NEWS 2021.10.13

Proceedings of Tokyo Democracy Forum 2021: Civic Space and COVID-19 in Asian countries

As a follow-up to the Kathmandu Democracy Forum 2020, JANIC organized Tokyo Democracy Forum 2021 on 15 and 16 February 2021 in a virtual formant, inviting 14 CSOs and researchers from across Asia, and discussed how we can secure democratic and civic space in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. “10 Recommendations for Action” was published as an outcome document of the Forum, reflecting recommendations from presenters.


(1)A Summary of Presentations: 


1. Highlights from the Forum:Md Shahid Uz Zaman, Eco Social Development Organization (ESDO), shared the severe impact both in terms of loss of lives and slowdown of economy in Bangladesh. COVID-19 is expected to leave a permanent mark on the trajectory of delivering SDGs both at country and global levels. Before the onset of COVID-19, overall poverty was declining in the country, to approx. 22% but recent post-COVID estimates imply that overall poverty could climb back to earlier eras at 43%. Marginalized and vulnerable populations face bigger challenges to safeguard their lives and livelihood.

2. Ry Sovanna, Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), noted that Covid-19 pandemic caused humerous social, health and economic impact in Cambodia. The pandemic exacerbates the vulnerability of specific group of workers including women, children, indigenous people and migrant workers due to unemployment and underemployment of informal works.

3. Arjun Phillips,Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), explained that marginalized and vulnerable sections of society in India faced a huge issue with regards to accessing services and justice. During the pandemic, democratic struggles for rights and entitlements were taken out by farmers, students, medical officers, civil society organizations.

4. Nurzhamal Iminova, The Civil Society Development Association “ARGO” / SHYRAK Association of Women with Disabilities, introduced that the government of Kazakhstan used COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to restrict civil society activities related to the elections observation, political situation analysis, and distribution of objective and impartial information

5. Hum Bhandari, NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN), shared his opinion that it looked like the Government of Nepal has given up testing, tracing and treatment, as people stay at home quarantine and their health condition is not adequately monitored which has resulted in increase of death during home quarantine. General public do not have trust to the government agencies about their transparency, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness.

6. Zia ur Rehman, Pakistan Development Alliance, expressed his recommendations that developed nations should make sure the equitable availability of COVID-19 vaccines/ doses among all countries regardless of any discrimination on the basis of regions, income and wealth, and governments and global institutions should ensure COVID-19 vaccination free for all without any discrimination and delay.

7. Ted Tan, Think Centre, Singapore, insisted that the Government of Singapore should adopt a people-centred approach to address socio-economic inequality including expanding current institutional arrangements to strengthen social protection to adequately cover more people who are affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout.

8. Isha Miranda, Consortium Humanitarian Agency (CHA), spoke about the dynamics of the pandemic on areas under the SDG 16 and how they have impacted and the new challenges that are posed in implementing SDG 16 in Sri Lanka.

9. Haruna Kuraishi, Japan Youth Platform for Sustainability, provided two comments on how to monitor the COVID-19 situation more effectively and on different types of democracy during the pandemic. She said that first, when researching and analyzing the situation during COVID-19, not only global data and indicators, but also local indicators and voices from civil society should be used. Second, she said Japan chose a major type of democracy, but such type of democracy has the limit of not being able to fully collect the voices of the vulnerable population and minorities. In this context, she added that it is necessary to work and promote the type of consensus democracy during the emergency situation.

10. Akio Takayanagi, JANIC’s policy advisor, said that he has been concerned about many of the fundamental principles of democracy over the years, and they have been broken even in European countries, and we should be care the arguments that people should not talk about individual rights under the crisis. He added that while these arguments are gaining strength because authoritarian governments are better responding to the crisis, we should not violate the democratic principles and keep human rights.

11. On the question what one concrete recommendation for action is, Sinapan Samydorai, Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers, highlighted universal social protection within the countries and beyond and James Gomez, Asia Center, underlined the internet freedom and internet security. Beckie Malay, GCAP, emphasized international solidarity action on fighting with inequality over the world and she added that we needed to maintain social protection for all.

12. Gopal K. Siwakoti, INHURED International, highlighted to identify new matter of elections and Haruna Kuraishi suggested to ensure sufficient transparency and accountability on multilateral and bilateral grant aid during COVID-19. Zia Ur Rehman from Pakistan highlighted to observe digital regional cooperation during the crisis.

13. Ted Tan from Singapore proposed that civil society of each country should try to get together, monitor, and discuss the issues of the COVID-19 impact on the various group and he highlighted the need of more collective efforts.

14. Ry Sovanna from Cambodia emphasized the importance of inclusive partnership. He indicated that civil society organization should have significant roles to work closely with the government and design the policy during the pandemic. He added that civic space have to get the space for engagement.

15. Hum Bhandari from Nepal proposed to learn social security and social safety net and work together better. Dr. Md Shahid Uz Zaman from Bangladesh highlighted the importance of cooperation, communication, and coordination among CSOs.

16. Isha Wedashinghe Miranda from Sri lanka indicated that we had to go into in-depth democracy highlighting the importance of getting international solidarity and Eswati, Migrant Workers in Asia, underlined linking our research to SDGs more systemically.

17. Aoi Horiuchi, JANIC’s advocacy coordinator, gave a recommendation that regional governments body such as ASEAN and cooperation agencies such as JICA or KOICA should secure shrinking civic space.


(2)Video Recordings:


1. Tokyo Democracy Forum 2021 Day 1 – 15 February 2021
 (HAPIC2021 Session 10)


2. Tokyo Democracy Forum 2021 Day 2 – 16 February 2021
 (HAPIC2021 Session 22)


(3)Final Reports and Recommendations for Action:


01. Bangladesh Country Report

02. Cambodia Country Report

03. India Country Report

04. Japan Country Report

05. Kazakhstan Country Report

06. Nepal Country Report

07. Pakistan Country Report

08. Singapore Country Report

09. Sri Lanka Country Report

10. Electoral Democracy and COVID-19 Pandemic in Asia

11. Inequalities

12. Migrant Workers in ASEAN

13. Media Freedoms in South East Asia

14. Migrant Workers in Asia

15. Recommendations for Action


Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC)