Report: 5th Tokyo Democracy Forum 2023 – Defending Democracy and Civic Space in Asia (DDCSA)




Aoi Horiuchi

Japan NGO Centre for International Cooperation (JANIC) / THINK Lobby organised the 5th Tokyo Democracy Forum (TDF) – Defending Democracy and Civil Society Spaces in Asia (DDCSA) – online on 6 March 2024.

The TDF featured speakers and discussions on three themes: ‘Civic space and rights holders (climate activists and voters)’, ‘Civic space and responsible business’ and ‘Further opportunities for international outreach in 2024’.

See the entire forum below.

See the executive summary of each report below. The full reports are also available for download.


1.Promoting Ethical Business Behavior: Role of Indian CSOs and National Guidelines on Responsible BusinessVoluntary Action Network India (VANI)

Businesses have always played a great role in the development of the socio-economic dimensions of any society. In India, formulation of policies and guidelines to ensure ethical business have gone through many changes and amendments. Promotion of ethical business behavior in various sectors has gained a notable recognition in India in recent years. Rapid globalization made a road in making the world interconnected, where businesses require perspectives of global understanding.

Information dissemination on the NVGs and NGRBC issued by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, India. How collective efforts of CSOs, Government and the Corporates itself can support each other in implementation and enforcement of these guidelines is briefed.

This article/study explores the crucial role of Corporate Social Responsibility within businesses, emphasizing the need for the contribution to development of society and community at large while maximizing profits.

This secondary research aims to: Assess the role of CSOs in promoting ethical business in the corporate sector, influence policy development, to examine the current state of ethical business behavior in context of the national guidelines, to identify case studies on bad and best practices, formulating recommendations for CSOs, Corporates, Government and relevant stakeholders to strengthen the collaboration between them and working towards a positive and a sustainable future for next generations through commitment and shared goals to ethical principles.

For this report, I would like to thank Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC) for their support and Ms. Subhashini Prabhaker, Programme Associate at VANI, for conceptualizing and documenting this desk research.


2.Community Research and Advocacy for National Action Plan on Business and Human RightsCentre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)

The project was implemented as part of the program activities “Defending Democracy and Civic Space in Asia” implemented by the 6 CSOs based in India, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand with the support of JANIC. The activities in Mongolia was implemented by the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) in Arvaikheer soum, centre of Uvurkhangai province.

The project targeted 20 community leaders as primary beneficiaries, together with 100 respondents that were involved in the survey and interviews, and that got information about the UN Guiding principles and National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. The objectives were the following:

  1. Raise awareness of the local community leaders of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights;
  2. Build capacity of the local community leaders in conducting community lead research on human rights in general and on business and human rights in particular;
  3. Initiate community advocacy for implementation of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

The project consisted on the following activities: organizing a two day training on Business and Human Rights in Arvaikheer soum of Uvurkhangai province; conducting community-led research in Arvaikheer soum of Uvurkhangai province; and produce a research report with its infographics. 

The survey revealed several key findings regarding labor practices and awareness of labor rights among respondents. Firstly, there is a significant lack of awareness about the National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights, with 81% of respondents indicating they had not heard of its approval. Secondly, the survey highlighted issues with labor contracts in the private sector, as 20% of respondents reported working without a contract, and 44% signed contracts without any negotiations. Furthermore, 21% of respondents were unaware of the content of their labor contract. Additionally, 75% of respondents reported working extra hours, but 30% did not receive payment for this additional work. Moreover, 60% of respondents lacked knowledge about where to seek help when their labor rights were violated. Lastly, the survey found that 64% of respondents had not organized themselves to protect their rights as workers. These findings indicate a need for increased awareness and enforcement of labor laws to protect the rights of workers in the private sector. The survey results were used to raise the human right issues in private business during the reporting of the human rights situation of Uvurkhangai province by the province governor on January 25, 2024 to members of the National Committee for promotion of Human Rights. As a result a recommendation by a committee member was given to include a section about the human rights issues in the business sector in the next year report of the human rights situation in Uvurkhangai province.


3. Roles of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Preparing National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights in NepalNGO Federation of Nepal (NFN)


The report provides a comprehensive analysis of Nepal’s National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights, highlighting both its achievements and areas for improvement. It emphasizes the importance of the NAP in promoting responsible business practices and protecting human rights within Nepal’s business landscape. Despite the NAP’s significant progress, including its alignment with international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, several challenges have hindered its effectiveness.

One key challenge has been the limited engagement of stakeholders, particularly Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), in the NAP’s development process. This has led to a lack of diverse perspectives and potentially hindered the plan’s comprehensiveness. Additionally, the absence of policy-oriented research and baseline assessments has undermined the NAP’s ability to accurately identify and address human rights risks and impacts associated with business operations.

To address these challenges, the report recommends enhancing stakeholder engagement throughout the NAP’s implementation process. This includes ensuring the active participation of CSOs, NHRIs, and other relevant stakeholders in decision-making processes. The report also suggests conducting thorough research and assessments to inform the NAP’s development and monitoring progress effectively.

Furthermore, the report highlights the importance of aligning the NAP with international standards and frameworks to enhance its credibility and effectiveness. It underscores the need for transparent and accountable mechanisms to track progress and ensure adherence to human rights principles by all stakeholders, including businesses and government agencies. Through these measures, Nepal can strengthen its commitment to upholding human rights in the business sector, fostering a more just and sustainable economy for all its citizens.


4.The Repressed Nation Awaz CDS-Pakistan / Pakistan Development Alliance (PDA)

Pakistan’s institutional capacity to address civic rights agendas is further undermined by the prevailing political climate, where ideological considerations often take precedence over human rights concerns. Recognizing the gravity of these challenges, the Pakistan Development Alliance (PDA), representing civil society organizations (CSOs) across the country, has taken proactive measures to address these issues head-on. In collaboration with AwazCDS-Pakistan, the PDA conducted an extensive online survey in 2023 to assess the state of civic rights and spaces in Pakistan. With support from JANIC/TDF, the survey garnered participation from 655 CSOs, providing a comprehensive overview of the prevailing dynamics.

This report also highlights that Pakistan needs to cease its undue restrictions on fundamental rights that have the practical impact of closing civic space in contradiction with the obligations arising from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pakistan’s Constitutions and the international conventions and the treaties which the country has signed and ratified.

This report underscores the critical challenges facing civil society and the protection of civic rights and spaces in Pakistan. It shares updated issues and challenges related to shrinking civic spaces, deteriorating human and democratic culture and values in Pakistan. The report also highlights the voices of civil society activists, human rights defenders and concerned citizens of Pakistan regarding the status of civil and political liberties in Pakistan. The report also connects and co-relates local survey findings with those of global research reports and surveys to further strengthen the case. The report also suggests solutions to CSOs to regain their spaces by taking appropriate measures and building capabilities. The report also highlights demands from governments and global institutions/forums on behalf of CSOs in Pakistan on how to strengthen the civil society role by building trust and reducing disconnect. The report also sets the strategic direction for the consideration of national and global CSOs, networks, alliances, national and global funding agencies in their future interventions towards the achievement of a more sustainable and human rights friendly world.

Furthermore, there is a need for greater awareness and education on civic rights, as well as the promotion of a culture of tolerance and inclusivity. By addressing systemic challenges and fostering an enabling environment for civil society, Pakistan can realize its democratic aspirations and uphold fundamental rights for all its citizens.


5.From Bad to Worse: Electoral Integrity in CambodiaAsia Centre


The 2023 general election in Cambodia points to a worsening trend in electoral integrity. Since the first democratic elections in 1993, the integrity index has decreased from 2.99 to 0.55 on a scale ranging from 0 to 4, where 0 indicates a complete absence of fairness and freedom in elections (V-Dem, 2024). 

The continued erosion of electoral integrity over successive elections is attributed to the presence of electoral violence, the shutting down of independent media outlets, increased difficulties for opposition parties to contest elections, and a misalignment between the national legal framework and international election standards. Collectively, these conditions have undermined international standards of free and fair elections, undermining Cambodia’s democracy rankings in global indices.

However, the international community and local actors are also responsible for ensuring election integrity and therefore must also be held accountable for the current state of affairs. Their minimal efforts to address shortcomings in electoral integrity have perpetuated the existing challenges. A combination of diplomatic considerations, including foreign governments’ interests in maintaining positive relations with the Cambodian government, and fears that advocating for free and fair elections

might strain relations and push Cambodia closer to China, along with concerns about potential political and legal repercussions, has contributed to the persistence of these challenges.

Data from the UN, INGOS, CSOs, and local and international news reports, as well as inputs from 5 experts on Cambodian politics, point to five key electoral integrity issues that have bogged Cambodia since 1993. Firstly, while instances of electoral harassment have decreased, incidents during the 2023 elections show the issue persists, threatening electoral integrity. Secondly, independent media face prolonged challenges, leading to eventual shutdowns rather than temporary control during elections. Thirdly, legal and administrative obstacles hinder opposition parties, diminishing their capacity to compete fairly. Fourthly, efforts to undermine opposition have evolved into a sustained threat, reflecting a systemic approach to neutralize their influence. Lastly, international reticence on compromised electoral integrity aims to maintain diplomatic stability, downplaying concerns to avoid tensions with Cambodia.

In 2023, global indices measuring free and fair elections, such as V-Dem, confirmed a significant deterioration in electoral integrity in Cambodia. A combination of the harassment of opposing candidates, the hard shutdown of several independent media outlets, and the use of registration provisions to disqualify the participation of the Candlelight Party has led many to question the legitimacy of elections devoid of genuine competition. The marked hesitation by the international community to call out the lapses of electoral integrity in the run-up to the elections but choosing instead to issue statements after the fact, allowed electoral integrity-harming actions to be taken unchecked in the run-up to the elections. Finally, unlike in previous election cycles, harassment of the political opposition continues beyond the election period through the filing of defamation lawsuits that stand to bankrupt the defendants through hefty liable claims. Collectively, these perpetuate democratic regression in Cambodia.

The report concludes by offering policy recommendations for relevant actors, highlighting the

importance of a multi-stakeholder approach to improve electoral integrity in Cambodia. The UN should increase its efforts so that all relevant actors can start implementing the recommendations made by the international community regarding free and fair elections. Therefore, the international community should maintain and increase, if appropriate, its engagement with local CSOs to document instances of weak electoral integrity and use UN mechanisms to report them. The government should seek more assistance from the UN to discuss how to better implement the recommendations made by the international community. Given the knowledge they have at a grassroots level, local CSOs should continue monitoring cases of weak electoral integrity and cooperate with INGOs to report these instances. Finally, technology companies are also key actors in strengthening electoral integrity and they should not take down online content at the request of the government without strong evidence, and should also publish transparency reports with all requests to remove online content.

While weak electoral integrity has long been a problem in Cambodia, addressing these issues requires a collective effort and commitment from a wide range of actors.


 6.Loss and Damage: Quest for Climate Justice INHURED International

Climate change is the long-term change in global temperatures and weather patterns. Although it is a naturally occurring phenomenon, since the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s, human activities like burning fossil fuel, coal, and gas have exacerbated the current shift in temperatures and weather patterns. This is because these activities generate greenhouse gases, which trap the sun’s heat in the earth‘s atmosphere and ultimately, raise the planet‘s temperature.

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are the highest they have been in 2 million years and the planet has warmed by 1.1°C (2°F) since 1880. Although the rise in temperatures seems marginal, millions of people worldwide are experiencing higher temperatures, rising sea levels, fiercer storms, and unpredictable rainfall, which has had profound real-life consequences on their livelihoods. These impacts will continue to worsen, so, to ensure a safer, more secure future for all, it is essential to rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and make major investments to protect vulnerable communities. Scientists and government reviewers agreed that a 1.5°C increase in temperature would allow us to maintain a livable environment. However, considering current activities, global temperatures are expected to increase by 2.8°C.

Although climate change is a scientific and environmental issue, ‘it has [also] emerged through the economic and political systems that govern the world today’. These systems have been held liable to rectify the consequences of climate change, however, commitments and actions have fallen short. One of the primary issues in addressing climate change is the disparity in countries/communities/individuals who significantly contribute to climate change and those who bear the most burden. Although every nation contributes to global emissions, 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions are produced by 10 countries and the 100 least-emitting countries contribute only 3%. Furthermore, the 10 highest-emitting countries are more capable of dealing with the consequences of climate change, while developing countries are more vulnerable to its effects as they do not have access to as many resources. Thus, climate justice is also a social justice movement which recognizes that the adverse effects of climate change are not felt equitably around the world.

Despite collective efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the speed and scale of climate change impacts have resulted in inevitable L&D. L&D refer to the irreversible economic and non-economic costs of both extreme weather events such as hurricanes, heatwaves, drought and wildfires, and slow onset climate disasters such as sea-level rise and melting glaciers. It‘s about holding the biggest fossil fuel polluters liable for the pain and suffering already caused by the climate crisis, separately and in addition to securing climate finance for mitigation and adaptation to help developing nations prepare for what‘s coming. It has been a key issue at UN climate change negotiations and beyond on how countries should respond to this L&D.

Economic costs include the lives, livelihoods, homes, food systems, and territory irreversibly lost, while the harder-to-quantify non-economic costs refer to the loss of culture, identity, sovereignty, human dignity, biodiversity, and psychological well-being. The most serious L&D are being felt by the poorest countries – by and large, those who‘ve contributed least to global heating. As a result, funding for L&D has become a central tenet in demands for climate justice or, in other words, climate action that addresses the inequities behind the climate crisis. Island nations and other climate-vulnerable countries started raising the issue of L&D more than 30 years ago, but it‘s become an increasingly prominent and contentious issue in the past decade or so as the speed, magnitude, and cost of global heating have become apparent.

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Aoi Horiuchi