CIVIC SPACE ―EXPERIENCES OF ORGANISATIONS IN 2019

23th of September 2020 | via European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

Key Findings of the Report from FRA’s second consultation of its Fundamental Rights Platform, focusing on the experiences of CSOs working on human rights

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are an essential component of the democratic system. They are engaged in a wide range of social and human rights issues, advocating rights-compliant legal and policy responses and holding those in power accountable. The quantity, quality and intensity of obstacles affecting CSOs’ ability to carry out their work provide an indication of a country’s general state of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law.

Many of the human rights organisations that FRA cooperates with continue to face challenges in their daily work, the agency’s second consultation of its Fundamental Rights Platform shows. The findings underline the continued relevance of the opinions FRA formulated in its 2018 report on civil society(seeAnnex 2), which EU institutions and Member States should consider.

  • Only one in 10 respondents – from civil society organisations working at national and local level, as well as at the EU or international level – say that the situation ‘improved’ or ‘strongly improved’ in 2019.
  • Among respondents from civil society organisations working at national and local level, almost half say that the situation in their country ‘deteriorated’ or ‘strongly deteriorated’. The rest of such respondents believe that the situation ‘stayed the same’.
  • The responses from organisations working at the EU or international level were slightly more positive. Under half say the situation ‘remained the same’. However, over a third of such organisations believe that the situation ‘deteriorated’ or ‘strongly deteriorated’.
  • More than half of the respondents say they faced verbal and online threats and attacks, including hate speech, as well as negative media reports about them.
  • One in five say they experienced a physical attack, targeting either one of their employees/volunteers or their office building.
  • Many respondents participated in public consultations during 2019, but the majority had difficulties accessing such consultations and with the participation process. The main persisting challenges appear to be short deadlines, as well as a lack of accountability by, and feedback from, the authorities conducting the consultations.
  • Challenges also arise from regulatory frameworks, in particular from provisions on freedom of expression and assembly, as well as data protection regulations, and legislation on consultation/participation. Often, the unintended (side-) effects of laws create practical challenges.
  • Inadequate resources and limited access to funding remain challenges. Respondents indicate that insufficient funding is available for the type of activities they carry out, and point to the lack of core funding for their infrastructure. They also criticise the application and reporting procedures as burdensome.
  • The prevalence of short-term, project-based funding makes it difficult for CSOs to plan and operate sustainably in the long term. Adequately resourced, the proposed EU Justice, Rights and Values Fund would be an important initiative in this regard.
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