Civicus at Human Rights Council: Statement on global state of civil society

35th session of the Human Rights Council
General debate on High Commissioner´s oral update
7 June 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

CIVICUS welcomes the High Commissioner’s oral update. We applaud the prominence given to civic space and we share his concern that civil society faces growing and debilitating threats.

Yesterday, CIVICUS released its annual State of Civil Society report which explores the worrying backsliding on democratic norms across the world. The report underscores that The world is facing a democratic crisis through unprecedented restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which constitute a global emergency. 

The report further highlights that around the world it is becoming increasingly dangerous to challenge power, and to do so risks reprisals. In several countries, right-wing populist and neo-fascist leaders have gained prominence by winning elections or commanding enough support to push their ideas into the mainstream. Their politics and worldview are fundamentally opposed to civil society seeking to promote human rights, social cohesion and progressive internationalism.

This is happening even in countries where we believed the concepts of constitutional, participatory democracy had long been established. And while much of the world’s attention has lately focused on political shifts in the US and Europe, we see populist strongmen increasing their grip in countries such as India and the Philippines, as well as longstanding autocratic states such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, Saudi Arabia and others where independent civil society space has long been closed.

However, Mr. President, Civil Society is also fighting back. 

The last 6 months were marked by multiple forms of mass peaceful protests. Around the world, whenever new leaders have come to power on polarizing right-wing populist platforms, they have been met with major demonstrations by those taking a stance against them. The democracy of the street is alive and well.

We call on all member and observer States of Council to understand, articulate and make clear to their governments that the realization of civil society rights is an essential part of the defense of democracy and a healthy society.

We thank you