Press Release – Community of Democracies Initiatives and Activities Defending Civic Space
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Last year, as part of global efforts to push back against undue pressure on civil society, the Community of Democracies presented a ten-point action plan to broaden our efforts to defend and empower civil society.
All ten commitments have been achieved. The Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society has been expanded in membership and activities, and a new group on freedom of expression was established. The LEND Network saw expansion of civil society members. New projects in support of civil society were launched: Regional Dialogues with UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association on the right for civil society to receive assistance, Capacity Building Workshops to increase CSOs digital literacy and other financed through the special funding mechanism – CD UNITED. The CD Governing Council has commissioned revitalization and expansion of the CD’s civil society pillar and has held dialogue with civil society leaders on how the international community can help resolve the challenges CSOs face. Finally, the Council developed a resolution on democracy and development, which highlights the importance of a strong and vibrant civil society.
Today, we are committed to:
· Developing benchmarks based on the principles of the Warsaw Declaration that refer to the fundamental freedoms, constituting the backbone of a healthy civil society, in order to ensure that these freedoms be protected and respected, and to provide CD Participating States with a framework of minimum standards;
· Increasing membership and activities of the Working Group on Freedom of Expression;
· Expanding civil society participation from Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the LEND Network. LEND provides on-demand expertise to help young democracies as they work to build strong institutions, establish the rule of law, and develop a vibrant civil society sector;
· Conducting Regional Dialogues with UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom to Peaceful Assembly and Association on key challenges that civil society organizations face in accessing resources in order to produce recommendations and strategies on how to overcome these challenges;
· Further deepening its dialogues with civil society leaders with the aim of developing concrete action plans of assistance to civil society in countries at different stages of civil empowerment (countries in which civic activism is restricted; “tipping point” countries; and countries where conditions for civil society are improving);
· Expanding the range of projects that benefit civil society, funded through the CD-UNITED mechanism;
· Mobilizing the CD’s Governing Council members to co-sponsor the Human Rights Council’s Resolution on the Civil Society Space and other relevant multilateral resolutions;
· Continuing to further strengthening the role of the Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society as a mechanism to support and enable civil society;
· Exploring the introduction of a self-assessment mechanism inspiring CD’s Governing Council members to set higher standards for national civil society policies and to encourage sharing of experiences and lessons learnt between CD Participating States.
Community of Democracies meetings during the coming year will continue to provide a platform for governments to make, renew, and fulfill commitments to support civil society in advance of another high-level meeting on the subject in September 2015.
· Intensifying efforts to increase the membership and activities of the Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society, including encouraging members to issue joint demarches in response to legislative actions that could constrain the work of CSOs.
· Regularly inviting civil society leaders to the Governing Council of the Community for dialogue on how the international community can help resolve the challenges CSOs face.
· Exploring the introduction of a United Nations’ resolution on Democracy and Development, where we will seek to highlight and incorporate the importance of a strong and vibrant civil society as part of the post-2015 global development agenda.
· Revitalizing and expanding the civil society pillar of the Community, allowing a broader coalition of civil society leaders from countries around the world to participate in the Community’s efforts, and ensure civil society a voice in our work.
· Funding a range of initiatives that benefit civil society, including programs such as youth tech camps to provide activists with tools and technologies to make their work safer and more effective. The CD-UNITED initiative, announced today as part of a United States’ grant to the Permanent Secretariat, will allow governments within the Community to co-finance these kinds of initiatives.
· Expanding civil society participation in the LEND Network for Leaders Engaged in New Democracies. LEND uses cutting edge technology to connect key leaders in countries undergoing democratic transitions. LEND provides on-demand expertise to help young democracies as they work to build strong institutions, establish the rule of law, and develop a vibrant civil society sector.
· Initiating a Working Group on Freedom of Expression.
· Expanding our cooperation with the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association with a view to organize regional consultations with the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the right for civil society organizations to receive assistance.
· Considering a formal cooperation agreement with the Open Government Partnership in order to allow for the inclusion of OGP principles in the Community’s initiatives, and institutionalized participation of the Community in OGP events.
· Offering training courses for diplomats on how to enhance their engagement with civil society, based on the Handbook for Diplomats developed by the Council for a Community of Democracies.