One year ago on the margins of the 68th UN General Assembly, ICNL stood with President Obama as he launched #StandWithCivilSociety. This global initiative aims to improve the policy environment for civil society organizations around the world, strengthen institutions working to protect civil society, and coordinate diplomatic action to push back against restrictive laws. Today at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, President Obama announced a renewed and redoubled effort to promote and protect space for civil society, including an expansion of support to ICNL.
President Obama reaffirmed that civil society is critical to democracy and development, stating, “If you want strong successful countries, you need strong vibrant civil societies. When citizens are free to organize and work together across borders to make our communities healthier, our environment cleaner, and our world safer, that’s when real changes comes.” He asserted that protecting civil society is also a matter of national security, as the denial of fundamental rights to association and assembly can fuel grievances that make societies unstable.
Citing examples from Azerbaijan, Hungary, and Egypt, President Obama sent a clear message that the multilateral #StandWithCivilSociety initiative stands opposed to laws and regulations that limit the space for civil society by threatening, regulating, and restricting its work. He announced nine new commitments to address the growing crackdown on civil society. Among these are 1) a commitment to expand of ICNL’s Legal Enabling Environment Program (LEEP), a global program to provide legal and technical assistance to push back against restrictive laws or advance enabling environments; and 2) an additional $2 million contribution to Lifeline, a multilateral fund supported by seventeen governments and two foundations. Other states, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Norway likewise renewed their support to Lifeline.
In addition, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum that makes partnering with and protecting civil society around the world a mission across the United States Government. The memorandum directs agencies engaged abroad to oppose undue restrictions on civil society, facilitate exchanges between governments and civil society, and work in partnership with civil society.
“This growing crackdown on civil society is a campaign to undermine the very idea of democracy,” Obama asserted. “What is needed is an even stronger campaign to defend democracy.”