Freedom of Association

In recent years, human rights organisations, advocates for women’s rights, independent trade unions, organisations seeking legal reform and groups championing minority rights have come under growing pressure from regimes that are determined to marginalise or eliminate all perceived sources of opposition and dissent. The result has been a notable reversal for freedom of peaceful assembly and association in much of the world.

To reverse these trends and to support the construction of just and democratic societies worldwide, SOLIDAR is starting a global policy campaign.

Mobilising for Freedom of Association: Global Policy Campaign

With the launch of the briefing paper “Guaranteeing the Cornerstones of Democratic Systems” in May 2013, SOLIDAR is preparing the ground for a global policy campaign to be launched in Brussels in November 2013.

By exposing encroachments against freedom of peaceful assembly and association that SOLIDAR network partners are experiencing, the campaign will target EU policy makers and advocate for policy change at EU and national levels. More specifically, the global policy campaign includes the following actions:

  • At local/”in the field” level, members of the SOLIDAR network work to empower civil society and social movements.
  • At national level, SOLIDAR members will work to raise awareness of national decision makers on encroachments faced.
  • At European level, the SOLIDAR Secretariat will enable our non-European partners to raise awareness amongst European decision makers on the encroachments.

Campaign materials:

Policy Background

In April 2013 the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, submitted his second thematic report to the Human Rights Council in which he addresses two key issues, namely, the funding of associations and the holding of peaceful assemblies.

In light of Council Resolution 21/16, which the Human Rights Council adopted in October 2012, renewing its commitment to promote and protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, specific attention is also paid to the importance of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to the work of civil society actors, including with respect to the progressive realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. Being able to peacefully assemble and to form associations are key instruments for civil society to call for and guarantee their rights.

Other Initiatives

CIHRS: Freedom of Association in North Africa

As part of the activities of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has submitted to the Council six written interventions in which it focuses on a number of key issues, including the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, the right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The document on the right freedom of association in North Africa draws attention to the problematic legal framework; in some countries old repressive laws remain in effect while in others new laws are passed which reflect the same hostile attitude towards freedom of association, despite continued popular calls for greater liberties in the Middle East and North Africa.

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

The increasing problem associations face in terms of funding is also addressed in the Annual Report 2013 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. The report focuses on a new setback impeding the work of human rights defenders and obstructs the freedom of association for civil society groups.

NGOs access to funding, in particular foreign funding, is increasingly being hindered by governments around the world. Restrictive laws combined with unfounded criticism, smear campaigns and judicial harassment directed against human rights defenders create a hostile environment for their activities as a way to silence them, while the right of NGOs to access funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association. Access to funds and resources is essential and without it the daily work of NGOs is jeopardised.

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) has a regional working group on Freedom of association and assembly since 2007 that includes more than 20 organisations from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. EMHRN has published four periodic regional studies and two country reports (Algeria | Turkey) so far. These reports evidence how both law and practice result in stifling independent civil society through burdensome procedures for the establishment of associations and trade unions, abusive administrative practices, excessive scrutiny over foreign funding, harassment of human rights defenders and content-oriented restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression.

Sustained monitoring allows us to affirm that a restrictive tendency is underway in the Euro-Mediterranean region, especially as NGOs relying on foreign funding are publicly defamed and several countries are reforming association laws with more control-oriented provisions, while forceful repression of peaceful protesters has worsened with the rise of mass protest movements since 2011.

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