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.
The Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia has drawn attention to the challenges and threats faced by human rights defenders and civil society in both Europe and Georgia. The Public Defender dedicated a chapter to this topic in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 annual reports it submitted to parliament. The reports underlined an increasing trend of verbal abuse, physical assaults, intimidation, and defamation, including by high-ranking political officials. Specifically, the reports pointed to challenges faced by women and LGBTI+ defenders and voiced concerns about cyber threats against and the bullying of human rights defenders. The reports analysed the rights of peaceful assembly, association and expression, as well as media freedom. The NHRI called on law enforcement agencies to undertake effective, timely investigations into any cases of human rights defenders at risk. It also provided recommendations to the government on the promotion and protection of human rights defenders.
After receiving two complaints about the activities of civil society organisations being suspended following a request from a security body, the Ombudsperson Institution of Kosovo* published a report in 2018. It includes specific recommendations on compliance with the right to freedom of association. The report concluded that any suspension of activities based solely on suspicion – and without proper investigation – interferes with the right to freedom of association. The Ombudsman argued that this precedent poses a serious risk of other cases of state interference being justified on the same basis.
In 2019, the Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina received numerous complaints from individuals concerning alleged violations of the right to peaceful assembly. These were prompted by the alleged excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies at public gatherings. In 2020, the Ombudsman published a Special Report on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly. This looked at the overall situation concerning freedom of assembly and listed challenges that law enforcement agencies and organisers of public gatherings face during said gatherings. The report analysed relevant domestic and international regulations and collected information through questionnaires filled out by civil society organisations and ministries. The NHRI shared the recommendations with state authorities, organisers of public gatherings and civil society organisations in order to improve the relevant legislation.
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.
During a human rights film festival in December 2021, the Ombudswoman of Croatia organised a public consultation with civil society organisations. This was done to gain insight into challenges faced by human rights defenders and to identify key challenges in human rights protection. For its 2021 Annual Report to the Parliament, the NHRI sent out a public call inviting civil society to send data and insights, while specific questions were asked about key challenges to their work. The input from these consultations are reflected in the Ombudswoman’s Annual Report for 2021 and fed into Croatia’s Universal Periodic Review process.