UNHRC: 244 organisations demand protection of civil society space

UNHRC: 244 organisations demand protection of civil society space - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19, together with the International Service for Human Rights, our Civic Space Initiative* partners, and more than 200 other organisations, have called on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt a resolution on civil society space at its 32nd Session.

The draft resolution (A/HRC/32/L.29), led by Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia, responds to a significant report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights setting out essential ingredients for states to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The resolution, once adopted, will be an essential and timely response from the HRC to respond to the shrinking of civic space in all parts of the world. The resolution emphasises the essential role of civil society in contributing to peace and security, human rights and sustainable development, citing the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Based on states’ existing obligations under international human rights law, the resolution also gives crucial guidance to states on a diverse range of issues, including on civil society participation in decision making processes, access of civil society to resources, and access to information, among many others. It identifies violations of the right to freedom of expression as among the most pressing threats facing civil society organisations today.

The resolution is action oriented, calling on states to make more effective use of the Universal Periodic Review process by seeking more thorough participation from civil society, and to report on steps taken to implement the resolution in one year. It calls upon the High Commissioner to examine the issue of civil society participation, including best practices, across the UN and other international bodies.

However, fifteen amendments have been proposed by the Russian Federation to strip the resolution of its most essential elements, and deprive the resolution of its core purposes. The amendments will be voted on during the consideration of the resolution on 30 June or 1 July. If they are rejected, the Russian Federation may seek to call a vote on the resolution as a whole, breaking what has formerly been a consensus-based initiative at the HRC.

In a joint letter, 244 civil society organisations from around the world call for the support and solidarity of states to cosponsor the draft resolution, reject all amendments, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

*The civic space initiative is a consortium of ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, the European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law, the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law, and the World Movement for Democracy.

Re: Call for your support and solidarity in rejecting amendments to HRC32 draft resolution protecting civil society space (A/HRC/32/L.29)

Open Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council, 29 June 2016

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned 244 civil society organizations, spanning across all regions of the world, call on your delegation to stand in solidarity with civil society by supporting the draft resolution on the protection of civil society space, to be considered for adoption at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (on 30 June or 1 July). We urge you to cosponsor the draft resolution, reject all amendments, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

The draft resolution, presented by a cross-regional group of States comprising of Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia, was developed through broad consultation with States and civil society and in the past was adopted by consensus.

The essential ingredients for States to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society are spelled out in the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report, on which the draft resolution is based. It affirms that:
“If space exists for civil society to engage, there is a greater likelihood that all rights will be better protected. Conversely, the closing of civil society space, and threats and reprisals against civil society activists, are early warning signs of instability. Over time, policies that delegitimize, isolate and repress people calling for different approaches or legitimately claiming their rights can exacerbate frustrations and lead to instability or even conflict.”

The draft resolution welcomes the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizes the key role of civil society in achieving the goals. Once adopted, the resolution will be a substantive contribution to the Council’s work to protect civil society space. In particular, it:

  • Emphasizes the positive contribution of independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society to peace, security, sustainable development and human rights, and highlights good practice in protecting and supporting this role;
  • Provides useful guidance for States to ensure that legal and policy frameworks are enabling for civil society and prevent intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors;
  • Helps States and civil society to identify areas of legal, policy and administrative reform to safeguard the ability of civil society actors to fully exercise the rights to freedoms of expression, opinion, assembly and association, and to participate in democracy and public life, without hindrance. This includes on registration and reporting requirements, access to information, and securing resources for the vital work of civil society;
  • Creates opportunities and incentives for States to voluntarily share and develop their good practices, and to lay the groundwork to benefit from the transformative potential of a vibrant civil society in any healthy, pluralistic and participatory democracy;
  • Mandates OHCHR to study practices and procedures for civil society to contribute to the work of international and regional organisations, and consolidate best practices and challenges in that regard; and
  • Invites United Nations bodies, agencies, funds and programs to themselves contribute to the protection and expansion of space for civil society.

However, fifteen amendments (L. 51 – L. 66) tabled by the Russian Federation seek to remove these essential elements from the draft resolution, and insert language to justify illegitimate restrictions on civil society that would undermine the protections of international human rights law. Many of the amendments challenge previously agreed HRC or General Assembly language.

If adopted, the amendments would undermine international efforts to safeguard space or civil society, including because they would effectively:

  • Reject the expert guidance and practical recommendations made by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on civil society space, including to remove substantive recommendations to states on ensuring: a supportive legal framework for civil society and access to justice; public and political environment for civil society; access to information; public participation of civil society actors, and human rights education (L. 63);
  • Remove or otherwise limit commitments to protect and promote the right to freedom of association, in particular civil society’s right to access resources for its vital work, and to be free of arbitrary registration and reporting requirements that seek to hinder the work and safety of civil society (L. 56, L. 57, L. 61, L. 63);
  • Remove references to the gravity of threats civil society faces, including illegitimate restrictions to their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as reprisals against those seeking to cooperate or cooperating with the United Nations and other international bodies (L.51, L.54);
  • Narrow the understanding of “minority groups”, by seeking to include only a limited and under-inclusive list of protected characteristics to the exclusion of others recognised under international human rights law (L. 59);
  • Remove reference to the term “human rights defenders”, as well as previous work of the HRC on their protection (L.51, L. 53);
  • Remove concerns that restrictions on civil society may limit the United Nations in achieving its purposes and principles (L. 52), and removing the emphasis on the Universal Periodic Review as an important mechanism to create space for civil society (L.62).

Excellency, we therefore ask that your delegation stand in solidarity with civil society by cosponsoring draft resolution L.29 on civil society space, opposing any amendment that would weaken the text, as those tabled appear to do, and voting in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

Yours sincerely,

Abibiman Foundation
Access Now
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Adala Center for Human Rights
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Akahata AC
Albanian Helsinki Committee
Alkarama Foundation
Alliance for Democracy in Laos
Alliance for Good Governance (AGG)
Allied Rainbow Communities International
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Amnesty International
Anuak Justice Council (AJC)
Arab Forum for the rights of people with disability
Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
Association des victimes et parents du 28 Septembre 2009
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
Association for Progressive Communications
Association for Promotion of Sustainable Development, Hisar, India
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
Association of Scientists, Developers and Faculties
Association of Women for Awareness & Motivation (AWAM)
Association of World Citizens
Baha’i International Community
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Bahrain youth society for Human Rights
Boat People SOS
British Humanist Association
Brot für die Welt
Burma Task Force/Justice for All
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
Center for Development of International Law
Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
Center for Inquiry (USA)
Center for International Environmental Law
Center for Reproductive Rights
Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University
Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Género
CEPAZ (Venezuela)
Child Rights Connect
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Coalition de la Societe Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME)
Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
Coalition of African Lesbians
CODDHD (Niger)
COFADEH (Honduras)
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos
Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement – Terre Solidaire
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (South Sudan)
Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
Concertation Nationale de la Societe Civile du Togo (CNSC- TOGO)
Conectas Human Rights
Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC)
Coordination des associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience
CREA (India)
Deepti Bhuban
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Dimension Humaine
Due for youth and women Tainment Forum (Nigeria)
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Emonyo Yefwe International
End Impunity Organization
Equality Myanmar
Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
European Center For Not For Profit Law
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Femmes et Droits Humains
Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA)
Foundation for Media Alternatives
Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines)
Freedom House
Front Line Defenders
Function 8 Ltd
Girls Education Mission International
Global Bersih
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Fund for Women
Global Human Rights Group
Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
Global Initiatives for Human Rights – Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Hawaii Institute for Human Rights
Help & Shelter
Helsinki Citizen«s Assembly, Vanadzor
Hope for Community Development Organization(HCDO)
HRM “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
Human Rights and Legal Aid Network (HRLAN)
Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE)
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
Human Rights Defenders Network
Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
Human Rights Law Centre
Human Rights Watch
Humanitaire Plus
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Hungarian Civil Liberties UNion
IHEU in New York
iilab UG
Indian Social Action Forum – INSAF
Insight Namibia
Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa
Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)
Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
International Alliance Of Women
International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges IAAI
International Center For Not For Profit Law
International Commission of Jurists
International Dalit Solidarity Network
International Federation for East Timor (IFET)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Humanist and Ethical Union
International IDAHO committee
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Platform against Impunity
International Presentation Association
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA)
International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
Iraqi Al-Amal Association
Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
JASS (Just Associates)
JOINT LIGA DE ONGs em Mocambique
Justice and Peace Netherlands
Karapatan Alliance Philippines
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer