Advocacy statements

The harassment of civil society organisations at the UN

  • Date / 2016
  • Location / Bahrain
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 2: Annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 32nd Session (13th June – 1st July 2016)

General Debate on Item 2

We thank the High Commissioner for expressing his acute concern about the harassment of civil society organisations and journalists. As he has noted, effective engagement with, and empowerment of, civil society is vital to “give people, including the marginalised, a way to make their voices heard.”[1]

Yet, some of those seeking to engage with this very institution have been targeted, via intimidation, threats, and reprisals, because they seek to highlight human rights abuses in their own countries. Human rights defenders in China, Cambodia, Kuwait, and Sri Lanka have suffered reprisals. Just this weekend, Bahrain following a predictable pattern, prevented at least six activists from travelling to Geneva to participate in this Council.

In addition, a number of states have made concerted efforts to exclude specific civil society voices from participation at the UN generally; ahead of a UN meeting on ending AIDs this month, the OIC blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from attending.

Freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly are not just rights to be emphasised for individuals across the world in different states, but also for those representing NGOs at the institutional level. Without them, we lose our capacity to stand up for the rights of others and our only current hope of bringing all states to account for their human rights abuses across the world.

This Council has a responsibility to protect those who engage from intimidation and reprisals. It also has a duty to ensure the protection of the all-too-vulnerable rights of free expression and assembly. If, as the High Commissioner suggests, civil society engagement can be viewed as a “threshold issue,” it is not at all clear whether this Council currently meets that…

The High Commissioner mentioned the horrific attack in Orlando yesterday. I close by dedicating this statement to the memory of its victims; those seeking to exercise their fundamental right to express themselves freely, and lose themselves, on a Saturday night out.


[1] A/HRC/32/20

Suggested academic reference

'The harassment of civil society organisations at the UN', Humanists International

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