Joint Statement on Civil Society participation in the UN, 7 October 2021
I have the honor to deliver this statement on behalf of Albania, Andorra, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Switzerland, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, ____XXXX__________ the European Union and its member states – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden, and my own country, Costa Rica.
We wish to commend your appointment as president of the Third Committee in its 76th session, and of the other members of the Bureau. Our countries stand ready to support your work in these extraordinary circumstances.
The vision of the 2030 Agenda and the promise of ‘leaving no one behind’ can only be achieved if we pull together. Governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
The participation of civil society and human rights defenders in this committee is decisive. Through their lived experiences, diverse range of expertise and feet on the ground, they enrich and improve the relevance and outcomes of our work.
In his Call to Action for Human Rights, and latest in his report Our Common Agenda, the UN Secretary-General has set a clear direction. Stressing the importance of a human rights-based approach across pillars and calling for the protection and promotion of civic space.
We commend and echo the UN Secretary-General words in his report Our Common Agenda: “what is most needed at this time is to go beyond a consultation and advocacy role, and rather for all parts of the United Nations system directly to include civil society in their work across all the pillars of our activities. This is about a shift in mentality as well as in practice”.
We, as member states, have committed to this shift on multiple occasions: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted unanimously by all Member States, pledges to involve all people, civil society, indigenous peoples and the scientific and academic community.
Last year, in the UN75 Declaration, the General Assembly committed to make the United Nations more inclusive and engage with all relevant stakeholders, not the least civil society, to ensure an effective response to our common challenges.
However, we are concerned that we do not walk the talk. During the pandemic, human rights defenders, civil society organizations and representatives have experienced a number of difficulties to access and engage in the work of the United Nations. Ranging from limitations on access to premises and virtual meetings, unequal access to registration, to availability of information and opportunities to engage with Member States and other stakeholders.
In this regard, we are deeply worried about the report presented to the Human Rights Council by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, documenting the alleged reprisals and intimidation against 240 civil society members, activists and journalists, across 45 countries.
We cannot allow that voices are silenced and that civil society representatives are subjected to serious human rights violations simply because they have been cooperating with, or speaking at, the UN. In particular, but not exclusively, minorities, women, indigenous peoples, youth, and human rights defenders.
We simply cannot claim that we are providing an open space for civil society if it is not safe for them to be UnMuted. This silence must be broken.
The Third Committee should lead by example, improving conditions for meaningful civil society participation and engagement with UN Member States. We wish to highlight in this regard three aspects:
First, we wish to recall that during the 74th session, the Chair of the Committee convened an informal consultation with civil society representatives in consultative status with ECOSOC. We believe this is a practice that should be followed and set the standard for transparency, accountability and partnerships between Member States and relevant stakeholders in this Committee.
We also hear the concerns expressed on the need for an agreed framework and consultative process in the lead up of such meetings. We are of the view that the Chair, working with the Bureau, has the authority to convene such an informal meeting in consultation with Member States. In this regard, we welcome and strongly support the announcement by the Chair on the organization of this informal meeting with civil society.
Second, we regret that access to premises for civil society representatives has been restricted by the necessity of mitigation measures. We are challenged by the worrying trend impeding access for civil society to the work of the Organization, including by using measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us be clear: the legitimate need for emergency public health measures should not be used as a pretext to hinder the access of civil society organizations to, and to punish those who cooperate with, the United Nations.
We welcome the communication by the Secretariat on the increase in conference services available for in-person meetings at UN Headquarters, and we stress the need more than ever to give due attention to access to relevant spaces of interaction for civil society, as well as providing digital safe space for civil society representatives to join meetings even though they are not in New York.
We support the work of the Bureau to allocate adequate spaces for civil society engagement in the General Debate and Interactive Dialogues of the Committee, including for in-person participation in the meetings held at the General Assembly Hall and the Conference Rooms. This encompasses the allocation of reasonable time for interventions, timely information of meetings and registration. All these elements are in our reach and contribute effectively towards a meaningful civil society participation at the UN.
Third, digital technologies have shown their value in broadening engagement for many stakeholders. While we have barriers to overcome to ensure fully inclusive virtual meetings, such as connectivity and language barriers, we can use digital technologies to provide timely information on the work of the Committee to a broader audience.
The UN has already taken important action to support civil society including the launch of a new UN system-wide guidance on the protection and promotion of civic space. And we acknowledge the work of the Secretariat to assure business continuity, the availability of services and most importantly the progressive return to in-person meetings.
Today, in the face of a global pandemic that has disrupted lives and livelihoods; accelerated social changes including digitalization; and forced the United Nations to adapt to new virtual working methods, we must redouble our efforts in promoting the conditions for a transparent, accessible and safe environment for civil society, not least for those who work and fight for human rights.
So let’s open the door to civil society, including human rights defenders, to participate in a meaningful way, beginning here in this Committee.
It is our belief that the recommendations that we bring to your consideration can enhance the meaningful and inclusive participation of civil society in this Committee. We stand ready to dedicate our efforts under your leadership to contribute to their implementation.