Civic Space after COVID

A Global Conversation on Emergency Powers, Fundamental Freedoms, and the Way Forward after the Pandemic

On May 24, 2021, The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency hosted a high-level virtual conversation on emergency measures, fundamental freedoms, and revitalizing civic space in the wake of COVID-19.

The 2-hour interactive session brought together experts from civil society, governments, international organizations, and more to discuss practical ways these sectors and allies can work together to ensure emergency measures are extinguished as soon as possible. Simultaneous interpretation was provided in Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Thank you to our expert panel of speakers and the over 400 participants who joined the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency for our conversation on the future of civic space in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

Event Recordings

Speakers

Samantha Power

Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

Johannes Oljelund

Director-General for International Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Carin Jämtin

Director General, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency

Ilze Brands Kehris

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Nicholas Opiyo

Executive Director, Chapter 4 Uganda

Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu

Executive Director, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Hoshyar Malo

Executive Director, Kurdistan Organization for Human Rights Watch (KOHRW)

Lisa Peterson

Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State

Solomon Ayele Dersso

Chairperson, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Liam Herrick

Executive Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties

Diana Esther Guzmán Rodríguez

Deputy Director, Dejusticia

Douglas Rutzen

President and CEO, ICNL

Agenda

Opening and Welcome
  • Douglas Rutzen, President and CEO, ICNL
  • Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
Framing Remarks
  • Johannes Oljelund, Director-General for International Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden
  • Samantha Power, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Panel I

Civil Society’s Experience of Emergency Measures and Efforts to Ensure Human Rights Compliance

  • Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Hoshyar Malo, Executive Director, Kurdistan Organization for Human Rights Watch (KOHRW)
  • Diana Esther Guzmán Rodríguez, Deputy Director, Dejusticia
  • Liam Herrick, Executive Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties
  • Moderator: Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin
Panel II

How Governments, Donors, and International Mechanisms Can Promote Recission or Improvement of Emergency Powers

  • Carin Jämtin, Director General, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State
  • Solomon Ayele Dersso, Chairperson, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
  • Moderator: Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin
Closing Remarks
  • Nicholas Opiyo, Executive Director, Chapter 4 Uganda
  • Ilze Brands Kehris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Over 170 countries have adopted emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the severity of the pandemic required significant government action, many of these responses have restricted fundamental freedoms and undermined the rule of law. Furthermore, overly broad emergency measures have threatened to undermine democracy and the rule of law itself, expanding and concentrating executive powers at the expense of the rest of the government.

As we look forward to the threat posed by the pandemic subsiding, the fate of these emergency measures remains uncertain. Experts have observed that measures adopted in response to emergencies tend to persist and become permanent. The unprecedented nature and scope of states’ pandemic responses and their far-reaching effects on civil society, democratic governance, and the rule of law increase the risk that this pattern will hold true for COVID-19 emergency measures.

Civil society and its allies in government, the donor community, and international organizations have an important part to play in minimizing this risk. Now is the time to come together and encourage states to extinguish emergency measures that are no longer needed. Where measures are still necessary, there must be regular, independent oversight to ensure those that remain are necessary, proportionate, legitimate, and non-discriminatory. To play this part effectively, civil society and its allies must better understand the threat posed by emergency powers and how they can work together to advance the improvement or recission of emergency powers effectively.

Relevant Resources

ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

Our tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws.

Pandemics and Human Rights

Published in Just Security, this article by ICNL provides guidance on how states can respond to the pandemic in an effective, rights-respecting manner.

Can Civil Society Survive COVID-19?

This essay surveys trends from the COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker and identifies ways OECD Development Assistance Committee members can help civil society overcome COVID-inspired constraints on civic space.

States should not abuse emergency measures to suppress human rights

A UN expert statement on emergency power abuse and COVID-19.

The Human Rights Challenges of States of Emergency

This 2018 UN report examines international law pertaining to states of emergency aimed at countering terrorism and analyzes their impact on human rights.

This event is supported by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.