 Summit 2021, BCSDN took part in the plenary panel “Civic Space Restrictions in the Era of COVID: Why Is Democracy at Risk?”, organized by RACI Argentina.

This discussion on the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the state of civil society and fundamental rights included representatives of eminent organizations with a long-standing portfolio of monitoring and advocacy in this area, including CIVICUS, ICNL, BCSDN, and VANI.

Ms. Marianna Belalba Barreto from CIVICUS gave an overview of few significant examples of the COVID-19 restrictions on the right to expression, worldwide. Ms. Florence Nekazibwe from ICNL discussed the concerning transition of such measures from epidemiological ones, towards causes of crisis state with fundamental human rights and freedoms. Mr. Harsh Jaitli from VANI discussed the specific challenges Indian CSOs faced during the pandemic, and the way they were involved in the crisis response.

BCSDN’s Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Ms. Anja Bosilkova Antovska, noted that although the region passed without a significant change in legislation, civic space in practice kept shrinking during the pandemic, while in some cases restrictive measures were used as an excuse to silence the critical civil society. Ms. Antovska focused on the practices and strategies CSOs used in light of this, and the importance of CSO cooperation in such a situation.

While the panelists presented different regions in the world, an overall conclusion was that despite all COVID-19 restrictions and lack of support, CSOs brought great value to society in helping the citizens affected, and in upholding democracy and the rule of law. The panel stressed that governments need to recognize the immense role of CSOs in handling the pandemic and include civil society as a relevant and irreplaceable partner to the state in mitigating the pandemic effects and reaching development objectives and goals. Finally, governments need to commit to supporting an enabling environment for civil society, because its paramount for the sustainability, operations, and impact of CSOs.

These messages have been taken aboard in the preparation of the Final Communiqué that was released at the conclusion of the C20 Summit 2021. More information about the Summit is available here.


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