Panel discussion on civil society space

Press release
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Mr. President,

Human rights NGOs are watchdogs of the respect of democratic principles and the rule of law. Their independence should be preserved and cherished.

In Afghanistan, civil society is in the process of re-building itself. Women and girls are defending their rights to attend school and to have the same employment opportunities as men. Simultaneously, civil society has expanded, with new organizations, networks, cultural, artistic and sports initiatives promoting civic participation and human rights, including women’s rights. In Tunisia, women’s activists have been vital in the push for fair representation and gender parity in Constitution building and the electoral process.

Following the “Arab Spring” and “Revolutions” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we have witnessed a backlash by governments that are getting very nervous about the strength of the universal message of human rights.

In less than a year, the Russian Federation has passed a series of restrictive measures in an attempt to literally muzzle all civil society activities. One of them, sadly known as the "Law on Foreign Agents" (a pejorative label signifying spy and traitor) stigmatizes organizations that reach out to public opinion. ADC Memorial, one of the most prominent human rights NGOs, has been convicted for denouncing violations against migrants to the CERD Committee.

In Turkey, the wake of the Gezi protests, a series of legislative proposals were adopted which respectively subjected the judicial profession to the control of the executive, criminalized emergency health care deployed outside of government authorization, expanded the executive’s control over the Internet and its capacity to limit freedom of expression and information. Numerous journalists and media professionals who attempted to report on demonstrations and police violence were met with a series of human rights violations and forced dismissals. Turkey’s record of violations on freedom of expression is unfortunately not new, with the country detaining the word’s largest number of journalists in detention.

In Iran, civil society has been the first victim of the raging repression that followed the 2009-2010 protests. Peaceful expression of dissenting views continues to be harshly repressed as the authorities have banned political parties, closed down newspapers, targeted human rights organizations, arrested journalists, trade unionists, human rights activists and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, including the Baha’i.

Thank you for your attention.

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