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Protecting Civic Space and the Right to Access Resources

Protecting Civic Space and the Right to Access Resources

Pictured above is the Regional Dialogue between governments and civil society in Santiago, Chile (April 2015). Photo taken by Jeff Vize from the Office of Maina Kiai.

In the last decades, a global trend of shrinking civic space and enhancing restrictions on civil society organizations has emerged. In particular, foreign and local funding of non-violent democracy activists and non governmental organizations has been at times severely restricted or even banned by states, thus impacting negatively on democratic processes. The relevance of such issue was highlighted in the join statement of three United Nations Special Rapporteurs presented at the Seventh Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies: "Threats against the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association...take the form of legislations criminalizing or unduly restricting the work of civil society, including human rights defenders, as well as malicious practices such as acts of harassment, intimidation, stigmatizations and reprisals, committed by state officials and/or non-state actors." 

Over the last years, however, significant progress has been registered to tackle the trend of increasingly restrictive environments for civil society around the globe, and to advocate for enabling environments. In 2009, the Community of Democracies launched a Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society to monitor and respond to developments concerning civil society legislation around the world through quiet diplomacy initiatives activated by an alert mechanism. In September 2010, the UNHRC adopted a historic resolution on the "Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association", establishing an ad-hoc Special Rapporteur for the first time. Similarly, the Organizations of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution in June 2011 on "Promotion of the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and of Association in the Americas". In September 2013, the need to counter the restrictive trend was further stressed in "Stand for Civil Society", a special high-level event hosted by the President of the United States, in which Heads of States and international organizations (including the Community of Democracies) committed to initiate actions to protect civic space globally. This commitment was reinstated in a follow-up event in September 2014

"Protecting Civic Space and the Right to Access Resources" is a part of this global effort to protect and support civil society. It aims at enhancing the space for civil society by organizing a set of regional dialogues, led by the United Nations Special Rapporter on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, with the participation of local and regional civil society representatives from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East and Northern Africa, and Latin America. Such regional dialogues will focus on key challenges that civil society organizations face in accessing resources, and will produce recommendations and strategies to be employed in order to overcome these challenges. 

Factsheet: A summary of UNSR Maina Kiai's report on access to resources to the Human Rights Council.

During the course of two years (2014-2015), a set of five meetings of regional dialogues will be organized in the framework of the project, in each of the abovementioned regions. Each meeting will include consultations with representatives, as well as a cross-sector dialogue with government representatives of one or more countries from the respective region. In addition, a research study will by implemented as part of the project, analyzing previous resolutions by the United Nations on civil society organizations' access to resources, including foreign and local funding, and evaluating the ability to provide support to non-violent civil society organizations. 

The results of the dialogues will be preliminarily disclosed in a large final conference intended to sum up the situation and measure progress in states' commitment to facilitate access to foreing funding for associations. Special recommendations rising during the dialogues could be reflected in a report by the Special Rapporteur and in a draft resolution of the UNHRC. Furthermore, the realization of the dialogues is expected to increase the awareness of civil society activists of the international legal framework related to the ability to access foreign and local funding; foster a larger international recognition of the right of organizations to access funding in order to strengthen their effectiveness and facilitate their sustainability; and build a stronger international commitment by states to facilitate associations' access to funds. 

The first meeting with civil society representatives was held in Warsaw in May 2014. In the same month was also published the document "General Principles on Protecting Civic Space and the Right to Access Resources". A parallel meeting with governments was held in Warsaw in October 2014, and in November 2014 a meeting was held in Pretoria, with civil society representatives from Africa. The next set of meetings with both civil society and governments is planned in Santiago, Chile, on April 27-28, 2015. 

The Community would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden for their generous financial support in implementing the Regional Dialogues.

For more information on the project, please contact Head of Programs at the Permanent Secretariat of the Community of Democracies, Mr. Francesco Lembo.

In the picture: Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Henryka MoĹ›cicka-Dendys, and Secretary General of the Community of Democracies, Maria Leissner, in dialogue with governments from the OSCE region, Warsaw, October 2014. 

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