Initiatives to Strengthen Civil Society and Provide Protection to NGOs Under Siege
CONTEXT: Last year Secretary Clinton delivered a speech at the Community of Democracies 10th anniversary High-Level Democracy Meeting in Krakow, Poland. In her speech, the Secretary outlined a robust set of initiatives to strengthen civil society and provide protection to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under siege. Since that time, the United States has worked closely with its partners to achieve each goal that she set forth in Krakow.
UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Rights of Freedom of Assembly and Association. In September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously passed a historic resolution creating a new mandate on the Rights of Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association. In March 2011, Maina Kiai was appointed as the first UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and of Association.
OAS General Assembly Resolution on Rights of Freedom of Assembly and Association. The OAS General Assembly adopted the first-ever OAS resolution on promoting the rights of freedoms of assembly and association. The resolution was sponsored by the United States with the co-sponsorship of Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama. As a result, the Permanent Council will hold for the first time a meeting on the subject of freedom of assembly and freedom of association with the goal of strengthening observance of these rights in the member states and civil society participation in the OAS.
Community of Democracies Alert Mechanism. The Canadian-led Community of Democracies Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society created an alert mechanism that is activated when civil society is threatened by proposed legislation that restricts civic space. Coordinated diplomatic pressure resulting from the five alerts issued by the working group has contributed to the shelving of four laws that would restrict civil space, while a fifth has been pending for more than six months. The evidence is clear: coordinated diplomatic pressure in response to regulatory threats to civil society has deterred governments from enacting constraining legislation.
Launch of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. In February 2011, the Secretary announced the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society to expand the State Department’s engagement with civil society. Using the architecture of the high-level dialogues that the Department conducts with bilateral partners, the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society is designed to elevate the importance of the Department’s engagement with civil society, produce concrete results, and underscore our commitment to supporting and defending civil society around the world. The Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society has become a forum for cooperation on issues such as empowering women, human rights, and good governance where the United States shares a common agenda with civil society. As part of the Dialogue, the Secretary and senior U.S. officials will meet with activists from around the world on the margins of the Community of Democracies Vilnius Ministerial to discuss efforts to address restrictions on civil society and NGOs through legal, regulatory and other means.
TechCamps for Civil Society Activists. U.S.-sponsored TechCamps are providing a forum to empower civil society activists and give them the hands-on training they need to better execute their missions in the 21st century. In an increasingly networked world, it is essential that civil society organizations have the tools they need to compete and succeed. TechCamps focus on exploring the challenges and needs of civil groups and providing the necessary training and one-on-one technology consultations to address those challenges through technological solutions. The goal is to increase the digital literacy of Civil Society Organizations and connect activists to local, regional and international technology communities. From Santiago to Jakarta, the Department is bringing together trainers and practitioners and helping them to expand their digital capacity and meet their goals. Eighty-five activists will participate in a TechCamp held on the margins of the Vilnius Ministerial.
Doubled Funding for Legal Enabling Environment Program. The United States has more than doubled its funding of the global NGO Legal Enabling Environment Program to provide technical assistance to both civil society and governments, both in cases of regulatory threats to civil society and where opportunities arise for positive legal reform. This program also includes small grants to local NGOs, fellowships for NGO practitioners to build local capacity in the process of defending and promoting a more enabling legal environment for civil society. It will support the second Global Forum on Civil Society Law, in Stockholm in August 2011.
Launch of the Lifeline Fund. Last year at Krakow, Secretary Clinton challenged other democracies to support civil society worldwide. Now, one year later at Vilnius, the United States and the first twelve international donors launched the “Lifeline Fund” to provide emergency assistance to embattled local NGOs and civil society organizations. A truly global effort, the first governmental donors include Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Lifeline Fund will address urgent needs such as legal representation, medical bills arising from abuse, transportation costs for prison visitation of incarcerated activists, and replacement of equipment damaged or confiscated as a result of harassment. Lifeline Fund will also be used to help local NGOs fight back against government restrictions and environments hostile to civil society. An equally global consortium of international NGOs will implement the over $4 million program, including CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Freedom House, Front Line, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, People in Need, and the Swedish International Liberal Centre.
Freedom of Association Network and SOS Early Warning System for NGOs. As part of the work of the Lifeline Fund, the consortium of NGOs will establish a freedom of association network and SOS early warning system to monitor when governments crack down on civil society and quickly disseminate that information to governments and other international NGOs for rapid reaction.