We know that civil society organizations (CSOs) in every region are all too often harassed, threatened, and attacked by both state and non-state actors because of their work, and so in 2011, the United States and a unique coalition of governmental and non-governmental partners created Lifeline to provide assistance to CSOs when they face emergencies. To help beat back more systemic issues, such as regulatory and extralegal barriers, Lifeline also funds advocacy initiatives at local, regional, and international levels.
Yesterday, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns co-chaired Lifeline’s Third Annual Donor Steering Committee Meeting with the Director-General of Political Affairs for the Netherlands, Wim Geerts. Since its creation, the donors have met each year to reaffirm their financial support to Lifeline and, just as importantly, their diplomatic support to combat negative trends affecting civil society. The current donors -- the governments of Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; and the Ford Foundation -- are pleased to welcome Latvia and Mongolia as new donors to the Fund, as well as to announce the continued financial support of Canada, Estonia, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, the donors have committed more than $14 million to Lifeline for activities between 2011 and 2019.
The work of Lifeline is informed directly by the activists that it assists. A lawyer who advocates for freedom of expression in South America and his organization and their families received death threats after members spoke at a public forum about the need to reform laws regulating the freedoms of assembly and association in his country. Because of Lifeline, the organization’s office and the members’ homes were made more secure and the staff was able to continue working. With Lifeline’s support, an activist from Southeast Asia helped harness the collective efforts of over 275 other CSOs to provide recommendations to Parliament to improve the draft law on associations, many of which were reflected in a new draft.
These examples, emblematic of Lifeline efforts worldwide, remind us why this assistance -- this lifeline -- is vital for the survival of these brave activists and their organizations who fight every day for the freedoms of assembly and association. One of the great privileges of my job has been, and will always be, having the opportunity to meet and assist such inspiring people, who challenge us each day to continue this important work.
On Monday, President Obama convened delegations from 37 countries -- including 20 Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, as well as civil society leaders and activists, the UN Deputy Secretary General, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the Community of Democracies, the Open Government Partnership, and partners from the philanthropic community -- to highlight the importance of promoting and protecting civil society. As part of a joint statement, they pledged to work together through existing mechanisms, such as Lifeline, to enhance their response to governments’ restrictions on civil society that hamper its ability to perform its crucial role. They also committed to renewed domestic and international efforts to improve space for civil society. Partners agreed to redouble efforts and reconvene at next year’s General Assembly to assess progress. We look forward to realizing that pledge through Lifeline’s work throughout the coming year.