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Governments that Create Space for Civil Society Reap Democratic Dividends
March 12, 2014

The United States welcomes the attention that has been paid to the issue of civil society space at the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council.  Protecting this space is a fundamental prerequisite for progress on human rights around the world.  

The following statement was prepared for delivery during the Human Rights Council Panel on the Promotion and Protection of Civil Society Space but could not be delivered due to the Council’s time constraints. 

Because of the centrality of this issue, we are publishing the statement as prepared for the public record.

Statement by Paula Schriefer
Head of the U.S. Delegation to the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

As Prepared for the Panel discussion on the importance of the promotion and protection of civil society space
March 11, 2014

(NOTE: The Statement was Not Delivered on the Floor Due to Council Time Constraints)

Thank you, Mr. President.

I would like to thank our colleagues from Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia for your excellent work on the resolution on civil society space. Human progress has frequently been propelled at some level by what happens in civil society — people coming together to insist that a better life is possible, pushing their leaders to protect the rights and the dignity of all.  That’s why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

The evidence is clear. Governments that create and protect space for citizens to pursue the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association reap democratic dividends. An environment where civil society flourishes fosters dialogue, strengthens pluralism, and enhances tolerance and respect for dissenting views.  We celebrate the diversity of civil society organizations, each hoping to improve the world in its own way. Civil society organizations can also be key contributors to economic development; a state that restricts their operations hinders its own overall progress.

The United States meets regularly and often with civil society organizations at home and overseas. These dialogues are invaluable. We improve our overall understanding of an issue by talking with those who know best the situation on the ground. We also strengthen our ability to address foreign policy goals.  One good example illustrates the point.  Secretary Kerry met with disabled persons’ organizations to raise awareness regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In addition, he talked to domestic and international groups on the margins of the UN High Level Dialogue on Disability and Development in September. We also convened a civil society dialogue with African NGOs to improve the Action Plan for the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities.

In September, on the margins of the General Assembly, President Obama convened a meeting with the international community to urge like-minded governments and civil society to work together to protect civil society.   We are working to make progress on  this objective, including multilaterally through the U.N. system, the Community of Democracies, and the Open Government Partnership. We continue our strong support for the work of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Thank you.