In the follow-up to its submission to the 2017 session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission provided information on how austerity measures impact on the functioning of civil society organisations. The Commission highlighted that funding should be restored to pre-austerity levels while ensuring the sustainability of civil society resources. This is particularly relevant for civil society organisations and community groups promoting women’s rights. The Commission recommended that the state adopt measures to ensure that resources allocated to organisations working in the fields of human rights and equality, including women’s rights, are protected from future budget cuts and in economic recessions.
In January 2019, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission published a policy statement on the “Electoral Acts and Civil Society Space in Ireland”. The statement outlined concerns related to the Electoral Act 1997 and its definition of ‘political purposes’ and ‘third party’. The Commission underlined that these are overly broad and can affect the functioning of a range of Irish civil society organisations. They can also restrict their advocacy functions while potentially even constraining their ability to work and seek funding. In 2020, the Commission noted that the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill does not address these issues. Therefore, in February 2021 the Commission presented a submission to the Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the above mentioned Bill. It stressed that such regulatory measures should avoid placing undue restrictions on wider civil society activity and suggested that a reform of the Electoral Acts is needed.
In 2016, the Croatian government adopted a decree that significantly reduced funds allocated from the national lottery to civil society organisations working on human rights and democratisation. The Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia engaged in public consultations and presented recommendations to the government. The NHRI also raised the issue in its 2016 Annual Report to the parliament. In 2017, the government adopted an amended version of the decree that increased the budget for civil society, although this was still under the level of 2015. In 2019, the NHRI continued work on the topic and issued recommendations to the government to adopt a new National Programme of Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, which would underline the importance of creating and maintaining an enabling environment for human rights and civil society.
In Hungary, civil society organisations (CSOs) sent a letter to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights complaining about an audit initiated by the Government Control Office. The audit started to review the distribution of funds under the CSO Fund of the European Economic Area (EEA) / Norway Grants. The Commissioner called on the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the signed agreement, clarify its provisions, and define the Control Office’s powers vis-à-vis this funding with the Norwegian government. In 2020, the Norwegian and Hungarian governments reached an agreement to make funding directly available to CSOs and establish a fund operator independent of the Hungarian authorities. In January 2021, the NHRI received the Ambassador of Norway to Hungary to reinforce their cooperation and enhance the execution of the agreement.
To empower the advocacy and work of civil society, rights-holders, community-led groups and trade unions in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission operates a grant scheme to support human rights and equality projects across Ireland. This scheme supports research programmes, training and resource activities, conferences, events, and cultural initiatives. Under its Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme 2021, the Commission supported 28 projects which encompass a range of issues. They include social exclusion and socioeconomic discrimination; racism and discrimination experienced, in particular, by ethnic and minority communities; and empowering people with disabilities to advocate for their rights.