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Human Rights Council 32, statement on civil society space 1 July 2016

UK statements delivered during the discussion on the resolution on civil society space.

The Human Rights Council takes place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva
The Human Rights Council takes place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

Thank you Mr President

The United Kingdom will be voting in favour of L.29. There can be no doubt that a diverse and independent civil society is of benefit to all of us. Civil society organisations provide life saving and life changing services throughout the world in range of fields from health, education, development, social support and countless more. In the human rights sphere human rights defenders and other civil society actors dedicate their lives to advance the rights and freedoms of others, often at great personal risk.

It is therefore essential that we at this Council do what we can to encourage states to take legal and practical steps to allow civil society to operate freely and to flourish. This resolution proposes, in a helpful and constructive spirit, a number of steps that states might take to improve the environment for civil society. This is entirely deserving of the support of this Council.

We regret that there have been such a large number of amendments tabled despite the exemplary conduct of negotiations on the part of the main sponsors. Many of these amendments relate to points which have previously been included in consensual resolutions by this Council. As is becoming all too frequent at this Council, the aim is to delegitimise a pluralistic civil society in general and human rights defenders in particular.

The UK will vote against all the amendments and we call on all who value civil society to join us in doing so.

Thank you Mr President

EOV on Amendment L53 (3rd amendment) I am taking the floor to explain our vote on L53, the 3rd amendment on L29 which relates to PP8 of the resolution.

We appreciate the new language contained in PP 8 which welcomes the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to various civil society actors including the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet in 2015. This gives due recognition to the profoundly positive role which civil society can play. The Tunisian Quartet is a particularly relevant example given the way civil society actors, from different walks of life, came together with a shared goal of upholding peace and human rights, with a profound effect on the peace, stability, and democratisation of the country.

However we firmly reject the amendment proposed to this paragraph which seeks to delete the term human rights defenders. As we are now becoming quite accustomed to saying in these sorts of debates, the term Human Rights Defenders has been used repeatedly in this body and many others and, is commonly understood. It has been recognised in the Council since its inception and has been included in over one hundred resolutions at the Human Rights Council. It is therefore preposterous to suggest that the term does not belong in a resolution at this Council and there is no credible rationale for such a deletion.

Rather, we see this proposed amendment as an attempt to undermine the work and legitimacy of those who are on the front line of human rights work.

The fact that the very mention of this term is so troubling to some, raises genuine questions about how they view the work of such important figures. To deny the use of the term human rights defenders is an affront to the enormous protective role they play, to the risk they take for the sake for others, and the sacrifices they make for the cause of human rights, often with their own lives. We therefore support the wording in the paragraph as proposed and call for all states to vote no on amendment L 53.

Thank you Mr President

EOV on Amendment L55 (3rd amendment) Thank you Mr President

I am taking the floor to explain the UK’s vote on L55which seeks to amend 5 paragraphs of the draft resolution. These amendments seek to add new wording which would introduce qualifiers in relation to civil society which we find troublesome, and whose motives we think require careful consideration.

The amendment seeks to limit the scope of each of the 5 paragraphs to civil society so that civil society is only considered to be deserving of protection when it operates in an open transparent and responsible manner. At first sight this terminology might appear harmless enough, but when put into practice it is insidious and stands to severely undermine a pluralistic civil society.

Our difficulty with this amendment is that qualifiers such as the term ”responsible” are highly subjective and would fall to each state to determine. Governments or state institutions could then deny protection to specific civil society organisations if they are not considered to be acting in a way which is considered responsible. The scope for abuse is plainly obvious and sadly, we are all too aware of cases where legal and practical restrictions are being put upon civil society actors precisely because they have raised points which Government or state institutions find difficult to hear.

The UK will therefore be voting no on amendment l55 and we urge all members of the Council to join us in doing so.

EOV on Amendment L57 (5rd amendment)

We are taking the floor in relation to L 57 which seeks to delete part of preambular paragraph 13. We have raised our concerns about restrictions on the funding given to civil society organisations on many occasions in this Council. The corrosive impact of restrictions on funding for civil society organisations is a concern which has been raised by the High commissioner, by mechanism of this council and has been reflected in previous council resolutions.

The paragraph as orally revised ought to cause no problem for any delegation who supports the operation of civil society actors in their country. Without funding, countless millions of civil society organisations throughout the world would simply not be able to function. There can be no doubt that restrictions on funding can have implications for the right to freedom of association as result. There is therefore no plausible justification for deleting this wording and we will vote against this amendment. We call on other members of the Council to join us in voting against amendment L57.

Thank you Mr President

Civil Society Space EOV On Resolution as a whole Mr President

The scope of this resolution extends to civil society operating in walks of life and goes well beyond the human rights arena. But we should not shy away from addressing some of the challenges for civil society space which are closer to home, including here at the United Nations. During the negotiations on this resolution we, with the support of others, proposed a number of suggestions to address the operation of the ECOSOC NGO Committee in New York whose processes have a direct impact on this Council.

NGOs are central to the Council’s work as they ensure our work is informed by the realities on the ground, and resolutions respond to the pressing human rights concerns of our time. We share the concern expressed recently by both the UN Secretary General and High Commissioner Zeid about the way the Committee’s procedures are being misused to defer accreditation of legitimate human rights NGOs for years and years on end so that they may not participate at this Council. There is a well-known legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. By the same token accreditation delayed may amount to accreditation denied. We stress that the ECOSOC NGO Committee must adhere to the purpose of the resolution which founded, namely to ensure that the voices of civil society from around the world are heard, and inform, the work of the UN.

As the UN’s main human rights body, and a direct beneficiary of NGO participation, this body can and should be concerned about the known flaws in the accreditation process.

Even closer to home, members of this Council must ensure that this Council remains a safe environment for civil society so that individuals can operate without fear of reprisal. We are deeply troubled by very serious allegation that a human rights defender received a death threat through social media in this room at the end of the last Council session from a state delegate. We are also concerned at allegations of a series of travel bans preventing HRDs from even coming to Geneva for this session, as noted in the bureau meeting minutes. We welcome the President’s attention to this case and stress that such threats and restrictions must have no place here or anywhere else. If such acts go unchecked in this Council, this sends a deeply disturbing signal to civil society everywhere.

As we said at the outset, it is regrettable that one (a small number of) delegation(s) has once again sought to frustrate an important resolution in such a manner but we are pleased that the amendments have been defeated. We call on all members of the Council to now vote in favour of resolution L 29.

Published 1 July 2016