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Governments must embrace and enable social movements as key partners in “Building Back Better”: UN expert

28 October 2022



NEW YORK (28 October 2022) – Faced with multiple and compounding crises, governments must embrace and enable social movements as essential partners as they ‘build back better’, a UN expert said today.

“In a time of unprecedented global crisis, the world needs new approaches and more inclusive governance,” said Clément Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Voule, who presented his report to the General Assembly said social movements were at the forefront of efforts to foster social engagement, democratic participation and responsive governance. “As drivers of change, these movements have made invaluable contributions to individual, collective and societal wellbeing,” the expert said.

Voule’s report explained that the Occupy movement fought for more egalitarian socioeconomic policies worldwide, while the #MeToo global movement has empowered victims of sexual harassment and increased calls for accountability and the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to racist policies and widespread, systematic abuse around the world. The youth-led Fridays for Future movement has drawn international attention to climate change, the report said.

“Still, too many States are hindering these movements, through restrictive legislation, harassment against their leaders and responding excessively to large-scale protests, including by declaring emergency or martial law,” the UN expert said.

The Special Rapporteur urged States to treat social movements as partners, recognising the essential contributions they make to the functioning of healthy, prosperous and safe societies.

“Now is a time when their potential is needed most to help combat and overcome the many grave challenges the world faces,” Voule told the General Assembly. He said social movements were crucial actors for the attainment of inclusive and sustainable development, and the 2030 Agenda.

“I am deeply concerned by the growing suppression of social movements by both State and non-State actors. Participants in these movements are being targeted and silenced, unlawfully convicted or tortured for their work in support of the construction of more just and egalitarian societies,” Voule said.

The Special Rapporteur urged governments to guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association at all times and in all contexts in order to foster the essential contribution of social movements to address contemporary challenges.

“States must create a safe and enabling space, develop inclusive policy processes and develop partnerships with such movements in order to enable members of these movements to effectively advocate for change at every level,” Voule said.

Clément N. Voule (Togo) was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association in March 2018. He is a lawyer and currently works in Geneva in the field of human rights. He is an associate researcher at the Geneva Academy of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. Prior to his appointment, he led the work of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). Mr. Voule also worked as Secretary General of the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, as campaigning officer for the Coalition for the Togolese International Criminal Court and as Secretary General of the Amnesty International section in Togo. Since 2011, Mr. Voule has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

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.

For further information and media requests, please contact: Hélène Pilloud ([email protected]) or write to [email protected].

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Renato Rosario De Souza ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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