244 NGOs urge support for UN resolution on civil society

Issue: UN Mechanisms
Document Type: Open Letter
Date: 2016

The ICJ has joined a group of 244 civil society organizations, spanning across all regions of the world, to call on States at the UN Human Rights Council to cosponsor the resolution on civil society space.

The groups also call to vote against amendments proposed by the Russian Federation that would weaken it, and to vote in favour of the resolution itself.

The vote is expected to take place later this week.

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 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.

However, fifteen amendments 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;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Remove reference to the term “human rights defenders”, as well as previous work of the HRC on their protection;
  • Remove concerns that restrictions on civil society may limit the United Nations in achieving its purposes and principles, and removing the emphasis on the Universal Periodic Review as an important mechanism to create space for civil society.

The full letter and list of organizations can be downloaded in PDF format here: HRC32-OpenLetter-CivilSocietySpace-2016-EN

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