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Security and Justice

COVID-19 pandemic puts civic space under persistent threat

COVID-19 measures are having a persistent impact on the work of local peacebuilders around the globe. They limit civil society’s space to operate and shrink opportunities for open dialogue. A new report by the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) raises the alarm. And comes with recommendations for more resilient recovery.

It’s not the first time CSPPS, hosted and coordinated by Cordaid, has gauged the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives and activism of frontline peacebuilders. In 2020, they issued the report ‘Fighting COVID-19, Building Peace – a civil society perspective. What Local Peacebuilders say about COVID-19, Civic Space, Fragility and Drivers of Conflict.’

One year on, the Platform reached out once more to their global membership, from the Central African Republic, Yemen, Nigeria, Egypt, and other countries. The new report, ‘Persistent Impact: An Urgent Call for a Conflict-Sensitive Approach to the COVID-19 Pandemic’, documents the pressing challenges civil society activists continue to be confronted with. It identifies alarming trends and calls for concerted international action.

Alarming trends

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 measures are reshaping civic space. By restricting movement and gatherings, they reduce the operating space of peacebuilders. As a result, civil society activists are forced to adapt and rely increasingly on digital technologies. Pandemic measures increase governmental repression and illegitimate use of force, creating societal mistrust and decreasing political transparency. On top of that, in the context of the pandemic, CSOs have been witnessing a steep drop in international aid.

Meanwhile, socio-political and economic tensions in vulnerable communities – poverty, conflict, gender-based violence – have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This gives the work of local peacebuilders and civil society activists even more urgency.

Recommendations

The CSPPS report comes with clear recommendations to address these and other alarming trends and to implement recovery efforts.  These include:

  • Make SDG 16 the foundation of COVID-19 recovery efforts. (SDG 16: promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building accountable institutions);
  • Restore and expand civic space. Use this time of pandemic recovery to leverage a more constructive engagement between governments and citizens;
  • Bridge the digital divide. Social media platforms need to take a more active role in tracking and exposing misinformation. Ensure the entire population has access to digital technology and to the Internet. Spot geographical and social disparities when it comes to access to (digital) information;
  • Call for gender equality. Increased inequalities, including gender inequality, are undermining peacebuilding efforts and progress made in recent years. Renewed commitments must be made to realise the Women, Peace & Security Agenda;
  • Support small entrepreneurs. The pandemic has disrupted economies and employment around the globe. It has pushed unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity even further in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Small and medium enterprises play a critical role in addressing these crises in small communities and cities alike.

Read the full CSPPS report.