Protecting Space for Civil Society in the Spotlight at 25th UN Human Rights Council

12 March 2014

Reflecting growing global recognition of the need to protect the legal and physical space for civil society, this week the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva included two major events dedicated to the topic.

On Tuesday, the HRC held a panel on the promotion and protection of civil society space. The panel, initiated by an HRC resolution adopted in September 2013, reaffirmed the international community's commitment to enhancing space for civil society. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the discussion with a video message emphasizing the crucial role that civil society plays in democratic governance and the importance of protecting that role.

"Civil society actors must be able to do their work freely, independently, safe from fear, retaliation, or intimidation," he asserted. "This requires collective action to denounce reprisals, defend the free voices, and protect those targeted."

The HRC's Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, echoed the Secretary General's message, stating that "a diverse, independent, and vibrant civil society can only flourish within guarantees of a safe and enabling environment." Ms. Pansieri assured the audience that creating space for civil society will continue to be amongst the HRC's most important priorities.

On behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation made an oral statement during the panel, urging the HRC to maintain its focus on this topic.

This panel was followed by a side event today on the same topic. The side event, titled "Civil society space: Emerging threats and actions to restore freedoms," was organized by ICNL, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the World Movement for Democracy, and the Governments of Ireland, Sweden, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia.

Civil society activists from Ukraine, Malaysia, El Salvador, and Libya identified emerging threats to civil society in their countries and reflected on steps that states and the UN must take to protect the space in which civil society operates. Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, provided an international human rights perspective on the issue.

For more information, please visit the links below.

Relevant Links:

Joint CSI Statement: Panel on the Promotion and Protection of Civil Society Space
HRC Video: Panel Discussion on Protection of Civil Society Space
UN Geneva Summary of Panel Discussion
HRC Resolution on Civil Society Space (September 2013)