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The Shrinking Space for Human Rights Organisations

Adopted on: 4 April 2017
Reference number: N/A Adopted by: Commissioner for Human Rights
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In this comment, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights describes different cases of actions undertaken by national governments in several member States of the Council of Europe that aim to limit freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association of human rights organisations. The cases presented in the documents cover a wide range of such actions, e.g. legal and administrative restrictions; judicial harassment and sanctions, including criminal prosecution for failure to comply with new restrictive regulations; smear campaigns and orchestrated ostracism of independent groups; and threats, intimidation and even physical violence against their members. The Commissioner reminds that “(…) international human rights law explicitly recognises the right to participate in public affairs. The watchdog role of NGOs involves imparting information and ideas on all matters of public interest and is considered to be similar to the role of the press.” In his closing remarks the Commissioner states that the states should facilitate the participation of human rights organisations in mechanisms for dialogue and consultations on public policy and “(…) should treat NGOs equally irrespectively of their sources of funding and should always retain the presumption of lawfulness of an NGO’s activities according to the states’ international obligation to create an enabling environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders.” He also notices that human rights organisations have a specific mission, e.g. to fight corruption, therefore they need to feel free in applying and receiving funds from abroad as they have no other choice. According to the Commissioner, freedom of association must be protected and the space in which they operate must be extended. The comment includes links to various Council of Europe documents that deal with the issue of shrinking space for civil society.

Youth specific: No

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