(Global Americans) Given the high expectations for the November G20 Summit in Argentina, we should ask whether the intergovernmental forum can contribute to improving the wellbeing of people around the world, as has been the proposed purpose of the summit for almost two decades.
Initially, the G20 emerged to address global economic and financial issues, but as it incorporates new issues into its agenda—this year’s agenda is dedicated to reviewing issues such as the future of work in the age of automation, development of infrastructure, and securing a sustainable food future—the annual confab of economic powerhouses cannot ignore that in several member countries, authoritarianism prevents the exercise of internal political debate.
In turn, a new wave of authoritarian leaders around the world, including in Latin America, are limiting local civil society organizations by restricting freedoms of association, expression and assembly.
However, despite being one of the many areas that now make up the G20—Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) convene as part of the C20—this central issue has not been considered when analyzing fundamental issues to progress towards development and people’s well-being, including anti-corruption efforts, climate change and its consequences, education, gender equality, infrastructure and investment, and the adoption of technology and automation.
The relationship and importance of CSOs to democracy and to economic growth (and therefore to the G20) is articulated most clearly in the Universal Declaration on Democracy, adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on September 15, 1997 in Cairo, Egypt.
The adoption of this declaration led the UN to name September 15 as the International Day of Democracy. But beyond celebrating a world anniversary, the most significant achievement of the 27 articles that make up the declaration is the recognition of democracy as a condition for achieving peace and economic, social, and cultural development.
The declaration is also one of the first international instruments to recognize non-governmental organizations as actors that work in favor of democracy and human rights. More than 20 years after its creation, today more than ever, the work of these organizations is essential to guarantee “solidarity to all victims of human rights violations in undemocratic regimes.”
However, in the package of recommendations issued by the C20 following their meetings in Buenos Aires in this month, the word “democracy” only appears once, in the section on “Taxes and Inequality.” It’s worrisome that the CSOs participating in the C20 in Buenos Aires themselves failed to put a greater emphasis on democracy as a response to the various issues to which the summit is dedicated, especially if the central objective of the annual summit is to ensure the welfare of all people.
It’s too bad that the C20 failed to raise its collective voice to demand respect for the freedom of association, expression, and assembly in several of the countries that make up the G20, including Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Turkey, all of which strictly limit the existence of independent CSOs.
At a time when democracy is regressing globally, it’s crucial for civil society to step up and affirm international commitment to democracy and solidarity with victims of authoritarianism. This message would have been especially well received in Argentina, which is still healing from its brush with dictatorship. If civil society continues to fail to do so, the G20 can hardly make a difference in its original goal: improving the welfare of the most vulnerable people around the world.
Victoria Gaytan is Program Manager at Global Americans.
Gabriel C. Salvia is the Director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).