The European Civic Forum took part in the FRA’s Fundamental Rights Platform meeting on 1 February 2021- In a session on “Defending civic space in times of pandemic: challenges and success stories” organised together with ECNL and the CIVICUS Monitor, we presented the Civic Space Watch, findings for our latest annual report and examples of successful advocacy at the EU level.
What were the main human rights challenges discussed?
As the pandemic disrupted our communities, our economies and our democracies, we saw an increase need for civil society action to deal with the vulnerabilities in the society or watch for and protect our rights and freedoms.
Civil society showcased its potential and stretched way beyond capacities under very trying circumstances, when often dialogue with institutions was difficult and capacities to maintain their operating means were challenged.
The pandemic amplified already existing trends that we documented already before, in terms of deterioration of freedom of association through restrictive legislation, intimidation. Freedom of assembly and protest has been put under intense pressure as well, mainly through excessive use of force and repression, policing, detention of protesters.
What are your key messages towards policy makers to help overcome these challenges?
- The EU should play a more proactive role and adopt a strategy on how to cooperate with civil society and how to create an enabling space for civil society in Europe
- Part of this strategy is to establish structured dialogue and cooperation tools.
- The EU should also provide funding and support. Specifically, funding for litigation should be made available because court became more and more the last resort action to uphold rights and freedoms (in parallel maybe with the streets! Which tells a lot about the state of play or our normal, regular channels of dialogue and checks and balances).
- Concerning the Rights and Values programme, we welcomed the increase in budget but there is need to include civil society in the arrangement of how the programme will function. There is need for structural funding and to support organisations to reach out more with advocacy actions to national level.
- Include a broader understanding of civic space and enlarge the scope of the Rule of Law monitoring.
To conclude, we need civil society to be given the possibility and the channels to engage in dialogue with institutions both at EU and national level and have a say on the policy choices to respond to the crisis and build the post-pandemic.
We need the EU to invest in civil society to increase its capacities to go beyond reaction and resistance against rights and freedoms and build people power for a long-term positive change perspective.