The contribution of every person to shaping their future, that of their community and that of their country is not possible when we do not have the necessary space to express ourselves and debate different points of view in complete safety, denounced this Friday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that called on States to increase their efforts to protect and expand civic space.
In Volker Türk’s opinion, this environment that allows us to play a role in political, economic and social life, at all levels, from the local to the global, is seriously threatened.
“Civic space is a matter of human rights, peace and development. It is key to sustainable and resilient societies, and yet is under increasing pressure from undue restrictions and repressive laws. From threats and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, online intimidation and harassment, crackdowns on peaceful assemblies, to internet shutdowns,” she specified.
Türk summoned everyone States to redouble their efforts to protect and expand civic space for ensure that people can sustainably enjoy all the achievements recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as access to health care and drinking water, quality education, social protection and labor rights.
“Civil society is a key element in building the necessary trust between governments and the populations they serve, and is often the bridge between the two. For governments to lower barriers to public participation, they must protect this space, in benefit of all, both online and offline,” he said.
Achieving a more open and secure internet
Given the high number of “crucial decisions about our lives” that are made on the internet, and in which private companies play a leading role, the High Commissioner highlighted the need for “an open and secure public digital sphere“.
“However, we see states struggle, and often fail, to protect civic space on the internet and those who use it, oscillating between an approach of laissez-faire that allows violence and hate speech to run rampant, with overly broad regulations being used as a weapon against those exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists and human rights defenders,” he added.
The High Commissioner called on companies to “step up” and substantially increase their investment in preventing and responding to harm caused online, especially in non-English-speaking environments, and stressed that doing business anywhere means ensuring their behavior according to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Finally, Türk thanked the “tireless and invaluable work of civil society” and described civic space “as the best indicator of a State’s commitment to defending the noble aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a State that truly willing to acknowledge violations when they occur and to continually work to better protect human rights”.
“It is about answering the key question of whose voices we listen to in decision-making and, ultimately, whose rights will be respected,” he concluded.