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Govts can’t legitimately represent citizens in the absence of free expression – ICF

THE International Civic Forum says governments cannot legitimately represent their citizens if people are not free to express themselves.
In a communique issued on Tuesday at a two-day Forum in Washington DC, participants recognized the fact that autocratic governments increased the risk of internal conflict.

The event organized by the International Civil Society Centre had representatives from civil society, government, business, media and philanthropy coming together to explore how they can cooperate to promote civic freedoms and stand up together when those were violated.

“Today, the vast majority of the world’s population live in countries where citizens’ rights to organize and speak out and contribute to shaping their societies are respected, protected and fulfilled [while elsewhere] around the world, human rights, social and environmental activists and journalists face defamation campaigns labeling them as foreign agents, physical and legal threats against themselves and their families, persecution, imprisonment and even death. Civil society organisations are targeted through freezing of bank accounts, targeted break-ins, revoked licences and office closures,”

the communique stated.

“Governments and even businesses often silence voices of dissent under the guise of national security or economic prosperity while decisions about what constitutes a ‘risk’ to national security or the economy are shrouded in mystery rather than rooted in transparency and rule of law. This is a fundamental breach of citizens’ rights and democratic values.”

It further stated that restrictions on civic freedoms not only interfered in the ability of the civil society sector to fulfill its role, but also limited the ability of media to create public awareness and protect public interest against malpractice and partiality.

“Private philanthropy cannot advance the public good if there is no space to engage citizens on their needs and expectations. Responsible business also has a role to play, as it needs the rule of law and open governance to thrive. Governments cannot legitimately represent their citizens if citizens are not free to express themselves; autocratic government increases the risk of internal conflict,” stated the Forum which also committed to respecting, protecting and strengthening civic freedoms based on the principles embedded in the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation.

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