Eminent Persons Group endorses Defending Civil Society report

Published: January 12, 2009

Upon the first anniversary of the publication of its Defending Civil Society report, ICNL and the World Movement for Democracy are pleased to announce that the project’s Eminent Persons Group, consisting of individuals who are recognized and respected by civil society around the world, has issued a letter endorsing the report and its findings and urging governments around the world, the international community, and citizens worldwide to join them.

The Eminent Persons Group includes:

  • Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada;
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil;
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama;
  • Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic;
  • Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia;
  • Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egyptian scholar and activist; and
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The report, co-authored by the World Movement for Democracy secretariat and ICNL, was published in February 2008 in all UN languages and addresses the expanding and increasingly restrictive environments in which civil society groups carry out their work to foster and defend democracy. It provides illustrative examples of the ways in which governments are restricting civil society work, particularly that of democracy and human rights NGOs, and articulates the longstanding, widely-accepted principles for protecting civil society and for informing proper government-civil society relations (the right to associate, to operate an NGO, to free expression and communication, to receive financial assistance both domestically and from abroad, and the state’s duty to protect the rights of civil society).

The report has been the subject of intense discussion in numerous fora, including meetings of the World Forum for Democratization in Asia, the African Democracy Forum, the Community of Democracies (in Bamako, Mali), the European Parliament, extensively at the World Movement’s Fifth Assembly in Kyiv, Ukraine, in April 2008, and most recently at the NGO Forum for the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights where it was endorsed by several commissioners and reported back to the full Commission.

Since its publication, the report has thus become an additional tool for democracy and human rights groups and practitioners tohelp secure space for citizens’ to address political and social issues. For example:

  • Civil society organizations in Jordan have used copies of the report to facilitate discussions on responding to proposed NGO laws;
  • NGOs in Zimbabwe have used the report as a template to conduct their own analyses of Zimbabwe’s severely restrictive legal framework for civil society;
  • A think tank in Ukraine has initiated regional discussions among civil society groups from Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine to develop criteria for evaluating the state of democracy and, more particularly, of civil society space, in those countries;
  • Civil society groups in Sierra Leone have used the report to generate discussions on recently drafted NGO policy in that country; and
  • NGOs in Nicaragua have consulted the report in discussing ways to address the increasingly limited political space in there.

For printed copies of the Defending Civil Society report in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, or Spanish, please send a request to world@ned.org.