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Civil society matters

In a speech in New York, US President Barack Obama forthrightly called for civil society around the world to be protected and supported so that it can do the important job of holding those in power to account.

Strong civil societies help uphold universal human rights. They promote good governance by making governments more effective and holding leaders like me to account. And they’re critical to economic development, because in our global economy, trade and investment flows to countries that give citizens the freedom to create and develop new ideas and that are protected by rule of law.”

– Barack Obama, President, United States

This comes at a critical time. Civil society is under attack around the world.

In the past two years staff in our chapters in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East have come under attack in the form of murder, imprisonment, death threats, physical beatings, public humiliation and other acts taken to stop those who fight against the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery.

Transparency International has called on governments in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Hungary, the Maldives, Montenegro, Russia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Venezuela to support non-governmental organisations so they can carry out their work free from fear and harassment.

Too many governments are attempting to sideline and persecute civil society organisations by legislating against them, imprisoning their leaders or squeezing their finances. Recently The Economist chronicled the rising tide of anti-civil society legislation across the world.

This reflects a world where autocracy is displacing democracy and where the dissenting voices of the people are being silenced.

It is precisely because citizens and civil society can be so powerful – their ability to harness technology and connect and mobilize at this (is) moment so unprecedented – that more and more governments are doing everything in their power to silence them.”

– Barack Obama, President, United States

Civil society fights back

By exposing corruption and calling for change, our chapters show where governments are failing to protect their people. When people are angry they now take to the street demanding change which is why leaders often want to silence protests before they start.

In Russia, for example, President Putin has pursued a policy of labelling NGOs that receive money from foreign governments as spies. It has introduced laws that stigmatise groups that work on everything from poverty alleviation to anti-corruption forcing some to stop working altogether.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban boasted that he was establishing an illiberal state. And he is.

The government is targeting 58 Hungarian non-governmental organisations, including Transparency International Hungary, because they received funds from the Norwegian government for pursuing a liberal agenda.

The government labels and thus discredits a number of independent NGOs blaming them with bias and serving foreign interests. This crackdown is an unfortunate proof of Hungary’s further ‘Putinisation’.”

– Jozsef Peter Martin, Executive Director, Transparency International Hungary

Transparency International chapters in ten countries recently joined more than 987 other civil society organisations in 32 countries calling on the Hungarian government to stop its intimidation of civil society.

Unmask the Corrupt campaign banner

UNMASK THE CORRUPT Transparency International has launched a campaign to Unmask the Corrupt and push the Group of 20 leading economies when they meet in November to stop secret company ownership to prevent people from hiding illicit gains in places that allow secret companies. Sign up here for our G20 Thunderclap at to make this happen now.


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