The State of Civic Peacebuilding in South and Southeast Asia, 2023
This paper details the opportunities and challenges facing civil society actors working in peacebuilding or peace activism in South and Southeast Asia. Shrinking civic space has become a global phenomenon, and while this trend towards greater authoritarianism and populist politics has heavily infringed on civil society-led peacebuilding across the region, national-level impacts are mixed. Laws, regulations, and attitudes have combined to constrict the programming of and funding opportunities for civic actors in Asia and the Pacific—a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and by legislation that restricted public assembly and free speech. At the same time, both traditional nongovernment organizations and less traditional peacebuilders—such as social movements, youth organizations, and academics—have demonstrated ingenuity and resilience in negotiating and reconfiguring the parameters placed on civic space. Though the overall trend in many countries may be democratic backsliding, civil society peace actors have navigated these challenges through new and old tools and tactics such as social media, digital mediation, and civil disobedience. These tools have also led to new civic solidarities prying open spaces through cooperation and coordination across the region. Evidence for this study is drawn from 25 interviews with a diverse group of civil society peace actors from countries in South and Southeast Asia, as well as an extensive review of relevant literature and media. The evolving dynamics described in this discussion paper hold important implications for peacebuilding policy and practice across the region.