Report on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association: Civic space, poverty and exclusion
11 September 2019
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
To the General Assembly pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 41/12.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur explores the impacts of violations to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association on sustainable development, in particular on efforts to reduce economic inequalities and eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions as outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Furthermore, he seeks to contribute to the work of all actors committed to create an enabling environment in which everyone, including people living in poverty and those left behind, can be key agents in the sustainable development of their communities and countries.
It is widely recognized that an active and unfettered civil society is essential to development. Over the last 50 years, the United Nations and Governments around the world have consistently committed themselves to promote participation of civil society in development strategies and programmes. Despite this global recognition, the space for civic engagement has been closing. States are increasingly placing restrictions on these actors, impeding the rights of individuals and groups to exercise fully their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression. The Special Rapporteur has argued that such restrictions have clear implications for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
As poverty becomes more entrenched and harder to root out and extreme inequalities continue to rise globally – in direct contradiction with the Sustainable Development Goals – a key concern is whether development policies and efforts can be sustainable without the active participation of individuals and civil society actors, in particular those working to improve the lives of people living in poverty and those further behind.
In the present report, the Special Rapporteur examines the different ways in which the closing of civic space can be associated with negative development outcomes, including in the fight against poverty and economic inequality. In particular, the Special Rapporteur explores how a restrictive space for civic engagement exacerbates the exclusion of those living in poverty, including marginalized groups, and perpetuates the privileges of those in power.
The Special Rapporteur reiterates that the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association helps to create, strengthen and expand an enabling environment, at the national and international levels, through which all actors, including civil society, can contribute meaningfully to achieving development goals by participating and expressing their views and shaping policies. He stresses that the unobstructed exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association is crucial for the implementation of development and poverty eradication efforts because it empowers people to articulate their voices and to organize around shared interests. In particular, these rights provide people living in poverty with opportunities to be agents of the development of their communities. They can participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of poverty interventions and other policies, programmes and interventions that affect their lives, and to hold duty bearers accountable.
He concludes that development actors should not neglect the threat that the closing of civic space poses to the effectiveness of their policies and programmes. In particular, the development community cannot limit its attention to the lack of material resources and access to services of those living in poverty and most marginalized, while ignoring the fact that these groups are unable to organize to protect and claim their rights. This is all the more important as poverty has become more entrenched and economic inequality continues to increase around the world, causing discontent and furthering exclusion, in direct contradiction of the 2030 Agenda.