The working group of the National Council for Development and International Solidarity (CNDSI) addressing the shrinkage of spaces dedicated to civil society, co-chaired by Geneviève Sevrin, Director-General of Cités Unies France, and Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Director-General of Ensemble contre la peine de mort (Together Against the Death Penalty) and Chair of the Plateforme des Droits de l’Homme (PDH, Human Rights Platform), has submitted its conclusions.
The group was set up to consider support for civil society and rights defenders confronted with increasingly tough legislative frameworks and the growing variety of tools used by certain governments to limit the expression of civil liberties and civil society.
By listening to practitioners, consultants and experts, it clarified the challenges of a partnership relationship between governments and civil society when it comes to development cooperation. It also proposed ways to take action on the ground to prevent the closure of spaces dedicated to civil society and to address increasingly restrictive legislative frameworks.
This work has produced a set of relevant recommendations that could contribute to eliminating obstacles and strengthening France’s role in defending spaces dedicated to civil society.
The report has four main focuses:
- Focus 1: France’s role
- Focus 2: Strengthening the independence of organizations
- Focus 3: Situation of rights defenders
- Focus 4: Digital technology challenges
The 20 recommendations aim to respond to four main challenges: strengthening France’s role; enhancing the independence of civil society organizations; improving the situation of rights defenders, and addressing digital technology challenges.
Focus 1: France’s role
Strengthen the joint construction of French commitments to international solidarity, in France and abroad, through the CNDSI and through direct liaison with agencies like the AFD and with embassy Cooperation and Cultural Action Services (SCAC).
Continue advocating for the implementation of a special mechanism for non-conflict situations: prevention, monitoring and support for civic spaces.
Support the creation of a United Nations special rapporteur position for “digital technology challenges and human rights”.
Incorporate a forum for consultation/involvement of NGOs before every intergovernmental meeting/event (or request one when not organizing).
Recommandation n° 5
Ensure and support the diversity of civil society actors, nationally, regionally and internationally.
Focus 2: Strengthening the independence of organizations
Compile existing data to map actors and civil society organizations.
Establish training within embassies, Alliance Française branches and other structures to build the capacities of civil society organizations, helping them to better position themselves and use the tools available (based for example on the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment model).
Foster, encourage and support coalitions between internal and/or external networks through platforms or international networks of civil society organizations.
Support local associations or structures in achieving recognition by authorities in their countries (Interior Ministry, Supreme Court, Mediators, Parliament).
Ensure the presence of a human rights contact point in each embassy and Cooperation and Cultural Action Service (SCAS) and generalize the presence of governance and human rights officers in each AFD local office.
Simplify the mechanisms to obtain assistance to prioritize civil society organizations that are not supported, and are often fought or discriminated against in their own countries.
Focus 3: Situation of rights defenders
Have a French approach to protecting defenders and, to that end, draft an appropriate strategy based on a clearer, more ambitious political and operational vision, in coordination with civil society organizations, as is done in other countries, like Norway.
To support French civil society organizations even more in their ability to help defenders in danger, whether individuals or bodies, study the possibility of creating a human rights centre hosting exhibitions, archives, conferences, educational facilities and also NGOs, and potentially a refuge to temporarily take in defenders in danger.
Continue ongoing reflection to strengthen arrangements to take in rights defenders and create a civil society fund.
Continue actions carried out to obtain visas enabling rights defenders to bear witness before international bodies (particularly in Geneva), and consider how to support these actions at embassy level.
Take into account the specific cases of certain defenders who are particularly targeted by restrictions and repression by certain governments.
Focus 4: Digital technology challenges
Incorporate the risks linked to digital technology into cooperation policies.
Strengthen legislation, regulations and guidelines, in consultation with civil society, so as to help establish legal instruments to regulate the digital civic space.
Work and negotiate with civil society organizations representing the interests of users and the parties concerned in order to adopt and amend digital regulations.
Consider working with local government bodies in France and abroad that could take greater local actions to address issues.
During the OECD DAC Civil Society Days, the Development Co-operation Directorate organized a technical workshop entitled “Towards building forward better together: finding solutions to enable civil society”, during which the report was presented.
The presentation was an opportunity to discuss the recommendations proposed by the CNDSI to feed into reflection on French policies and positioning with regard to development with other OECD Member countries and partner States.
The event compared proposals to improve practices to strengthen the independence of civil society organizations, improve the situation of rights defenders and identify the impacts of digital technology on civil society organizations.