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U.S. Increasingly Concerned at Shrinking Space for Civil Society Around the World
March 14, 2014

Woman sitting at table
Paula Schriefer, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the HRC, Delivers Item 3 Statement March 14.

Item 3: General Debate
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Human Rights Council 25th Session

As Delivered by Paula Schriefer
Head of Delegation

March 14, 2014

Thank you, Mr. President.

Progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals and harness the power of their convictions. History and current events demonstrate that nations that respect the rights of all their populations are more just, prosperous and secure. At this Council we hear stories every day from representatives of civil society, journalists, and human rights activists who are arrested, beaten, tortured and sometimes killed for expressing opinions or associating together or assembling peacefully. Some are attacked simply for telling their stories or providing testimony to the very special procedures we have established here in this Council.

Mr. President, The United States is increasingly concerned at the shrinking space for civil society around the world. Enhanced restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression, both online and offline, as well as freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and attacks on journalists, can lead to violence and human rights violations. We want to address particular areas of concern.
In Venezuela, the government is suppressing what began as peaceful demonstrations by students who were upset with high levels of crime. In its efforts to quell the spreading nationwide protests, the government sent the National Guard and paratroopers to use live ammunition against the people, shut down foreign media, the internet and social media, and arrested an opposition political leader and protesters without due process. These actions contradict the government of Venezuela’s commitment to respect and protect the right to freedoms of assembly and expression.   The situation in Venezuela today makes it imperative that trusted third parties facilitate the conversation as Venezuelans search for solutions to end the violence and deal with political divisions in a democratic fashion.

In other parts of the world restrictive laws hinder civil society’s ability to operate and impose harsh penalties on civil society for doing its  work. In Egypt, the law not only restricts organizations’ operations but also their ability to receive foreign funding. Likewise, in Uzbekistan, a December presidential decree aimed at simplifying registration procedures resulted in the opposite effect, with NGOs remaining subject to extensive tax inspections, limits on foreign funding, and requirements to seek governmental approval for a range of activities.  Just as disturbing, in Nigeria a law was recently passed that criminalizes attending or organizing meetings related to LGBT persons.

Internet freedom and access to technology are keys to promoting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Many counties enact restrictive Internet regulations and have increased detentions and lengthy prison terms for bloggers.

Mr. President,

This is a critical moment for member states to redouble our efforts to stand with civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the pursuit of democratic progress.