Recent years have been marked by a global trend of shrinking civic space. In response, the United States Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission organized a hearing on threats to civil society around the world. Co-Chairs Rep. James P. McGovern and Rep. Randy Hultgren invited ICNL President and CEO Doug Rutzen to testify as a leading expert on civil society. Rutzen testified with Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and with colleagues from Freedom House, Amnesty International USA, and the United States Institute of Peace.
The Panel called attention to the severity of restrictions on civic space. Rutzen made several policy suggestions to the Commission, emphasizing a response that includes deep engagement with local expertise. The U.S. Congress can play a pivotal role in fighting against the restrictions on civil society worldwide. Rutzen recommended that Congress work to preserve the budgets of USAID and the State Department, support civil society in legislation, engage in fact-finding and dialogue with civil society representatives, work multilaterally on civic space issues, and lead by example, undertaking action to safeguard civic freedom in the United States.