Civil society space: engagement with international and regional organizations

20 April 2020
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
44th session of HRC, June-July 2020

In its resolution 38/12, the Human Rights Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on progress made in improving civil society engagement with international and regional organizations.

The present report has been prepared on the basis of inputs from different United Nations entities and civil society. It provides an overview of developments in relation to the 3 "Ps":

  • Ensure equal and inclusive civil society participation in the work of the UN and access to information
  • Promote civic space, including in national decision-making processes
  • Protect civil society actors at risk and from online and offline attacks.

It also contains recommendations on concrete steps that would strengthen the approaches of regional and international organizations to civil society space.


The "3 Ps" are interdependent and mutually reinforcing elements for free, safe and enabling civic space

Decision-making across the board – on development, on security, on social affairs – is more effective and legitimate when people from different backgrounds are able to contribute.

Meaningful participation of civil society in international processes and bodies, including in the United Nations, relies on free and vibrant democratic spaces with effective participation channels for diverse groups at the national level. This, in turn, requires respect for freedom of expression and access to information online and offline, freedom of association and physical security for those who speak up and assemble peacefully.

PARTICIPATION: Ensure inclusive, equal and diverse civil society participation in UN processes

  • Put in place publicly available policies that spell out clear, impartial and non­discriminatory rules for civil society participation and access to information
  • Make information widely available in multiple languages, in accessible formats, and use communication channels that are relevant and convenient for the target audience
  • Proactively reach out to all civil society actors at risk of exclusion, provide funding, and put in place direct, flexible and localized channels (e.g. digital and online forums)
  • Assess barriers to civil society participation and adapt operations and practices to strengthen and expand opportunities for partnerships, including the development of common strategies between the UN and different civil society groups and others
  • Put in place "feedback loops" for civil society on the implementation of UN programs and activities, and establish avenues for civil society to contest restrictions on participation and access to information

PROMOTION: Actively promote civic space, including civil society participation in national decision-making processes

  • Advocate for institutionalized channels for civil society participation in national decision-making, including through new technologies
  • Identify obstacles to civic space online and offline, patterns of discrimination and exclusion, and restrictions to freedoms of expression, assembly and association, access to information and funding sources
  • With civil society and other actors, develop joint strategies to overcome civic space obstacles
  • Highlight the positive contributions of civil society in sustainable development, peace and security, rule of law, by promoting positive narratives and good examples
  • Lend political and funding support, develop capacities, and facilitate the work of broader civil society coalitions

PROTECTION: Protect civil society actors at risk, including from intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN

  • Put victims at the centre by addressing urgent protection needs of victims when cases occur, and coordinate with other relevant actors on protection responses
  • Be prepared by analysing legislative, institutional and policy contexts, groups at risk, identifying the key protection-actors, and adopting safe communication channels
  • Put in place a protection response with clear protocols and follow-up (including documentation) and train staff accordingly
  • Responses should be based on informed consent, and reflect the principles of confidentiality and do no harm