U.S. President Barack Obama has praised the role of ordinary citizens, saying that many times they have a more lasting impact on their community than their presidents and prime ministers.
Obama, who attended the annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 23, said when people are free to speak their mind and hold leaders accountable, their governments work better and are more responsive.
He praised groups that work to promote the rights of women, minorities, laborers, gays and lesbians, and said the ability of civil society to use new technologies and mobilize has become "unprecedented."
But Obama cautioned that more and more governments "are doing everything in their power to silence" citizens and civil society.
The U.S. president said the world is witnessing "relentless crackdowns" on civili society activists "from Russia to Venezuela."
He singled out Azerbaijan and Hungary for implementing laws which "make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate."
Obama paid tribute to activists such as murdered Russian journalist Natalia Estemirova, Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, and ethnic Uyghur lawyer Ilham Tohti.
With additional reporting by AP