Civil society space and the united nations human rights

Freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and the right to participate in public affairs, are human rights that enable people to share ideas, form new ones, and join together with others to claim their rights.

It is through the exercise of these public freedoms that we make informed decisions about our economic and social development. It is through these rights that we can take part in civic activity and build democratic societies. To restrict them undermines our collective progress.

This is the sixth in OHCHR’s series of human rights practical guides for civil society, and should be seen within the context of ‘Widening the democratic space’, one of OHCHR’s current thematic priorities.

This Guide highlights issues related to the work of civil society actors (CSAs). It begins with a working definition of the terms ‘civil society’ and ‘civil society space’. It then provides an overview of the conditions and environment needed for a free and independent civil society, including relevant international human rights standards for freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and the right to participate in public affairs.

The Guide includes some examples of how Governments and CSAs have worked together to develop space for civil society to carry out its work to advance enjoyment of all human rights (civil, cultural, economic, political and social) for all. Obstacles and limitations to civil society work are identified, including harassment, intimidation and reprisals against CSAs. The Guide invites CSAs to use the UN human rights system to promote and protect civil society space at the local level. Resources and contact details are provided at the end of the Guide.

The Guide aims primarily to assist CSAs who are not yet familiar with the UN human rights system. Its development has been enriched from the outset by input and advice from diverse CSAs.

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Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, October 2014

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