UN Human Rights Council passes resolution on protection of civic space urging states to adopt best practices as per UN Guiding Principles

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5 July 2016

Blog: Civic Space Initiative warns states must implement crucial UN Human Rights Council resolution on civil society space

Author: Katerina Hadzi Miceva Evans, Civic Space Initiative

The Civic Space Initiative* (CSI) welcomes the adoption of a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution committing States to protect civil society space, and a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and of association for three more years.

“At a time when governments and non-state actors are actively suppressing civil society voices, this resolution by the world’s premier human rights body articulates key steps to protect and promote civil society rights,” said Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “We urge national governments to both inform their publics about this resolution and also begin a process of dialogue with civil society to earnestly implement its provisions.”

 The resolution commits States to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society (A/HRC/32/L.29 as orally revised). It urges states to:

  • Ensure that civil society actors can seek, secure and use resources.
  • Maintain accessible domestic procedures for the establishment or registration of organizations.
  • Ensure that civil society can input into potential implications of legislation when it is being developed, debated, implemented or reviewed.
  • Adopt clear laws and policies providing for effective disclosure of information.
  • Ensure access to justice, and accountability, and to end impunity for human rights violations and abuses against civil society actors.

 The resolution further requests the High Commissioner to report in 2018 on best practices for ensuring civil society involvement with regional and international organisations, including the United Nations.

“In recent years, a number of governments have introduced measures to constrain civic space at the national level, and they have now set their sights on weakening resolutions at the Human Rights Council,” said Douglas Rutzen, President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.  “The CSI is grateful for the collective leadership of Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia in promoting passage of a strong resolution to safeguard civil society space, and we express our appreciation to the thirty-one member states** that voted in favor of the resolution.” 

244 civil society organisations jointly called for the rejection of amendments led by Russia, China and South Africa to attack the heart of the resolution. Though these amendments failed, Russia was joined by HRC member states China, Congo, Cuba, Nigeria, South Africa, and Venezuela in voting against the civil society space resolution as a whole. Nine states abstained on the vote. ***

 “We regret that democracies such as Nigeria and South Africa voted against civil society space at the UN, giving cover to authoritarian governments that routinely repress the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly“, said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “An independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society is essential to sustainable development, security and the realisation of human rights. All States must act on this resolution to ensure the space for them to operate free from hindrance. “

With these international standards at its disposal, the CSI urges the HRC to pay greater attention to country situations in which civil society space is under threat, in particular to ensure the protection of individual civil society actors most at risk.  

Separately, the HRC adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association for an additional three years (A/HRC/32/L.32 as orally revised).**** It mandates the Special Rapporteur to monitor the global environment for freedom of assembly and association, report twice annually to the UN, conduct country missions and send communications to governments. The HRC will appoint the new Special Rapporteur in March 2017, when the tenure of the current holder, Maina Kiai, concludes.

“The Special Rapporteur has been crucial to amplifying civil society’s concerns over ongoing restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the CSI welcomes future opportunities to engage with the new mandate holder,” said Ryota Jonen, Director of the World Movement for Democracy.

 The CSI is committed to engaging with governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the international human rights standards adopted at the HRC are implemented nationally, to enhance the enabling environment for civil society, and to defend that space where it is at risk.


* The Civic Space Initiative is: International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, World Movement for Democracy and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law.

** The HRC member states voting in favour of the resolution were: Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Maldvies, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, Macedonia, Togo, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

*** Member states abstaining were: Bolivia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

**** The resolution is the initiative of the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico, and United States of America.

5 July 2016

Full resolution

Author: UN Human Rights Council

[Section related to business & human rights:] ...[Urges] States  to  create  and  maintain,  in  law and  in  practice,  a  safe  and enabling  environment  for  civil  society, and  in  this  regard encourages  States to  use  good practices  such  as, inter  alia, those  compiled  in  the  report  of  the  High  Commissioner  on practical  recommendations  for  the  creation  and  maintenance  of  a  safe  and  enabling environment for civil society, based on good practices and lessons learned by, inter alia: (a)Taking  steps  to  ensure  a  supportive  legal  framework  and  access  to  justice, including  by  acknowledging  publicly  the  important  and  legitimate  role  of  civil  society  in the  promotion  of  human  rights,  democracy  and the rule  of  law, including  through  public statements and public information campaigns, and better addressing business-related human rights  abuses  through  effective  implementation  of  the  Guiding  Principles  on  Business  and Human Rights...

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5 July 2016

Joint letter calls on UN Human Rights Council to adopt strong resolution on protection of civic space

In an open letter addressed to member States of the Human Rights Council, the organisations spanning across all regions of the world called on delegations to support the draft resolution on the protection of civil society space, to be considered for adoption at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council later this week...Despite the important normative standards set out in the resolution the Russian Federation has presented adverse amendments seeking to undermine the core international human rights principles articulated in the resolution [UPDATE 1 July: China, Cuba and South Africa formally joined the Russian-led amendments] . The joint civil society letter calls on States to reject the amendments, and adopt the resolution as presented...'...the substance of the amendments - including in the areas of registration of NGOs, access of civil society to funding, and protecting against reprisals - would serve to justify and perpetuate human rights violations in many of the States proposing them', Mr Ineichen said.

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28 June 2016

"Corporate accountability: Draft resolution at UN Human Rights Council falls short"

Author: International Service for Human Rights (ISHR); Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)

The UN Human Rights Council risks falling behind the curve on business and human rights...The work of human rights defenders is central to accountability for business-related human rights abuses. They identify and document human rights violations and can play a role in developing and monitoring policies, engaging with business and supporting victims to seek remedy and justice...Globally, the work of defending against corporate human rights abuse is incredibly dangerous, and often deadly. Some businesses have started to respond. For example, global sportswear company adidas recently released a corporate policy on human rights defenders...Unfortunately, a resolution nominally focused on issues of access to remedy, which will be considered later this week by the Council, overlooks these key elements...Pointing to a statement delivered last week in a dialogue with the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, ISHR and BHRRC emphasize that the UN mechanisms are still essential tools for promoting full respect for human rights by both State and non-State actors.

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