Promoting Civil Society at UNHRC: Creation of a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly

Posted by Suzanne Nossel
October 1, 2010
UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

About the Author: Suzanne Nossel serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.

Just hours ago, the UN Human Rights Council created the first-ever Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association to provide a new level of attention these fundamental freedoms currently lack.

Support for the resolution, which the United States led, came from more than 60 co-sponsoring countries from every region.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made freedom of association a U.S. foreign policy priority. In a speech at the Community of Democracies in July, the Secretary decried the crackdown underway on the work of non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders that find themselves targeted by governments that prefer not to hear the messages these brave activists and advocates deliver. As the Secretary said, "the United Nations Human Rights Council needs to do more to protect civil society. Freedom of association is the only freedom defined in the United Nations declaration of human rights that does not enjoy specific attention from the UN human rights machinery."

We hope this resolution will strengthen the hands of civil society activists worldwide, too many of whom are subject to increasing levels of government restrictions and repression. In championing this issue at the Human Rights Council, we brought together a wide coalition of countries to stand up on behalf of ordinary citizens seeking to meet, consult, organize and bring change to their countries.

We worked with a core group of supporters on this resolution, including Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Mexico and Nigeria, demonstrating the power of cross-regional partnerships to tackle tough issues.

The resolution passed by consensus, winning the backing of many countries that have not always stood up for these fundamental rights. We hope the resolution becomes an impetus for countries the world over to strengthen protection for these core freedoms, and that it empowers individuals to assert their rights.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week, the President called civil society the "the conscience of our communities," stating that "the arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble and by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change."

We applaud the UNHRC's decision to address this issue, and will continue our leading efforts to expand respect for this important right for civil society and individuals all over the world.



New York, USA
October 1, 2010

Ron in New York writes:


Civil Society groups are often at the forward edge on policy issues...this makes them a threat to the ruling regime...Assembly; by definition, equals threat...So...Freedom is the goal...Once acheived; the Assembly will be held by a government with integrity.

Michael A.
District Of Columbia, USA
October 1, 2010

Michael A. in Washington DC writes:

Good news for democrats - at last. Check out Democracy Digest's take too; ""

Megan D.
District Of Columbia, USA
October 5, 2010

Megan A. H. in Washington DC writes:

Are we there yet?
“We hope this resolution will strengthen the hands of civil society
activists worldwide, too many of whom are subject to increasing levels
of government restrictions and repression.” I think this is a commendable action in taking a closer step to
evening the fair dissemination of information, opinions, and association in all countries. In the US we are adept and have readily available access to news, information, and means of communication. But, what about the countries who do not? How will this apply to countries where racial, social, and economical prejudice is creating barriers in the communication? It would be interesting to see how the leveraging of technology can help the social trust grow in these countries, and allow for broader and quicker dissemination of news and information. Hopefully, this will promote more communication, coalitions, and advocacy for people around the world. A thriving civil society usually coincides with people being more active in establishing priorities for their countries, and hopefully increasing their quality of life.


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