Council of Europe adopts Recommendation on the need to protect and promote civil society space, recognising role of NHRIs

Flickr 2008 | Council of Europe, Strasbourg

The Council of Europe (CoE) Committee of Ministers has adopted a Recommendation on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe, making reference to the role of civil society organisations and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) as promoters and protectors of civil society space.

For the first time at the CoE ministerial level, NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles are explicitly recognised as Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). As a recommendation is the strongest non-binding document that can be adopted by the Committee of Ministers, this marks a milestone in the recognition of the role of NHRIs in defending civil society space.

The Recommendation is an important tool for NHRIs, together with civil society organisations and individual HRDs, to call upon states not only refrain from unnecessary, unlawful or arbitrary interferences with the rights of HRDs, but to also actively protect and promote a safe and enabling environment for HRDs.

This adoption also reflects that CoE member states share the aims underlying the Marrakesh Declaration adopted by the Global Alliance of NHRIs in October and ENNHRI’s regional action plan on the declaration.

What the Recommendation says

The Recommendation calls on CoE member states to comply with the principles that it sets out, to ensure its wide dissemination among competent authorities and stakeholders and to examine its implementation five years after its adoption, within the Council of Ministers.

In particular, it sets out recommendations in four sections.

1. National legal framework and political and public environment to protect and promote civil society space

Some recommendations include:

  • Removing any unnecessary, unlawful or arbitrary restrictions to civil society space, in particular with regards to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression
  • Ensuring that everyone, including HRDs, can effectively participate in decision-making
  • Establishing and strengthening effective, independent, pluralistic and adequately funded NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles, and in doing so, seeking assistance (when needed) from regional and international actors, including ENNHRI

2. National measures to protect civil society space

Some recommendations include:

  • Ensuring independent and effective investigations of violations of HRDs’ rights and ensuring accountability of those responsible of violations
  • Strengthening the competence and capacity of independent NHRIs to protect civil society space through monitoring, investigation, reporting and complaints handling
  • Facilitating access for HRDs to international and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights

3. National measures to promote civil society space

Some recommendations include:

  • Ensuring access to resources to support the stable funding of HRDs and increasing efforts to promote their activities
  • Explicitly recognising the legitimacy of HRDs and publicly supporting and acknowledging their work

4. Support from CoE bodies and institutions

The Recommendation calls on CoE bodies and institutions to pay special attention to issues concerning the enabling environment in which all HRDs, including NHRIs, can safety and freely operate in Europe. This includes by:

  • Promoting the work of HRDs
  • Ensuring continuous dialogue and debates on threats to civil society and HRDs
  • Paying special attention to the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning HRDs and the enabling environment for human rights work

How NHRIs can use the Recommendation

NHRIs in Europe can use the Recommendation as:

  • An advocacy tool when engaging with state authorities on matters related to civil society space and HRDs, including when NHRIs themselves face threats
  • A source of inspiration to invigorate their work in promoting and protecting civil society space and HRDs, including when engaging with civil society organisations and HRDs in identifying actions for support

NHRIs are also encouraged to disseminate the Recommendation, including by translating it into local languages (where relevant).

To learn more about the role of NHRIs in enabling human rights and democratic space in Europe, see our new publication and video.