Albania, Chile, China, Ireland, Japan, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Tunisia
Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa

Human Rights Council: Speak out strongly for civil society protection

Members of the UN's top human rights body should support the positive contribution of civil society to the protection of human rights, and resist attempts to undermine a resolution intended to respond to the global crackdown on civil society, a group of more than 240 civil society groups said today.

Update (1 July 2016): The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to issue a clear policy blueprint for all countries around the world to follow. Details here.

(Geneva) – Members of the UN’s top human rights body should support the positive contribution of civil society to the protection of human rights, and resist attempts to undermine a resolution intended to respond to the global crackdown on civil society, a group of more than 240 civil society groups said today.

In an open letter addressed to member States of the Human Rights Council, the organisations spanning across all regions of the world called on delegations to support the draft resolution on the protection of civil society space, to be considered for adoption at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council later this week.

The resolution, proposed by 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. It is based on the UN High Commissioner’s report on civil society space, and highlights the important role civil society actors play in contributing to peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. It also includes a number of positive measures on promoting and protecting civic space and requests OHCHR to develop a report on the participation of civil society across the UN and regional and international organisations.

Despite the important normative standards set out in the resolution the Russian Federation has presented adverse amendments seeking to undermine the core international human rights principles articulated in the resolution [UPDATE 1 July: China, Cuba and South Africa formally joined the Russian-led amendments] . The joint civil society letter calls on States to reject the amendments, and adopt the resolution as presented.

In March 2016, the Human Rights Council rejected a similar series of amendments presented by the Russian Federation and other States, at the time seeking to undermine a resolution protecting human rights defenders who work on economic, social and cultural rights. During the current session of the Council, Russia, Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC except Albania), China and others have also presented a large number of amendments on the resolutions on sexual orientation and gender identity, on violence against women and the protection of human rights on the Internet.

‘The tactic to present a large number of formal amendments clearly seeks to problematise issues, such as the protection of civil society space, and aims at crippling the Council’s role in speaking out against human rights violations, and providing policy guidance to States to correct them’, said Michael Ineichen, ISHR’s Director of Human Rights Council Advocacy.

‘And the substance of the amendments – including in the areas of registration of NGOs, access of civil society to funding, and protecting against reprisals – would serve to justify and perpetuate human rights violations in many of the States proposing them’, Mr Ineichen said.

Download the open letter by 246 NGOs.


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,

  1. Abibiman Foundation
  2. Access Now
  3. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
  4. Adala Center for Human Rights
  5. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  6. Akahata AC
  7. Albanian Helsinki Committee
  8. Alkarama Foundation
  9. Alliance for Democracy in Laos
  10. Alliance for Good Governance (AGG)
  11. Allied Rainbow Communities International
  12. Alternatives
  13. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  14. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  15. Amnesty International
  16. Anuak Justice Council (AJC)
  17. Arab Forum for the rights of people with disability
  18. ARTICLE 19
  19. Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
  20. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  21. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  22. Association des victimes et parents du 28 Septembre 2009
  23. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  24. Association for Progressive Communications
  25. Association for Promotion of Sustainable Development, Hisar, India
  26. Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
  27. Association of Scientists, Developers and Faculties
  28. Association of Women for Awareness & Motivation (AWAM)
  29. Association of World Citizens
  30. Baha’i International Community
  31. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  32. Bahrain youth society for Human Rights
  33. Boat People SOS
  34. Both ENDS
  35. British Humanist Association
  36. Brot für die Welt
  37. Burma Task Force/Justice for All
  38. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
  39. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  40. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
  41. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  42. Center for Development of International Law
  43. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
  44. Center for Inquiry (USA)
  45. Center for International Environmental Law
  46. Center for Reproductive Rights
  47. Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University
  48. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
  49. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan
  50. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
  51. Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Género
  52. CEPAZ (Venezuela)
  53. Child Rights Connect
  54. Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
  55. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  56. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE)
  57. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  58. Coalition de la Societe Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME)
  59. Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
  60. Coalition of African Lesbians
  61. CODDHD (Niger)
  62. COFADEH (Honduras)
  64. Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos
  65. Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement – Terre Solidaire
  66. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (South Sudan)
  67. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
  68. Concertation Nationale de la Societe Civile du Togo (CNSC- TOGO)
  69. Conectas Human Rights
  70. Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC)
  71. Coordination des associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience
  72. CREA (India)
  73. Deepti Bhuban
  74. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  75. Dimension Humaine
  76. Due for youth and women Tainment Forum (Nigeria)
  77. East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
  78. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  79. Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
  80. Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
  81. Emonyo Yefwe International
  82. End Impunity Organization
  83. Equality Myanmar
  84. Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP)
  85. European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  86. European Center For Not For Profit Law
  87. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
  88. Federation of Women and Family Planning, Poland
  89. Femmes et Droits Humains
  90. Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA)
  91. Foundation for Media Alternatives
  92. Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines)
  93. Freedom House
  94. Front Line Defenders
  95. Function 8 Ltd
  96. Geneva Institute for Human Rights
  97. Girls Education Mission International
  98. Global Bersih
  99. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  100. Global Fund for Women
  101. Global Human Rights Group
  102. Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
  103. Global Initiatives for Human Rights – Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights
  104. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  105. Hawaii Institute for Human Rights
  106. Help & Shelter
  107. Helsinki Citizen«s Assembly, Vanadzor
  108. Hope for Community Development Organization(HCDO)
  109. HRM “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
  110. Human Rights and Legal Aid Network (HRLAN)
  111. Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE)
  112. Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
  113. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
  114. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
  115. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  116. Human Rights Law Centre
  117. Human Rights Watch
  118. Humanitaire Plus
  119. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
  121. Hungarian Civil Liberties UNion
  122. Hurisa
  123. IFEX
  124. IHEU in New York
  125. iilab UG
  126. Indian Social Action Forum – INSAF
  127. Insight Namibia
  128. Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa
  129. Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)
  130. Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
  131. International Alliance Of Women
  132. International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges IAAI
  133. International Center For Not For Profit Law
  134. International Commission of Jurists
  135. International Dalit Solidarity Network
  136. International Federation for East Timor (IFET)
  137. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  138. International Humanist and Ethical Union
  139. International IDAHO committee
  140. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  141. International Platform against Impunity
  142. International Presentation Association
  143. International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
  144. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  145. International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA)
  146. International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
  147. Iraqi Al-Amal Association
  148. Irish Council for Civil Liberties
  149. Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
  150. JASS (Just Associates)
  151. JOINT LIGA DE ONGs em Mocambique
  152. Jonction
  153. Justice and Peace Netherlands
  154. Karapatan Alliance Philippines
  155. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
  156. Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
  157. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
  158. Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU) Malaysia
  159. Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
  160. Korean House for International Solidarity
  161. Kuwait Watch
  162. Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
  163. Labour, Health and Human Rights Development Centre
  164. Lawyers Rights Watch C anada
  165. Legal and Human Rights Centre
  166. Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs, Slovenia
  167. LGBT Human Rights NASH MIR Center
  168. LIDEJEL
  169. Loretto Community
  170. Lutheran World Federation
  171. Mariakani Magnet Theater
  172. Martin Ennals Foundation
  173. Mauritius Council of Social Services
  174. Men against Violence and Abuse Alliance
  175. MINBYUN – Lawyers for a Democratic Society – South Korea
  176. Minority Rights Group
  177. Mityana Rural Sustainable Farmers Organisation
  178. Mongolian Gender Equality Center
  179. Mouvement pour les Libertes Individuelles
  180. Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri )
  181. Nagorik Uddyog
  182. National Center For Advocacy Studies
  183. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders -Burundi
  184. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya
  185. National Human Rights Monitors Organization (NHRMO)
  186. New Future Foundation
  187. New Woman Foundation
  188. NGO Federation of Nepal
  189. Niwaafa (Nigerian women agro allied farmers association)
  190. Observatorio de derechos humanos de la Universidad de Los Andes
  191. ONG Ezaka ho Fampandrosoana any Ambanivohitra, ONG EFA, Madagascar
  192. P24 Platform for Independent Journalism
  193. Pacific Womens Indigenous Networks
  194. Pacificwin-SamoaNZ
  195. Pacificwin-Youth
  196. Palestinian Consultative Staff for Developing NGOs
  197. Pan Africa ILGA
  198. Partnership for Justice
  199. Peace Brigades International
  200. People in Need (PIN)
  201. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
  202. Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business
  203. Privacy International
  204. Public Association “Dignity”
  205. Public Sphere Project
  206. Public Verdict Foundation
  207. Pusat KOMAS
  208. Radio Souriat
  209. Renewable Freedom Foundation
  211. Reseau de Defenseurs des Droits Humains de l’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
  212. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  213. Rural Reconstruction Nepal
  214. Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)
  215. Sexual Rights Initiative
  216. Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
  217. Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM), Malaysia
  218. Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia
  219. Stichting Global Alliance for LGBT Education (GALE)
  220. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  221. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA)
  222. Supolnasc Centre
  223. Tenaganita
  224. The Norwegian Human Rights Fund
  225. Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
  226. Togolese Coalition for Human Defender’s Right
  227. Transformation Resource Centre
  228. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos -Guatemala
  229. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social
  230. United Federation for peacekeeping &Sustainable Development
  231. United Religions Initiative
  232. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  233. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
  234. VOICE
  235. We women Lanka
  236. Women Peace Network-Arakan
  237. Women Thrive Worldwide
  238. World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy
  239. World Movement for Democracy
  240. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  241. World Uyghur Congress
  242. Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms
  243. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)
  244. Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
  245. Zimbabwe United Nations Association
  246. Zo Indigenous Forum




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