Bright Spots

During 2023, the CIVICUS Monitor also documented several instances where civic space is opening up and states are making progress in improving their respect for civic freedoms. Civil society victories show civil society action continues to be a powerful and effective means of defending rights and advocating for their realisation. These bright spots are not confined to countries with open civic space or those experiencing upgrades. Alongside these positive developments, there were cases where victories served as corrective measures for past injustices against civil society, revealing a complex landscape of both progress and challenges.

Civil Society victories

Civil society organisations (CSOs) continue to work even in the most challenging circumstances, pushing back and scoring some victories as a result of sustained advocacy. Despite adverse civic space conditions, some gains were made through civil society efforts such as legal protection for HRDs, lifting of media bans and outlawing of hate speech.

One clear example in Tajikistan was the adoption of the National Human Rights Strategy and its first action plan on 5 August 2023. Despite the overall deteriorating human rights situation in Tajikistan, the government’s decision to adopt this strategy indicated a recognition that there are significant human rights challenges and a willingness to take steps to address them. The groundwork for this strategy was laid in 2017, and the process involved close collaboration between the governmental working group and CSOs. Many of the recommendations put forward by CSOs during the development process were incorporated into the final document.

Another positive development was the approval of the Platform for Dialogue and Civic Participation in the Decision-making Process of the Parliament in Moldova. This initiative aims to enhance civil society involvement in decision-making by creating a permanent parliamentary platform for dialogue with civil society and to facilitate its participation in policy-making, following a participatory process including public debate.

During 2023 Costa Rica embarked on a journey to combat hate speech and discrimination. The announcement of a National Strategy against Hate Speech and Discrimination, in partnership with the United Nations (UN), demonstrated a comprehensive effort involving diverse stakeholders. This will be Latin America’s first-ever anti-hate strategy. In the DRC, the passing of the Law on the Protection and Responsibility of Human Rights Defenders marked a historic step in safeguarding those at the forefront of human rights advocacy. This victory, a culmination of efforts dating back to 2010, showed the resilience of civil society in the face of formidable challenges.

In a positive step for press freedom in Fiji, parliament voted to repeal a restrictive media law that gave wide powers of investigation over journalists and media outlets. In another win for freedom of expression, President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia assented to the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 25 of 2022 in December 2022, repealing section 69 of the Code that criminalised defamation of the president. In May 2023, the Federal Court in Abuja, Nigeria barred the national broadcasting regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, from imposing fines on broadcast stations.

In the early days of 2023, President Samia Suluhu of Tanzania, in a gathering with political party leaders, revoked a prohibition on political rallies that had been in place for six years. During the meeting, President Suluhu emphasised the importance of creating a conducive atmosphere for opposition critique of the government. Although Tanzania’s civic space continues to be repressed, this move was part of a series of positive developments in fostering a more enabling civic space since President Suluhu assumed power. She has also urged the lifting of media bans imposed by former president John Magufuli and committed to working with the media to enhance press freedom. Suluhu has also engaged with exiled opposition leaders who fled Tanzania due to threats on their lives and assured them it would be safe to return.

Persistent civil society efforts for climate justice in Albania brought significant results. The abandonment of plans for hydroelectric power plants marked a landmark victory, a culmination of years of environmental protests against the proposed plants and infrastructure projects. In Papua New Guinea, a court ruling established that a mining company seeking approval for a copper and gold mine must secure prior consent from the affected communities, offering a noteworthy development in pushing for responsible business practices by extractive industries.

There were also some bright spots on LGBTQI+ rights. Following a 10-year battle by activists and human rights groups, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Kenya confirmed the decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal to permit the registration of the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) as a non-governmental organisation (NGO), arguing it was unconstitutional and discriminatory to deny registration on the basis of the sexual orientation of the applicants. In Nepal, the Supreme Court instructed the government to recognise the same-sex foreign spouses of Nepali citizens.

Signs of progress

During 2023 efforts were also made to rectify past injustices and hold perpetrators accountable for their violations. These marginal improvements in the context of repression are some bright spots that should be recognised.

In March 2023, a significant development came in Chad as 64 people, previously sentenced for their involvement in demonstrations against the extension of military rule, known as the ‘Black Thursday’ protests, were granted release from prison after receiving a presidential pardon. The following month a further 259 protesters were released. In Burundi, the authorities acquitted and subsequently released five HRDs involved in the Association of Women Jurists in Burundi and the Association for Peace and Promotion of Human Rights.


In Rwanda, March 2023 saw the release of a prominent government critic. The authorities commuted his 25-year sentence on terrorism charges, signalling a hopeful development in the country’s repressive legal landscape. In the Philippines, the courts acquitted 10 HRDs who had faced over two years in jail on perjury charges.

When it comes to accountability for past abuses, in the Dominican Republic, two law enforcement officers were sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for abusing their authority in the arbitrary arrest and assault of a journalist in September 2022. In another case, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the High Court directed three detectives and the Attorney General to compensate a prison officer for wrongful arrest and imprisonment in May 2020. The officer, an opposition activist, filed a lawsuit asserting unjust detention for approximately 32 hours without criminal charges, following an unauthorised attempt to search his home linked to a social media post. In Thailand, the Civil Court ordered the police to pay damages to two reporters shot with rubber bullets while covering a protest in July 2021.

Despite challenging circumstances, the sustained efforts of rights advocates demonstrate the crucial role of civil society in serving as a check on excessive government control and a counter to repression.