Re: Call for your support and solidarity in rejecting amendments to HRC32 draft resolution protecting civil society space (A/HRC/32/L.29)
Open Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council 29 June 2016
We, the undersigned 244 civil society organizations, spanning across all regions of the world, call on your delegation to stand in solidarity with civil society by supporting the draft resolution on the protection of civil society space, to be considered for adoption at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (on 30 June or 1 July). We urge you to cosponsor the draft resolution, reject all amendments, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.
The draft resolution, presented by a cross-regional group of States comprising of Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia, was developed through broad consultation with States and civil society and in the past was adopted by consensus.
The essential ingredients for States to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society are spelled out in the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report, on which the draft resolution is based. It affirms that:
“If space exists for civil society to engage, there is a greater likelihood that all rights will be better protected. Conversely, the closing of civil society space, and threats and reprisals against civil society activists, are early warning signs of instability. Over time, policies that delegitimize, isolate and repress people calling for different approaches or legitimately claiming their rights can exacerbate frustrations and lead to instability or even conflict.”
The draft resolution welcomes the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizes the key role of civil society in achieving the goals. Once adopted, the resolution will be a substantive contribution to the Council’s work to protect civil society space. In particular, it:
- Emphasizes the positive contribution of independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society to peace, security, sustainable development and human rights, and highlights good practice in protecting and supporting this role;
- Provides useful guidance for States to ensure that legal and policy frameworks are enabling for civil society and prevent intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors;
- Helps States and civil society to identify areas of legal, policy and administrative reform to safeguard the ability of civil society actors to fully exercise the rights to freedoms of expression, opinion, assembly and association, and to participate in democracy and public life, without hindrance. This includes on registration and reporting requirements, access to information, and securing resources for the vital work of civil society;
- Creates opportunities and incentives for States to voluntarily share and develop their good practices, and to lay the groundwork to benefit from the transformative potential of a vibrant civil society in any healthy, pluralistic and participatory democracy;
- Mandates OHCHR to study practices and procedures for civil society to contribute to the work of international and regional organisations, and consolidate best practices and challenges in that regard; and
- Invites United Nations bodies, agencies, funds and programs to themselves contribute to the protection and expansion of space for civil society.
However, fifteen amendments (L. 51 – L. 66) tabled by the Russian Federation  seek to remove these essential elements from the draft resolution, and insert language to justify illegitimate restrictions on civil society that would undermine the protections of international human rights law. Many of the amendments challenge previously agreed HRC or General Assembly language.
If adopted, the amendments would undermine international efforts to safeguard space or civil society, including because they would effectively:
- Reject the expert guidance and practical recommendations made by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on civil society space, including to remove substantive recommendations to states on ensuring: a supportive legal framework for civil society and access to justice; public and political environment for civil society; access to information; public participation of civil society actors, and human rights education (L. 63);
- Remove or otherwise limit commitments to protect and promote the right to freedom of association, in particular civil society’s right to access resources for its vital work, and to be free of arbitrary registration and reporting requirements that seek to hinder the work and safety of civil society (L. 56, L. 57, L. 61, L. 63);
- Remove references to the gravity of threats civil society faces, including illegitimate restrictions to their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as reprisals against those seeking to cooperate or cooperating with the United Nations and other international bodies (L.51, L.54);
- Narrow the understanding of “minority groups”, by seeking to include only a limited and under-inclusive list of protected characteristics to the exclusion of others recognised under international human rights law (L. 59);
- Remove reference to the term “human rights defenders”, as well as previous work of the HRC on their protection (L.51, L. 53);
- Remove concerns that restrictions on civil society may limit the United Nations in achieving its purposes and principles (L. 52), and removing the emphasis on the Universal Periodic Review as an important mechanism to create space for civil society (L.62).
Excellency, we therefore ask that your delegation stand in solidarity with civil society by cosponsoring draft resolution L.29 on civil society space, opposing any amendment that would weaken the text, as those tabled appear to do, and voting in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.
244 civil society organisations (see list here)
1 The tabled version of the draft resolution is available at http://bit.ly/28Ssx8x.
3 See a compilation of amendments tabled at http://bit.ly/290p9YZ.