Debate: The threats to democracy must be taken seriously

In the last twelve years, democratic development has declined in the world. Instead, we see a rise for nationalism and authoritarian regimes. The compilation of the international civil society network Civicus shows that almost half of the world's population lives in countries where the space for civil society is completely closed or severely limited. The network calls the development "a global disaster".

Civil society organizations are threatened, slandered and banned from traveling and other restrictions when examining power and standing up for fundamental rights. Those who have historically had the most difficulty in having their voices heard as women, indigenous peoples and minorities suffer the most.

  • More than 300 human rights and environmental defenders were murdered in 2017. The dark figure is probably large.
  • Brazil's newly elected president wants to oust international environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF and stop all state support for national environmental organizations.
  • In Egypt, activists are imprisoned and in Azerbaijan, fabricated sex scandals are used to silence those in power.
  • US President Donald Trump has banned organizations that receive US aid from informing about abortion.
  • In Hungary, the government has made it a crime for organizations to help asylum seekers.
  • In Colotambia, the threats against trade unionists and human rights defenders working to take the country forward after the peace agreement are exacerbated.
  • In Nicaragua, children and young people who have taken part in the protests against the country's government have both been killed and imprisoned. Increased competition for natural resources in many places exacerbates threats to people who defend the environment and land, often against large companies. These are some of the many examples.

During the years 2014-2016, over 60 countries adopted laws that prevent or prohibits organizations from receiving support from abroad. Many are forced to close down their businesses. Others suffer from diminished public trust because they are identified as spies and traitors. Not least, the copy / paste method of legislation shows how anti-democratic regimes cooperate across borders and follow each other's methods.

The authoritarian states unite in the UN to exclude civil society from negotiations. In Europe, right-wing extremist parties agree on a joint mobilization ahead of next year's EU elections, with the help of, among others, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist.

Sweden is not immune to developments in Europe. We have a growing nationalist party and we have Nazi organizations that spread fear, which became clear not least during this year's Almedalen Week. As more countries around us dismantle the rule of law and demonstration rights, it also threatens our ability to live freely and democratically.

CONCORD Sweden's survey before the election clearly showed that most parties lack a developed policy to counter the global crisis for civil society. This needs to change. We have recently handed over a line recommendations to parliamentary politicians to strengthen Sweden's voice and here are some of our suggestions:

  1. Defending the democratic space is a crucial issue for our time, not least to achieve the global goals of sustainable development. This requires political leadership. Similar to the approach that a feminist perspective should permeate foreign policy, the strengthening of freedom of assembly and association needs to be prioritized in all of Sweden's international policy.
  2. Make Swedish embassies a support and a safe place for vulnerable organizations. This must not depend on the ambassador's personal commitment. All personnel in the Foreign Service need to have better knowledge of the threats to civil society and the need to protect the freedom of assembly and association.
  3. Swedish companies that are active in other countries need have clear systems for the protection of human rights and environmental defenders who are affected by the activities. The government should investigate the possibility of legislating on companies' obligation to take responsibility for their impact on human rights, a recommendation that the State Treasury recently put forward in a review.
  4. Strengthen the EU's global voice for civil society. Negotiations are now underway on the EU's next budget, which will determine, among other things, how EU aid money is distributed. Here, support for civil society and not least vulnerable human rights and environmental defenders needs to be prioritized. Next year, there will also be elections to the European Parliament. Swedish politicians face an important task in defending democracy and civil society in Europe and strengthening the EU's role for human rights and freedoms globally.

When democracy is threatened by authoritarian forces, a strong and independent civil society is needed even more. We Swedish civil society organizations work to strengthen and adapt our own support to vulnerable organizations and people around the world. Now Swedish politicians need to build a powerful policy that protects freedoms and rights for those who risk everything in the fight for a free society.

  1. Ulrika Urey, Chancellor of Fair Action
  2. Petra Tötterman-Andorff, Secretary General of Women to Women
  3. Georg Andrén, Secretary General of Diakonia
  4. Malin Nilsson, Secretary General of IKFF
  5. Lotta Sjöström Becker, Secretary General of the Christian Peace Movement
  6. Mariann Eriksson, Secretary General of Plan International Sweden
  7. Håkan Wirtén, Secretary General of the WWF
  8. Anna Sundström, Secretary General of Olof Palme's International Center
  9. Anna Barkered, operations manager for the Latin American groups
  10. Lena Ingelstam, international director of Save the Children
  11. Agnes Hellström, chairman of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Association
  12. Ingela Holmertz, Secretary General of ActionAid Sweden
  13. Sofia Östmark, Chancellor of the Exchequer Union to Union
  14. Ann Svensén, Secretary General IM
  15. Silvia Ernhagen, CEO of the Hunger Project
  16. Anders Malmstigen, Secretary General of the Swedish Mission Council
  17. Anna Lindenfors, Secretary General of the Amnesty International Swedish Section
  18. Karin Lexén, Secretary General of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
  19. Martin Ängeby, Secretary General of Silc
  20. Annelie Börjesson, chair of the Swedish UN
  21. Rosaline Marbinah, chair of LSU - Swedish Youth Organizations
  22. Göran Alfredsson, chairman of MyRight
  23. Anna Tibblin, Secretary General of We Effect and Vi-skogen
  24. Aron Wängborg, Acting Secretary General, YMCA Sweden
  25. Alán Ali, Chairman MEN
  26. Anna-Karin Johansson, Secretary General of RFSU
  27. Khalil Zeidan, Chairman of Nordic Aid
  28. Ulrika Strand, Secretary General of the Human Rights Fund
  29. Viktoria Olausson, chairman of FIAN Sweden
  30. Mikael Sundström, chairman of Friends of the Earth
  31. Louise Lindfors, Secretary General of the African Groups
  32. Lars Arrhenius, Secretary General of the Medical Mission
  33. Lisbeth Petersen, Acting Secretary General of Forum Syd
  34. Daniel Grahn, Secretary General of Erikshjälpen
  35. Richard Nordström, Secretary General Hand in Hand
  36. Annika Schabbauer, Chief of Staff Operation 1325
  37. Mona Örjes, chair of the IOGT-NTO movement
  38. Julia Andén, Chairman Swallows Latin America
  39. Jan Strömdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Western Sahara Committee
  40. Frida Dunger Johnsson, operations manager Emmaus Stockholm
  41. Eliot Wieslander, Doctors of the World
  42. Judy McCallum, Executive Director Life & Peace Institute
  43. Andreas Stefansson, Secretary General of the Swedish Afghanistan Committee
  44. Sandra Ehne, President of RFSL
  45. Karin Wiborn, Secretary General of the Christian Council of Sweden
  46. Alice Blondel, Chancellor, Swedwatch

The debate article is coordinated by CONCORD Sweden, where all organizations are members.


Civicus compilation

The party survey ahead of the 2018 election "The world in politics"

Recommendations to Riksdag politicians "Global policy for a free and independent society" (PDF)

The report “Take a seat! The democratic space of civil society and the right to organize "

The debate article in Aftonbladet

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