Proceedings of Tokyo Democracy Forum 2023
Democracy in Asia is under threat, following Hong Kong’s enforcement of National Security Law, a military coup in Myanmar, Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, Rohingya crisis, brutal crackdowns and violence during COVID-19 lockdowns by governments and police, and continuous restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly in the region.
Civil society organizations are pushing back against this trend by collectively raising voices and concerns, such as The Declaration of the Asian Forum on SDG 16+, led by Asia Development Alliance (ADA), Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG16+, led by TAP Network, policy recommendations on open societies and civic space by C7 (Civil7) and C20 (Civil20).
Tokyo Democracy Forum (TDF) is an annual forum organized by JANIC to provide opportunities for CSOs who are active on defending democracy and civic space, as well as promoting democratic governance, to gather, learn and interact with each other. The TDF is inspired by the Busan Democracy Forum (BuDF) and Ulaanbaatar Democracy Forum (UBDF), organized by the Permanent Secretariat of the Community of Democracies (PSCoD) and Asia Democracy Network (ADN), respectively in January 2018 and in February 2019. .
〈The 4thTokyo Democracy Forum (TDF)〉
The 4th TDF was organized, in a hybrid mode, on 12 April 2023, in the sidelines of the C7 (Civil7) Summit. C7 is one of the official Engagement Groups of G7, and the Government of Japan hosted the G7 Hiroshima Summit in May 2023. JANIC invited 6 Key Implementing Partners from Asia, and they presented findings of their projects on defending democracy and civic space in Asia, following suggested topics led by session moderators.
At the opening panel, Jamila Asanova, Chair of Asia Development Alliance (ADA), discussed Asian perspectives on democracy, highlighting recent incidents in Asia, including Hong Kong, Myanmar, Afghanistan etc. She questioned if authoritarian governments dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic better than democratic governments, and suggested that since Asia is an economically dynamic region, democratic innovation should be integrated into democratic governance, and put peoples’ needs in center. Participatory budgeting is one example of such a democratic governance.
Anselmo Lee, Regional Coordinator of Asia Civil Society Partnership for Sustainable Development (APSD), highlighted the shifting environment of democracy in Asian region, citing international comparative date from Global State of Democracy by International IDEA, Civic Space Monitor by CIVICUS, and introduced key assessment by recently launched generative AI (Chat GPT) to answer major threat to democracy in Asia, and opportunities and strategies for civil society, just for participants review. He suggested democracy needs in order to achieve sustainable development and vice versa, so it is necessary to think about how to integrate democratic governance, SDGs and civic space issues in every aspect of CSO activities.
Narayan Adhikari, Nepal’s Country Director of Accountability Lab and the Coordinator of C7 Open and Resilient Societies Working Groups, mentioned that democracy is not easy to define, and it is not just a compilation of good laws, but it is a process that make everyone’s life better. He also said that laws are not always good, for example, in Bangladesh, freedom of expression or freedom of media is controlled by Security Acts. He also stressed that though fighting corruption is a long way, we need to strengthen democracy for the lives of those who are in the most vulnerable situations. Narayan finally showed key recommendations by C7 Open and Resilient Societies Working Group, which were prepared with diversity and presentation kept in mind.
At the Session 1 and Session 2, Key Implementing Partners presented highlights and findings based on their DDCSA projects. Hemal Kamat, Board member of VANI, introduced VANI’s Social Media Campaign (series of five social media posts) to create awareness about SDG 16, generate interest and the role CSOs may play in furthering it. The Campaign informed the CSOs about strengthening leadership to respond to humanitarian issues. This was only possible by creating awareness and strengthening partnerships of CSOs. Further it was informed that the aim of this Campaign was to induce partnership spirit of collective action and ownership by the CSOs for uplifting the human rights and make it clear that sustainable development cannot be achieved without ensuring civil and political rights.
Bilguun Tumurbaatar, Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), summarized the civic space survey conducted by CHRD, and the results showed that the civic space situation is not the same in different regions in Mongolia. The civic is more open in Ulaanbaatar city, than in province centres and in soums, so there is a need to provide more support for CSOs in provinces, especially in soums to protect civic space. Bilguun also introduced follow-up actions such as developing policy regulations for enabling environment of CSOs and reflecting in the newly developing laws, and developing and passing the law on NGOs with full and equal participation of all parties in accordance with the recommendations from UPR, OGP and FATF.
Arjun Bhattarai, Secretary General of NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN), explained how the recent tax reform affected CSOs activities, for example, the government made new provision of renewal of certificates each year, and 90% of NGOs were unable to renew certificates due to complicated procedures. He suggested recommendations including followings; Policies and regulations around tax should be prepared under concept of one door policy and digital governance, and the government should review all existing laws and policies of CSOs and NGOs to solve multiple challenges including VAT and Tax.
Zia Ur Rehman, Founder & Chief Executive of Awaz Foundation Pakistan, Center for Development Services, introduced civic rights and Spaces which are under stress in Pakistan. For the last one decade, civic rights and spaces in Pakistan are under severe stress, and new regulatory frameworks and policies are introduced and implemented to regulate and control INGOs and NGOs in the country. Overlapping policies and compliance requirements overburdened the civil society sector and more than 20,000 NGOs/CBOs were de-registered during the last few years. Generally the government and security agencies consider NGOs as anti-national, anti-religion as well as anti-culture. He recommended that local CSOs/NGOs should be allowed to work freely anywhere in Pakistan on any of the human rights and civic rights challenges or issues. Also, there should be a coordination committee among various registration and regulation departments and they should meet on a periodic basis to discuss how to facilitate NGOs better.
James Gomez, Regional Director of Asia Centre, explained that many governments in Southeast Asia are introducing Foreign Interference Laws in order to remove any kind of support that would strengthen and build resilience towards democracy. Asia Centre created infographics and videos to tell the stories around the laws, and organized 4 podcast sessions highlighting different situations in the region, namely for Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, President of INHURED International, introduced the study on regional human rights instruments (RHRIs) to unveil key comparative characteristics. He studied RHRIs regions in Europe, Americas, Africa, Arab States, Asia-Pacific (ASEAN) and compared whether they have Inter-state complaints, Individual complaints, and Regular Reports. While Europe has all of them, ASEAN had no Inter-state complaints, individual complaints and regular reports. RHRIs in Europe and Americas are well equipped, sophisticated and efficient with a set of protocols that guarantee agreements’ implementation with a judicial process but with a number of drawbacks. In Africa, even though all essential elements of an effective regional HR mechanism are put in place, the system still suffers from some important constraints of a structural nature that reduce its effectiveness from a political, financial and professional support point of view. Concerning the Arab human rights protection mechanism, it does not strictly speak from a regional mechanism and the system is founded on fundamental ideas of the nation’s particular identity, religion, heritage, unity hence, it is in some ways at odds with international HR norms. The research demystifies that Asia-Pacific region continues to be the only one without a UN-defined regional instrument where lack of political will and cultural/political diversity are key obstructions for slow and weak performance.
The detailed program of the 4th TDF is as follows.
〈Video and Final Reports〉
Watch the video recording of the 4th TDF here.
The final reports by Key Implementing Partners can be downloaded here.
Voluntary Action Network India (VANI)
#StrongPartnerships through Promoting SDG 16 amongst Indian CSOs for Enhancing Civic Space1.DDCSA2022 final report - VANI
Centre for Human Rights and Development (Mongolia)
Defending Democracy and Civic Space in Mongolia2.DDCSA2022 final report - CHRD
NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN)
Study on taxation implication on NGOs working environment in Nepal3.DDCSA2022 final report - NFN
Enhancing Civil Society Engagement for Civic Space in Pakistan
4_1_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_021_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_022_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_031_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_03211_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_03212_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_03221_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
4_03222_4.DDCSA2022 final report - AwazCDS Pakistan_1
Campaign to Pushback on Foreign Interference Laws in Southeast Asia5.DDCSA2022 final report - Asia Centre
Defining & Defending Human Rights: Revisiting Jurisdiction & Relevance of Regional Mechanisms6.DDCSA2022 final report - INHURED International
〈Details for past Democracy Forums〉
The first TDF was held in April 2019, in the sidelines of the C20 (Civil20) Summit, jointly with the Permanent Secretariat of the Community of Democracies (PSCoD), Asia Democracy Network (ADN), and Asia Development Alliance (ADA), Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES), in order to review and discuss progress and challenges of each target within SDG16, recognizing that protecting civic space is essential to work on global issues, which would be discussed at the G20 meeting. “Tokyo Declaration on Peace, Human Rights and Democratic Governance: Towards Improvement of Civic Space for the SDG 16+” was adopted as a part of C20 Policy Pack 2019.
C20 Policy Pack 2019
The 2nd TDF was organized virtually on 15 and 16 February 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as a follow-up to the Kathmandu Democracy Forum 2020. 14 CSOs and researchers from across Asia discussed how we can secure democratic and civic space in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. “10 Recommendations for Action” was published as an outcome document of the Forum, reflecting recommendations from presenters.
Proceedings of Tokyo Democracy Forum 2021: Civic Space and COVID-19 in Asian countries
“10 Recommendations for Action” (2021)
The 3rd TDF was also organized in a virtual format on 14 and 15 February 2022, in partnership with Asia Democracy Network (ADN) and Asia Development Alliance (ADA), inviting 13 CSOs and researchers from across Asia. Based on the results of a survey of civic space in 10 Asian countries, presenters and participants discussed how we can secure democratic and civic space in a time of COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on SDG16+, through sessions moderated by Anselmo Lee, Regional Coordinator, Asia Civil Society Partnership for Sustainable Development (APSD). The presenters and organizers of the 3rd TDF adopted “10 Recommendations for Action“, based on the survey, research and discussions on challenges, threats and oppression to CSOs and civic space as well as opportunities and strategies for international engagement on democracy, human rights and SDGs in Asia.
Proceedings of Tokyo Democracy Forum 2022 – Defending Civic Space in a time of COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on SDG16+
“10 Recommendations for Action” (2022)