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Stop curtailing human rights defenders, reverse shrinking civic space

News Justice and peace

On International Human Rights Day, Cordaid calls for a renewed commitment to protect and increase the operational space for civil society across the globe.

civil society women DRC
Walungu, South-Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2015. Women discussing their most pressing security issues during a community gathering. Image: Cordaid

Without strong and effective civil society organizations (CSOs), we cannot uphold human rights. In fact, without them, we cannot achieve the world’s 2030 sustainable development agenda.

Hindered by legal, political and financial barriers

The civic space in which CSOs operate across the globe is increasingly being limited. Alarmingly, the majority of the world’s population resides in countries where CSO activities are hindered by legal, political and financial barriers. And where civil society actors are severely repressed.

“Shrinking civil space has a devastating effect on human rights and people’s safety. We see this on a daily basis.”

Cordaid believes that CSOs the world over play a vital role in upholding human dignity, preserving the social contract between citizens and states, and holding state authorities to account. The work of CSOs within and on behalf of their communities, putting people at the center of their mission, is centered on respect for human rights. Without genuine participation of civil society and communities in governance, development, and accountability, we will not realize the transformative change that the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer.

“We, civil society organizations in the Netherlands and across the globe, need to join efforts in demanding that all nations enable civil society organizations to pursue their mission. To represent their communities, advocate for positive change, and contribute to the 2030 Agenda”, says Kees Zevenbergen, Cordaid CEO. “How badly this is needed, is something we see on a daily basis in our work in fragile states. Shrinking civil space has a devastating effect on human rights and people’s safety”, he continues.

Despite eloquent statements by many nations on the topic, repression of civil society persists. Civil society actors aim for real change in the societies they work, by promoting gender equality, access to justice, and democracy. Yet this change will remain elusive as long as civil society actors are subject to arbitrary detention, harassment, financial restriction, and physical harm.

Call for true and effective support of civil society

Cordaid supports civil society organizations in nations across the globe, many of them conflict-affected. Simultaneously, we support national and international advocacy efforts to stop and reverse the shrinking space for civil society. Without true and effective support from nations across the globe, the efforts of CSOs as frontline defenders and promoters of human rights will be in vain. And more lives will be at risk.

To this end, Cordaid calls upon the Dutch government, the EU and the UN Member States to reaffirm their commitment to the 2030 Agenda. This renewed commitment has to recognize that:

  • civil society has to play a crucial role in pursuing the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda;
  • women and youth must be able to participate meaningfully in decision-making processes in order to realize true equality;
  • accelerating progress on the SDGs requires recognition that all Goals are inter-connected and require inclusive action.

In calling for this commitment, Cordaid stands in solidarity with the Global Day of Action Against Shrinking Civic Spaces. This campaign, a partnership between CSOs across the globe, raises awareness on the dangers CSOs face and spurs action to combat that trend, by placing human rights at the heart of people-centered development.

Read more on our Inclusive peace and Access to justice web pages.