Protest movements around the world are finding themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights, according to a new report by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. In the face of acute restrictions on democratic dissent at the national level, there is worryingly little support for protest movements from international stakeholders, including other protest movements, foreign states, UN  bodies and international civil society organisations.   This study concludes that such support is important to uphold the international human rights framework, of which the right to peacefully express democratic dissent is a key component. 

The report, Keeping up the Pressure: Enhancing the Sustainability of Protest Movements, explores factors that contribute to or undermine the sustainability of contemporary protest movements. The research examines these issues in three countries, Bahrain, Chile and Uganda, drawing from a series of surveys of and interviews with leaders of contemporary protest movements.

“With formal spaces for participation closing across the globe, citizens are more likely to take to the streets to have their voices heard and press for change,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS, and author of the report. “This study shows that the international community and national stakeholders must foster a safer and more enabling environment for people to engage in public protests.”

Recent years have seen the world swept by new waves of citizen protest. In countries around the world, large numbers of people have marched, demonstrated, occupied and blockaded to call attention to governance failures, demand democracy, stand against autocracy, claim human rights and urge that their fundamental needs are met. While the triggers of protests vary, the new protest movements that have sprung to life in many parts of the globe in have much in common, including the imaginative and creative tactics they employ, their ability to connect local and immediate issues to larger and longer-term concerns, and their determination to sustain action over time.

“Governments must recognise that protest movements play an essential role in shaping democratic life and addressing public concerns,” said Sebastián Vielmas, Chilean right to education activist, “We must forge broad alliances at home and abroad with international civil society and human rights bodies to ensure the sustainability of protest movements and enable the fundamental right to peaceful assembly.”

This study concludes that such support is essential for enhancing the sustainability of national protest movements, across all three contexts. 

Additional key findings include:

•     The states covered by the research are failing to facilitate the right to peaceful assembly.
•    The major ways in which states undermine the sustainability of protest movements are excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest of protesters and imposition of legal restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly.
•    Civil society organisations at the national level need to play a larger role in mobilising support for protest movements through networking.
•    The sustainability of protest movements would be enhanced if legal and extra-legal restrictions on the right to the freedom of assembly are removed or eased. 
•    Protest movement leaders believe that they and their movements have capacity enhancement needs that are currently not being met.

For more information, contact:

CIVICUS Media 
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Tor Hodenfield 
Policy & Advocacy Officer 
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Deborah Walter
Communication Manager
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Editor’s Notes

CIVICUS can organise interviews with research partners in Bahrain, Chile, and Uganda. 

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