The end of the Cold War ushered in an era of unprecedented growth in democracy and with it civil society.
The end of the Cold War ushered in an era of unprecedented growth in democracy and with it civil society. But in recent years, democratic growth has stagnated, said U.S. United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, and the reaction against civil society has been formidable.
Within the last five years, dozens of countries have enacted new laws or regulations aimed at restricting the activities of civil society. Ukraine's parliament approved legislation that would restrict freedom of speech and assembly, constrain independent media, broaden the definitions of libel, and hinder non-governmental organizations that receive foreign assistance.
The response to these restrictions, said Ambassador Power, should be to strengthen civil society networks, develop new strategies, and outthink the enemies of freedom. For its part, the United States has placed support for civil society into the mainstream of its foreign policy. Every day, American diplomats make known the United States' backing for the right of people to organize peacefully for change.
The struggle to defend civil society is not carried on in support of an abstract principle; it is a struggle waged on behalf of men and women across the globe. People like Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski who is serving a multi-year prison sentence on trumped-up charges. And activist Sonia Garro of the peaceful Cuban pro-democracy Ladies in White Movement, who was arrested prior to the Pope's visit in 2012 and remains in prison along with her husband Ramon Munoz.
In Iran, authorities have detained an estimated 500 or more human rights defenders subjecting many to torture, abuse, and violations of due process. And in China an estimated 160 peaceful activists have been arrested in the past year. Other beleaguered civil society defenders reside in countries such as Nigeria, Bahrain, and Sudan. And in North Korea, the most extreme case, there is no civil society at all.
The United States remains committed to supporting and defending civil society worldwide and calling out countries that seek to silence the freedom of expression, online and offline, and to restrict civil society’s ability to organize and assemble.