At a strategic consultation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the National Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders adopted its 2024 Action Plan to enhance support for defenders amid shrinking civic space and heightened State focus on terrorism.
(Geneva) – The world’s top human rights body has condemned the global crackdown on civil society and called on all governments to protect and support the work of non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders.
In a resolution adopted today, entitled ‘Civil society space’ (A/HRC/RES/24/21), the UN Human Rights Council says it is ‘deeply concerned’ at the use and misuse of laws on NGO registration and funding, and even, in some instances, those on ‘national security and counter-terrorism’ to ‘hinder the work and endanger the safety of civil society’.
‘Civil society has a critical role to play in promoting human rights, the rule of law and development,’ said Michael Ineichen of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).
‘Despite this, many governments in all regions of the world are increasingly imposing unnecessary and illegitimate restrictions on the work of civil society associations and non-governmental organisations.’
According to US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, in the last five years alone more than 40 countries have passed ‘restrictive laws trying to shrink the space’ for civil society.
The Council’s resolution was adopted in Geneva as the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, expressed similar concerns at a high-level meeting in New York.
‘We are seeing a rise in laws that restrict the activities of human rights defenders,’ said Mr Ki-moon. ‘We are seeing new ways to impede their work – through over-reaching anti-terrorism and national security legislation; measures relating to public morals, or defamation; laws requiring registration and funding of associations; and new rules regulating Internet access.’
Welcoming the resolution, ISHR’s Michael Ineichen said, ‘ISHR strongly supports the Human Rights Council’s timely and important resolution condemning the global crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders.
‘International law requires governments to support and enable the work of NGOs and human rights defenders. Mature governments recognise that such work contributes to peace, good governance and economic prosperity,’ he said.
In addition to calling on governments to ‘create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity’, the resolution also calls on the United Nations itself to treat the creation and protection of civil society space as a global priority.
The resolution was developed and led by a group of countries including Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia. It was strongly supported by others, including Brazil, Costa Rica, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The final resolution was passed by consensus despite vocal opposition by States that are known for their repressive policies towards civil society and human rights defenders, including Pakistan, Cuba, Ethiopia and Venezuela.
Brazil showed principled support for civil society, voting against all of the hostile amendments, and speaking in favour of the resolution, while several States including India spoke against the resolution.
‘It is very pleasing that an emerging power such as Brazil showed strong support for the resolution, demonstrating the State’s potential to be a positive force for human rights at the international level. At the same time, it is deeply regrettable that India and Indonesia joined with States known to be hostile to civil society and human rights defenders,’ Mr Ineichen said.
ISHR and 90+ civil society organisations call on European States to revisit Palestinian/Israeli NGO funding cuts, stressing vital human rights roles, policy alignment needs, and debunking baseless terror claims.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights concluded its 77th Ordinary Session held in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania from 20 October to 9 November 2023. During the session, the Commission renewed its Bureau. It received solemn declarations from elected and re-elected members and launched several documents and newsletters, among others.