UN rights experts call for a central role for civil society to guarantee inclusive post-2015 development goals


GENEVA (18 May 2015) – A group of experts* from the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system today urged UN member States to recognize and support the role of a free and active civil society in the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. “A central role for civil society is the only way to guarantee inclusive post-2015 development goals,” they said.

In a joint statement* issued today, as government representatives meet in New York from 18 to 22 May to discuss a monitoring and review framework for the post-2015 development agenda, the experts called for the new global goals to be firmly grounded in international human rights norms and standards, stressing the principle of participation.  

“Civic space is shrinking worldwide, and there is therefore, a need to explicitly recognize the importance of a free and vibrant civil society,” they noted. “Civil society is integral in helping Governments find innovative solutions to complex developmental problems while often providing necessary public services.”

“A vibrant civil society also ensures that the voices of the vulnerable and marginalised are meaningfully included in the development initiatives that will affect their aspirations and well-being,” the experts highlighted. “But in order to undertake this role, civil society must be free to operate.”

The human rights experts warned of a disturbing rise in attacks on civil society actors, a proliferation of laws that limit freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, growing restrictions on associations’ ability to access resources, an increase in bureaucratic harassment of civil society, politically motivated prosecutions of human rights defenders, violent dispersal of peaceful demonstrations, and a surge in illicit surveillance of activists.

They also expressed grave concerns at a spike in the number of reports documenting physical assaults and killings of in particular environmental right defenders, social workers, women’s rights activists and other members of civil society promoting the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“It is essential that the principle of partnership with civil society, as well as the space for civil society to freely operate are at the heart of the post-2015 framework,” the experts said. “The shared post-2015 goals also entail and presuppose civil society’s ability to freely associate and cooperate worldwide, without any obstacles that hinder financial and material cooperation by and support for civil society across borders.”

The human rights experts stressed that all civil society organizations, regardless of their status at the national and international level, should be regarded as equal partners and entitled to participate and influence the post-2015 process on an equal basis.

“The promise that no one be left behind cannot be met without full and free civil society participation throughout the post-2015 process, from negotiation of the goals, targets and indicators to the monitoring and review of measures to achieve them,” they said.

“Public participation in development and accountability will remain elusive without an active civil society of empowered women and men, young and old, who can exercise their rights in an enabling, supportive environment,” the experts concluded.

(*) Check the full statement and the list of experts:   http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15970&LangID=E

The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.