On 3rd-4th December 2015, the 17th EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights organized by the European External Action Service (EEAS), European Commission and Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) took place to discuss the issue of shrinking space for civil society in the world and EU response to this growing phenomenon. The Forum, which was among other addressed by Maina Kai (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association), Stavros Lambrinidis (EU Special Representative on Human Rights), Oleg Orlov (Sakharov Prize Laureate Memorial), Michel Forst (UNSR for Human Rights Defenders) and Federica Mogherini (EU Special Representative on Foreign Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission), brought together over 100 activists and other stakeholders to discuss legislative environment, counter-narratives and rights to protect and foster participation. Tanja Hafner Ademi, BCSDN’s Executive Director, was also participating in the Forum.
Based on the 2-day discussion, the following main discussions and recommendations have emerged:
- Over 100 laws regulating civic space can be identified worldwide and over 90% of countries have adopted some kind of anti-terrorist measures, which to a great extent affect the work of civil society for the worse;
- Trend of charging and trialing of critical civic activists for embezzlement, tax evasion etc. as a way to isolate and stigmatize them in their society, but also against donors and supporters, is a very dangerous precedence taking place in several countries;
- The current situation with the state of human rights and democracy in the world begs of the EU and other actors to go beyond business as usual and take on extraordinary measures to address gross violations, impunity and sustain gains that human rights activists and civil society have made in the past;
- While in face of prosecution and physical safety, support to critical civic activists (human rights defenders) is crucial, the EU, donors and other stakeholders must also focus on providing conditions and support for organizations (CSOs) to sustain their efforts on the ground;
- The EU and other state actors need to step up policy coherence between their human rights and democracy commitments on one side and security, trade etc. policies on the other. Long-term development can only be achieved via respect for human rights and democracy;
- The EU needs to practice its strategies in cases of civic activists clamp-down and be consistent in defending critical civic activists.
The address by Federica Mogherini, EU Special Representative on Foreign Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission is available here. Discussions from the Forum are available on Twitter under the #EUHRForum hashtag and on the Forum website.