OGP Leaders to Consider Restrictions on Civic Space

28 April 2014

The Open Government Partnership Steering Committee May 5 will consider proposed procedures that could lead to the expulsion of member governments whose actions undermine the values and principles of OGP.

The policy is aimed to preserving “civic space” after some member governments were seen as repressing freedom of expression. Such behavior particularly concerned the representatives of civil society organizations who have equal votes with governments on the OGP Steering Committee.

The Criteria and Standards subcommittee has recommended how such complaints can be lodged and what steps the OGP will take in reaction. While suspension or expulsion are possible, the proposed system emphasizes OGP engagement with the criticized government.

This is one of many matters on the SC agenda for a two-day closed meeting in Bali. The agenda and draft recommendations were placed on the OGP website April 28. Other topics include:

–          A four-year strategy (document not yet posted),

–          The budget ($3.4 million in 2014),

–          SC elections (coming soon),

–          Policies on under-performing countries (see previous FreedomInfo.org report),

–          Guidance on what should be in national self-assessment reports, and

–          Integrating the semi-independent civil society coordination tem into the OGP support unit (fairly uncontroversial).

 Civic Space Plan Proposed

The subcommittee recommendation begins by noting that the Open Government Declaration, while non-binding, includes a commitment to ‘protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion.”

A complaint about noncompliance could be brought by Steering Committee members and others, including “a civil society or not-for-profit organization involved in OGP at the national or international level.”

Once registered, the complaint will be reviewed the Criteria and Standards subcommittee, working with the OGP Support Unit, to establish what – if any – action should be taken. The policy provides some standards for the review and the government will be given an opportunity to respond.

The OGP support unit will prepare a short report for the Criteria and Standards subcommittee to consider adopting, all within 20 working days. The subcommittee cites several examples of possible concerns, including “harassment and intimidation of civil society” and “manipulation of the OGP process in terms of civil society participation.”

“Once a complaint is upheld by the Criteria and Standards subcommittee, a short notice will be circulated to the OGP Steering Committee informing the group of the decision,” the subcommittee said. After that, various “stage 1” intervention possibilities are offered, to be carried out by members of the subcommittee, the OGP co-chairs, the OGP Support Unit and other interested Steering Committee members, without the approval of the full Steering Committee. They are:

  1. Engage in or broker diplomatic outreach to the government concerned at the official and/or political level, including from the co-chairs.
  2. Write an official letter to the OGP point of contact in the country informing them that the Criteria and Standards subcommittee adopted the report on the complaint (the point of contact will already have been informed by the Support Unit that a complaint was being investigated).
  3. Offer technical assistance to work on the issues raised in the complaint.
  4. Contact multilateral partners active in the country to help address the issues raised in the complaint.
  5. Invite the OGP point of contact in the country to work with the Criteria and Standards subcommittee in establishing a work plan and a timeline for the country to address the situation, where applicable.

 If stage 1 interventions “have failed to have the desired impact, or the situation does not improve even after the establishment of a work plan and a timeline where applicable, the Criteria and Standards subcommittee can recommend to the full OGP Steering Committee that the following stage 2 interventions take place:

  1. Recommend the OGP co-chairs author a letter warning of imminent suspension.
  2. Recommend that the OGP co-chairs invite the government principal to attend a special session of the Steering Committee to discuss the situation and review participation in OGP.
  3. Recommend that a special session of the Steering Committee deliberate on the need to suspend the government from participating in OGP until the complaint has been addressed.”

 If a government is suspended from OGP it will not be entitled to claim back its dues for the current financial year.

All these steps will be carried out in accordance with OGP’s disclosure policy.

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