HRC38: Oral statement to General Debate on Item 3


The following joint oral statement as part of the Civic Space Initiative responds to the High Commissioner’s report on civil society engagement in international and regional organisations, and calls for improved participation of and engagement with civil society by IGOs.

Mr. President,

ARTICLE 19, on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative,[1] welcomes the High Commissioner’s report on civil society engagement in international and regional organisations.

At a time when space for civil society to meaningfully participate in public affairs at the national level is under increasing strain, engagement with multilateral bodies takes on a new significance.

We agree with the High Commissioner that the effectiveness of IGOs is “inexorably linked” to civil society participation, and fully endorse the comprehensive recommendations of the report. This is not only for the benefit of civil society – but for the public at large and even for States.

Being transparent to and engaging with civil society allows for more effective responses to security threats, development challenges, environmental disasters and health emergencies, and ultimately helps prevent violence that may lead to conflict.

Yet civil society participation is more than a sensible policy choice – it is a right that IGOs and States bear the duty of protecting. It is therefore regrettable that so many IGOs, including many parts of the UN, remain opaque and inaccessible, without clear policies in place to ensure that the voices of civil society are heard and acted upon.

The ECOSOC NGO Committee is not fit for purpose – it acts in a discriminatory and unaccountable manner to block pluralism and diversity in civil society representation. All States must prioritise its reform.

We underscore that transparency and access to information provide the bedrock for effective civil society participation, and therefore lament that the default for so many IGOs is secrecy, with few proactively publishing public interest information, and even fewer having “disclosure by default” RTI policies in effect. Channels to participate are often blocked – meetings are not accessible and opportunities are not afforded to meaningfully affect decision-making processes.

Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive audit of each IGO to assess its compliance, on a human rights basis, with this report’s recommendations, and set out action plans for swift reforms. We urge States at this Council to prioritise this, and as the Civic Space Initiative we stand ready to assist.

Thank you.

[1] The Civic Space Initiative is a consortium comprising ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, the European Not-for-profit Law Centre, the International Not-for-profit Law Centre, and the World Movement for Democracies.