More than 80 representatives of civil society organisations, community leaders and academics met in Johannesburg on 30-31 May and on 3 June with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Clément Voule to discuss the impact of restrictions on freedom of assembly and association on sustainable development. Participants discussed the relationship between human rights and development and how governments perceived the two as separate from each other. Participants were of the view that the targeting of civil society organisations using a range of restrictions slows down the attainment of development outcomes. That there are existing tensions around the rise of authoritarian models and development and that over the last decade countries like China and Rwanda have experienced some levels of economic growth despite the fact that they are under authoritarian leaders. Other key insights from participants:
- Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association are perpetuated by both state and non-state actors and that some non-state actors include members of communities who work with corporations and governments and label community leaders who advocate for human rights as anti-developmental.
- Certain groups including those working at the grassroots level, on environmental, land and indigenous rights and those defending the rights of women are particularly targeted for their human rights activities.
- For Agenda 2030 to be fully realised, governments must collaborate with civil society and communities at all levels during the implementation of the SDGs and in monitoring their impact.
- Some governments believe they "own" the SDGs and limit the involvement of civil society in their implementation.
- That details of the SDGs and their indicators across all the goals are not fully understood by civil society and there is need to increasing awareness and knowledge of civil society on all the goals.
- Governments must realise, acknowledge that civil society organisations working across different areas make important contributions to development outcomes and that restrictions on these organisations affect development outcomes.
Read more about the threats and trends facing Freedom of Association and Assembly. Clement Voule wrote this article on eight challenges facing our most essential rights. To learn more about the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit his webpage here and follow him on twitter @cvoule.