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10 Jul 2015

Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly & association; Maria Leissner, Secretary General of the Community of Democracies

UN expert highlights inconsistency between govt. restrictions on civil society & liberalisation of business; calls for "fair, transparent & impartial” approach to both

"The clampdown on resourcing: comparing civil society and business", 

At first glance, the business and civil society sectors may seem strange bedfellows for comparison. Conventional wisdom tells us that these two entities are distinct, warranting separate rules and treatment. The basis for this treatment seems to boil down to one dividing point: one exists to make a profit; the other is non-profit. But beyond their dissimilar profit motives, just how different are businesses and civil society? And how differently should governments treat them? [The] overall the trend in business investment seems to be toward liberalisation, with governments typically enabling more foreign investment in more sectors with fewer restrictions. The trend in civil society is the opposite: less foreign funding with more restrictions...

Civil society is diverse, ranging from service delivery groups that work hand-in-hand with governments to accountability watchdogs that aim to keep power in check. Yet throughout history, the progressive changes that we enjoy are a direct result of civil society. Remember the anti-slavery movement? The anti-apartheid movement? The civil rights movement? Trade union movements? The women’s movement?...A CSO working to expose corruption, impunity or election fraud, despite the immense public good it does, is not seen as slavishly supporting the ruling elite. As we’ve found thus far, it is more likely to see its funding sources attacked...

We...advocate for what the Special Rapporteur has referred to in a number of his reports as ‘sectoral equity’ - in other words, a fair, transparent and impartial approach...Businesses and civil society - in all of its incarnations - actually do have a strong convergence of interests when it comes to levelling the playing field. The rule of law is preferable to the rule of power. Predictability trumps disorder. Fairness is better than corruption. These statements ring as true for business as they do for civil society. Stable, balanced environments are better for everyone, whether they be a multinational corporation, a grassroots activist group, or a major international CSO working on health issues.

[Refers to Egypt, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Oman, Russia and Rwanda]