Violations of democratic and political rights persist in the Americas: over half the population live in countries with repressive civic space restrictions

Montevideo, 4th December 2019

Findings based on data released today by the CIVICUS Monitor a global research collaboration which rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries.

The CIVICUS Monitor has today released People Power Under Attack 2019, a new report showing that there have been no improvements in civic rights – such as the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly - in the Americas this year. Over half the people in this region are still living in countries with serious restrictions to civic space.

“In a year when thousands of people in the Americas called for change, our research shows that governments have often failed to protect fundamental freedoms that underpin a safe environment for those protesting and expressing dissent. We’re disappointed to see that only one country showed an improvement in the last year.” said Débora Leão, Civic Space Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor.

The report, which is based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration, shows that basic freedoms are backsliding across the globe. In the past year, twice as many people are living in countries where civic freedoms are being violated. Although our data shows that civic space remains open in 11 out of 35 countries in the Americas, 526 million people are still living in places where their basic democratic and political freedoms are frequently violated.

Across the region this year, people have flowed onto the streets to protest against economic austerity and abuse of power. However, peaceful protesters have been met with excessive force. Astonishing crackdowns against protesters in countries where the state has typically imposed few constraints on civic space, such as in Chile and Ecuador, have put into question the extent of states’ commitment to the protection of peaceful assemblies.

In fact, the detention of protesters and journalists is the most common civic space violation recorded in the Americas this year. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that protests were documented in 82 percent of the region’s reports this year – in half these reports demonstrators were detained. The detention of protesters is frequently being used as a tool to silence dissenting voices and to break-up opposition movements. In Cuba, for example, many key protest leaders were detained or threatened before major protests.

The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about the number of protesters in the Americas being slapped with criminal charges. Since April 2018, Nicaragua has continued to use terrorism laws to detain and harass demonstrators, and in February 2019 two protest leaders were sentenced to over 200 years in prison. Far from an isolated case, similar practices have been seen across the region.

The Americas continue to be the deadliest region in the world for human rights defenders: human rights activists were killed in seven countries in the region this year. In all these, indigenous and land rights defenders fighting for their territories paid with their lives. In Honduras, the state looked on while indigenous and land rights defenders were subjected to repeated death threats and harassment, while in Colombia, ethnic communities were displaced and attacked.

The assault on journalists is also of great concern: 30 percent of all Monitor reports from the Americas included attacks against journalists. Outside of conflict zones, Mexico is the most dangerous country for the press: at least ten reporters were killed between January and October 2019. Mexican journalists have been subjected to kidnappings, death threats and have even had their houses burned. The CIVICUS Monitor has also received reports of journalists killed in Brazil, Colombia and Honduras this year.

In the United States, attacks on journalists are the most common trend documented by the Monitor. Reporters have been assaulted by security forces and demonstrators while covering protests, vilified by public figures, physically and verbally attacked and threatened. Foreign journalists have sometimes been barred entry to the US, and those publishing stories relating to immigration have been monitored.

There are bright spots emerging in the Americas: the Dominican Republic moved from the ‘obstructed’ to ‘narrowed’ category. This ratings boost happened after civil society managed to challenge and overturn restrictive laws that related to defamation cases and the length of Presidential terms. Peaceful protests that blocked a proposed constitutional amendment allowing President Danilo Medina to run for a third term also showed that most Dominicans are able to express their dissent on the streets.

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. The Monitor has posted more than 536 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2019. 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.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Débora Leão, Civic Space Researcher for the Americas, CIVICUS: