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UN expert raises alarm at global trend of restricting civil society space on pretext of national security and counter-terrorism

NEW YORK (26 October 2015) – United Nations human rights expert Ben Emmerson today urged governments across the world to ensure that the NGO sector be allowed to continue to play an indispensable role in co-ordinated efforts to counter the spread of terrorism.

“A functioning civil society is an essential cornerstone of an open society,” he stressed. “The abuse of counter-terrorism measures to stifle legitimate opposition and to choke public interest and human rights organisations around world is gathering pace, and has become a first rank priority for the UN human rights mechanisms,” he noted.

“In the past three years, this ideological pandemic has started to spread.

More than 60 States have proposed or passed laws during that time restricting freedom of assembly, or prohibiting the foreign funding and activities of civil society organisations,” he warned.

“The international crackdown on civil society space has not been confined to those States that have adopted repressive legislation directly targeting the NGO sector,” said Mr. Emmerson in his latest report to the UN General Assembly. “Many of the international and national measures aimed at countering terrorist financing and the provision of material support have also had a direct and chilling impact on public interest groups, restricting the ability of entirely lawful organisations to secure funding or to operate effectively,” he noted.

“NGOs must be formally recognised as indispensable partners in effective and intelligent counter-terrorism initiatives. They have the unique ability to reach out to local communities; to provide assistance in protecting and promoting human rights; to give a voice to the disaffected and marginalised sections of society; to promote the needs of those who are politically, economically or socially excluded; to deliver humanitarian relief in areas affected by conflict; and to play an integral part in the realisation of longer term development goals,” said Mr Emmerson.

“The message of today’s report is that States that make up the UN need to back off and let lawful public interest organisations get on with the vitally important work they do”.

“States need to recognise, in all the regulation that is adopted, that lawful civil society organisations are not enemies of democracy and the rule of law, but key allies,” Mr. Emmerson concluded.


(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report (A/70/371):

Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human, renewed by the UN Human Rights Council for a three year period in December 2007, in September 2010 and again in March 2013. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any Government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Terrorism/Pages/SRTerrorismIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs 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 system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms 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.

Check the UN 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy:

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