International rights group, CIVICUS, has called on civil society organisations to fight for greater democratic rights by scrutinising decisions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group made the call in its 2020 State of Civil Society Report released on Thursday

It said the effect of mass mobilisation and protest in Hong Kong against the establishment, in Sudan against a dictator and in Kazakhstan against rigged elections were proof that change can happen when CSO's respond to corruption and injustice.  Activists marching

The report said, "In Africa, people spilled onto the streets to demand better democracies, fairer economic policies and an end to corruption.

“The mass street protests had been the decisive element in bringing about change, and those many voices simply refused to fall silent."

It went on to say the work of CSO's was critical post-COVID-19 to expose corruption in government, holding politicians accountable as well as expanding the civic space.

It added, "Civic rights and democratic freedoms are needed now more than ever. Civil society needs to be unfettered, so we can play our proper role in pandemic response and scrutinising decisions taken in response to the crisis, help ensure the lessons are learned and become equal partners in post-pandemic reconstruction.

"In the immediate period of virus response, measures to protect public health should respect human rights. We need to challenge censorship, restrictions on access to information and infringements of personal privacy, and expose overreach by governments, such as illicit surveillance.

"We need to continue to advocate for people’s right to express democratic dissent. We need to demand that all emergency measures stand the test of proportionality and necessity, in line with international law and the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are withdrawn as soon as possible.

"Looking ahead, we will need to promote new strategies to combat disinformation and new models of inclusive and accountable leadership. Civil society will keep pushing for open civic space, and will urge governments to adopt people-centred and partnership approaches to reconstruction that satisfy the demand for positive change.

"As part of this, economic stimulus packages prepared by states should recognise the need to enable the adequate resourcing of civil society and ensure the sustainability of organisations on the ground and in the global south."

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