The CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries, has downgraded the United States’ rating from “Narrowed” to “Obstructed.” The rating change coincides with the release of CIVICUS’s 2020 report, People Power under Attack.
The new “Obstructed” rating for civic space means that people in the US are facing substantial restrictions when exercising democratic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about restrictive laws and excessive use of force which affect the right to protest, and the increasingly hostile environment for the press.
In the past year, millions of people joined peaceful protests for racial justice and to denounce police brutality perpetrated with impunity. The increasing militarization of the law enforcement response to people expressing these legitimate grievances has resulted in excessive force, escalating violence and minimal accountability. Within the first month of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, over 10,000 protesters were detained. In the following months, civil society groups documented consistent and widespread violations against protesters, including numerous cases of law enforcement unleashing tear gas, rubber bullets and impact rounds indiscriminately against them. On several occasions journalists, legal observers and medics were targeted.
In its People Power report, CIVICUS notes, “Protesters made their voices heard even when met with repression, forcing leaders to face public indignation and pushing core issues to the centre of political debate. Black Lives Matter protesters in the USA advanced state and local police reform policies, drove several authorities to re-evaluate their standards on the use of force in protests and heightened pressure for justice in cases of killings of Black and Brown people by law enforcement officers. They also reignited a global movement for racial justice and inspired protesters across the continent and further afield.”
In announcing the new rating, CIVICUS specifically highlighted the attacks on journalists – the violation most frequently documented by the CIVICUS Monitor in the US over the past year. On several occasions, reporters were assaulted when attempting to conduct interviews, and many were detained or injured when covering protests. “Far from being isolated cases, these incidents have taken place in an environment where independent media has been consistently vilified and delegitimised by public authorities,” CIVICUS stated. Bureaucratic restrictions were also adopted in a number of jurisdictions to obstruct journalistic work.
Significant declines in the respect for fundamental freedoms were also documented in Iraq, Niger, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guinea, Philippines and Slovenia. DRC and Sudan were upgraded.
Over 20 organizations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. Civic space in 196 countries is categorized as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology which combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.