COVID-19 has presented opportunities and challenges for civil society

15th of September 2020 | via CIVICUS I The UN High Commissioner of the Human Rights Council shares the view that the pandemic has not only harmed civil society but also offers opportunities.

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19

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Thank you, Madame President; High Commissioner.

The COVID 19 pandemic has presented opportunities and challenges for civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor, a research tool that provides real-time data on the state of civil society, has identified worrying trends which have undermined civic space, including, inter alia:

  • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship, notably in China and Brazil;
  • Detention of activists for disseminating critical information, for example in Iran and India;
  • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets in Niger, Honduras and Venezuela; and
  • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers, as in Hungary and Cambodia.

Despite these barriers, we have seen civil society respond as a vital stakeholder in addressing the health and economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19.

Community organisations are distributing food and delivering aid to people unable to work during lockdowns. CSOs are raising money for emergency relief, medical supplies and personal protective equipment for health workers. In India, CSOs have reportedly outperformed state government in providing humanitarian relief to migrant labourers and the poor in 13 states.

Beyond relief efforts, rights groups are holding authorities to account. In Zimbabwe, the advocacy group Lawyers for Human Rights secured an urgent application to stop abuses by the country’s security forces.

We thank the High Commissioner for recognising the fundamental role that an open civic space has in addressing emergencies. We echo her calls for states to refrain from using the crisis as an opportunity to crack down on critics. Indeed, in a time of crisis, participation of civil society is key to building back better.

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